The Book Café (Zimbabwe)
|Established||1993, reopened in 2012|
|Mission||Promotion of cultural expression|
|President||Paul Brickhill (creative director)<br|
|Location||Samora Machel Avenue|
The Book Café is a platform for free cultural expression in Harare, Zimbabwe, since1993. Book Cafe operates in partnership with leading cultural NGO Pamberi Trust to offer both diverse entertainment to the public at large as well as a space for artistic development - especially a platform for younger artists. book Cafe is known for its diversity of music and puts on a musical show almost everynight of the year. Almost every artist in Zimbabwe has performed at the Book Cafe.
In the first eight years since the foundation, the Book Café organized 7,500 concerts and events, 650 public debates, 70 book presentations and 35 theater performances, and did it offer stage to 150 international touring acts.
The Book café has been called a free space, a liberated zone, an embassy of change. It is a hub for artists - a place to meet, work, network and share ideas. It is a place of free expression, of entertainment, of generosity. Book Cafe offers a space to eat, to drink to discuss - to enjoy music, theatre, fashion and film. Book Cafe is also home to The Spoken Word and comes alive each and every month with Sistaz Open Mic and the House of Hunger Poetry Slam.
Book Cafe is becoming a Community Arts Centre -a space where artists and the public can meet each other, can connect with each other and share ideas and inspiration.
Book Cafe has been credited with the revaluation of many traditional forms of music, particularly of jazz fusion and African jazz. For instance did it result in the increase of popularity of the use of the traditional mbira by young people.
One fifth of the budget originates from sponsors and is being used to organize workshops and readings of for instance the Book Café Academy of Performing Arts (BOCAPA). The remaining income comes from the revenue of consumptions and entrance fee.
Temporary closure and move
Book Café was served with notice of eviction from its revered Fife Avenue location in 2011. From 1 January 2012 it ceased operating in that iconic space that had become an artists’ home. The year began amidst ruins, with the daunting task of securing alternative space, re-locating all operations, refurbishing and re-equipping. At the time, the organisation was reminded of its roots, that it was established in 1981 by war veterans (several engaged in cultural work), it grew out of the struggle initially as Grassroots Books, transformed into Book Café in 1997, and finally founded Pamberi Trust in 2002 as the development wing of a social enterprise.
2012 turned out to be our year of resilience. While events and concerts fell to 276 from a peak of 909 (2011, in twin venues including Mannenberg), this was a major accomplishment since the new Book Café was closed for 5 months and operating ‘partially’ for another 4 months, in effect a cumulative total of 60% ‘downtime’. About 75% of basic refurbishment was completed by the end of 2012.
Our new home is bigger, central and offers more scope for expansion. The Book Café bookshop, closed in 2008, re-opened late in the year. A film screening and workshop facility took shape, making possible weekly screenings of relevant local and African films. Staging, technical and venue facilities were upgraded. The projects office (our ‘engine room’ of ideas) moved to larger dedicated space at the back. Impressive progress was made in information dissemination. Several epic arts and social discussions took place. Historic concerts were held in the year, Sulumani Chimbetu breaking Book Café attendance records, Oliver Mtukudzi weaving his magic to full houses, while extraordinary arts collaborations took shape, notably Victor Kunonga with maestro Bheki Khoza (SA) and Chiwoniso with Tumi & The Volume (SA). The success of the October Jazz and World Music Festival laid foundations for the future. And who could forget Jamaican D’bi Young’s mind-blasting poetic performance at Poetry Africa, at which young Zimbabwean poets also distinguished themselves. The year ended aptly, with the largest ‘16 Days Against Gender-based Violence’ series of events on record at Book Café.
Poetry and gender programmes retained all their exuberance; brilliant young poets emerged. Jazz and Mbira highlights were fabulous. Despite sometimes desperate struggles during this, Book Café’s hardest ever year, our hopes and dreams were fulfilled. I am not sure I have ever seen such an outpouring of exciting and skilled youth arts talent since our inception in 1997, well done to the young artists!
Amongst this, Pamberi Trust continued its management role in the 16-country African Music Festivals Network, helped establish pioneering civil society and arts platforms, and contributed nationally towards festival platforms in Gweru, Bulawayo, Chimanimani, Harare and local initiatives around the country.
Book Café, under Pamberi Trust remit, entered 2012 as a Prince Claus Award laureate (the first venue in Africa to receive this), established to recognise outstanding cultural accomplishment in African, Asian and Latin American regions. Rigorous standards are applied and the Award is globally recognised. Pamberi Trust was awarded for services to arts development, support for emerging artists, innovation, and for nurturing of the principle of ‘freedom of expression in the arts’.
Freedom of Expression in culture has profound traditions in struggles for emancipation in the formerly colonized world, including Zimbabwe, from which traditions Pamberi Trust and Book Café draw inspiration. This principle is enshrined in the new constitution of Zimbabwe (2013), and features centrally in the UNESCO protocol on ‘The Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions’ (2005), sometimes called the most important cultural agreement of the last 50 years, since it emphasizes protection of our cultural assets from abuse by multi-national corporate power. Zimbabwe is signatory (2008), alongside 129 countries.
Mid-March 2012 the Book Café was reopened on a new location, at the Samora Machel Avenue on the corner of the Sixth Street. The opening was heralded by two five hour concerts.
- Zimbabwe Online Press (December 27, 2012) Pamberi Trust Book Cafe in Harare will be shut down at the end of the year
- Power of Culture (August 2007) Harare Book Café the hub of Zimbabwe's cultural life
- Financial Gazette Harrare (March 30, 2012) Zimbabwe: Book Cafe Springs Back to Life