/ 23 January 2014

Bryan Adams rocks the boat in Zimbabwe

Canadian singer Bryan Adams.
Canadian singer Bryan Adams.

The Canadian soft-rock singer Bryan Adams will this week become the biggest international artist in years to perform in Zimbabwe. All 3 500 tickets for Friday's concert in the capital, Harare, sold out within hours.

Just as American singer Mariah Carey was condemned for accepting $1-million to perform at a benefit concert attended by Angola's authoritarian leader, José Eduardo dos Santos, so Adams is facing criticism for lending credibility to the 33-year rule of President Robert Mugabe.

"It's inappropriate at this moment in time for international musical icons to perform in Zimbabwe," said Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"It might send the wrong message that Zimbabwe has come right and there is a basis for international co-operation to resume when there is not. Zimbabwe is going backwards and I hope there is still time for Bryan Adams to cancel."

Mavhinga spoke after presenting a report claiming that Zimbabwe's 2013 elections were rigged in Mugabe's favour and warning that the country's crisis of governance is far from over.

"We must avoid … the impression that all is now fine in Zimbabwe and it is business as usual," he said.

Engagement vs isolation
Actors, designers, singers and writers from around the world come to Zimbabwe for the Harare International Arts Festival.

Headline acts last year included Senegal's Baaba Maal and Britain's Noisettes. Some commentators believe that engagement is a better approach than isolation.

A similar debate has raged for years in Swaziland, where democracy activists have called for artists and fans to stay away from the world-renowned Bushfire festival in protest at the absolute monarchy's lack of political and economic freedom.

The most profound cultural boycott was that of apartheid South Africa, which Paul Simon was accused of breaking when he visited the country to make the album Graceland.

Adams's manager, Bruce Allen, defended the concert. "Bryan is an international artist with a worldwide audience, whether it is Pakistan or Vietnam or Zimbabwe," he told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

"To paraphrase what he has said over the course of his 30-plus-year career, everywhere he goes, kids wanna rock. Music will, I hope, always remain a universal language." – © Guardian News & Media 2013