Fairtrade mbira

Do you want your mbira to be a “fair trade” one or do you just want it affordable? I just had a moment of thinking deeply what my answer to that question is and what the response of others would be.

Fairtrade mbira

Of course a mbira can be both Fairtrade and affordable, but, putting quality aside, which one carries more weight for you, affordability or that it is Fairtrade? (Try to give yourself an honest answer!)

I hope most of you are familiar with the Fairtrade movement. If not, just pop over to their website here. Basically, the spirit of the Fairtrade movement is to try to ensure that everyone along the supply chain of any product gets a good deal for their work, i.e. better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade. I know the Fairtrade movement has largely worked in agricultural trade and might have its own problems, (you can google them),  but it has been great at bringing the thought of fairer trading practices into the conscience of a lot of people. That, I think, is invaluable.

So what has Fairtrade got to do with mbira?
Over the years there has been a growth of online mbira dealers on sites such as EBay and Amazon and I’ve often wondered how the makers are benefiting from these sales. Quite often on these sites you don’t get an adequate picture of how the makers/suppliers benefit resulting in what I would consider blind buying where you don’t question how the product has been sourced.

The same goes for the sale of some mbira albums on iTunes and Amazon, do the musicians, particularly the ones in Zimbabwe, get a cent from these sales? I’ve also seen CDs that looked as though they are pirated being sold at some events here in the UK and wondered whether the mbira artists are getting a cent. For some of the makers and musicians, these things are a key source if livelihood hence it would be good for them to get a fair deal for their work , it’s only fair. Of course, how musicians and makers benefit is dependent on some contractual issues. You could go on and ask whether the contract is fair or not!

In our everyday lives a number of us buy things that are not “fair trade” because that is what we can afford. A guilt pang hits us when we do it but we assure ourselves that at least the people at the people of the trading line have got something, at least. After all, something is better than nothing, no? After a while the guilt goes away and we start convincing ourselves wholeheartedly  that they are at least getting something.  We stop thinking whether that something is enough.

An example in the case of mbira is the price of an instrument. A  maker might be desperate to push some sales and they  might offer you an instrument at a knockdown price, that is very affordable to you. The price might not be reflective of their input into making the instrument, they just need some cash. Out of your benevolence (and need for an affordable mbira)  you buy it at the offered price because they will  at least get something for it and resolve their cash flow problems. The price at which you buy this instrument becomes a precedent that heavily influences any future pricing of another instrument. The maker is happy to sell at that price but is it a fair deal? The dilemma!

So then, what is it for you. Fairtrade (defined in your own way) or affordability?

2 Replies to “Mbira: Fairtrade vs Affordability”

  1. Just because the lizard is nodding it’s head it does not mean is happy. We don’t hear of Fair Trade in Western Musical instruments at all. Why? Is it because Mbira is an African musical instrument? We need to understand that Mbira is a sacred instrument of Shona people of Zimbabwe therefore it plays a very important role in everyday life of people and our belief.It then becomes a double edged sword in a way that it is also a musical instrument. A bee makes sweet honey but it has a painful sting. People might say if the bee makes such sweet honey lets eat the bee itself. I used to play mbira for the whole night to call the spirits of my ancestors and get paid with a chicken,but what happens with a this chicken is it lays eggs and then hatch,then exchange chicken with someone with goats then goats multiply and exchange with someone with cows.One ends up getting married and use cows for lo bola and have a family then leave happily after. Sometimes you are given a bucket full of mangoes and a knife to use to eat them. Kuneta kweMukuyi sadza rinodyiwa neagere.

    Fair Trade is a terminology that makes us feel better about how ourselves when we are exploiting others.

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