Cont names famous centre’s top five
EVERY conversation about the arts in Bulawayo has to begin with a mention of Amakhosi Cultural Centre.
Located at Basch Street extension and Old Falls Road, the centre has proved to be a unique nursery to some of the city’s best talents in the arts. From rib cracking comedians to expressive actors and expert song composers, the centre has nurtured them ALL.
The names that have walked the halls and stomped the stages of the centre read like a who’s who list of the best on the country arts scene.
However, narrowing down the best five to have come from Amakhosi would be a task that no critic would ever think of taking on. Quite simply, the names that have come from Amakhosi are simply too heavy to carry. Sunday Life caught up with the founder of the centre, Cont Mhlanga, who relieved us of the burden and gave his top five list of those that he had the pleasure of working with at Amakhosi.
This is someone who I first met when he was no more than a boy just wearing boxers. I have been privileged to witness his growth from that time to now. This was someone I first saw reciting poems at school.
With time he became what I like to call my school of knowledge. Sihlangu was that person who you could give knowledge to and he would implement that knowledge like no one else would.
When you talk of Cont Mhlanga you’re talking about the pioneers of the arts in Bulawayo. You’re talking about the people who came when there was no road and laid a brand new one. People did not understand what an artiste was before we started defining it. So someone like me needed to be working with believers, strong apostles that believed in the vision that we had. That’s the difference between Dlodlo and everyone else. He came when Cont Mhlanga didn’t exist. There are some young people who haven’t known a Zimbabwe and Bulawayo without Amakhosi. Dlodlo bought into the idea in its early days, the karate days. He was very specific about what he wanted. He wanted to get the name of the centre out there. He wanted Amakhosi known by the city and the country. So he broke new ground because he pioneered marketing as a discipline in the arts.
Even after he left to do other things he kept on planting the Amakhosi flag everywhere he went. For him it was not about money but making a city rise. Unlike other artistes he was not single focused. Some just stick to acting or singing or dancing through their whole career. He saw that there were many fields in the creative industries and went into most of them.
This was a guy who wanted to stand on one leg throughout his life. He believed that he was an actor through and through.
He was someone that mobilised people, which is something that I believe that the sector is lacking currently. We could land in any part of the world and he would ask, “Cont, who do you want us to see?” It didn’t matter if it was a big star, the mayor or the biggest businessman in that city but he would just somehow get into their office and get you what you wanted.
I remember when we did the Workshop Negatives tour around the country and we did not spend a cent. You’d just work up the next morning and find that Mackay had somehow managed to get the mayor of that city to cover your hotel bill.
He didn’t just want to act opposite everyone. He was choosy about who starred opposite him. He would pass over a role if he felt that he wasn’t compatible with the person that he was playing opposite to. Or he could tell me that I won’t work with this director because he’s just too young for me in terms of experience in the trade.
He also hated television. He felt a lot of people in television were junk quality producers. That’s one thing about him — he hated pretenders in the arts and he would tell you to your face if he felt that you were. He was just an amazing professional.
This is someone who is not Amakhosi per se. He was just someone who decided that he was going to work with Amakhosi even though he was not from here. He came to me and said your job as Cont is to identify the best talent from Bulawayo, groom it and my job is to take it to the rest of the world.
That’s how we managed to get Amakhosi’s work known in Zimbabwe and even beyond. Guzha remains the only superstar director in Zimbabwe I believe. He is just a superb guy to work with and a lot of people don’t realise that he is also a superb actor.
Beater was just amazing. She was someone who I would call a top shelf taker of instructions. She would take instructions and she was brave enough to follow them through.
Those that have worked closely with me will tell you that I’m not a pleasant person to work with. I can be brutally honest and I was that way with Beater. I told her that she can’t sing on her own because of her vocal range and she needed a band. Some might have been offended. I remembered her asking me how she was going to manage a band because she was so small and men would find it hard to listen to her.
I told her that she needed to find a way to make it work and the next thing you know she had a band. It’s nice to see a young lady with no confidence yet is brave enough to go on and do what needs to be done because she’s brave. The biggest disaster in the world of showbiz is that many young women have no confidence and yet are also not brave. That’s a tragedy that Beater never had to grapple with.
This is someone that I always find difficult to talk about because this person is also my wife. This is someone who went through an enormous transition. She is someone from a church background who became an amazing actress, became a dancer touring the world, turned into a singer and then became a rain dancer. How do you manage that as one person? This is someone who I not only admire but someone who won my heart.
When you look at her now in traditional clothing in Njelele you can only marvel at the transitions that she has gone through in her career. This was someone who was creatively aggressive which inspired me a lot throughout my career.