Musicians and live music fans were dealt a severe blow this week following news that Harare’s popular Book Café, considered by many as the best live music venue in the country, has closed its doors until further notice.
This doesn’t mean the end of the legendary venue though. While some speculate about a possible shortage of funds, the venue is apparently looking to "restructure the business" – at least according to Tomas Brickhill, who took over last year from his father Paul Brickhill, who passed away unexpectedly.
Nevertheless, the Book Café’s sudden closure - even if temporary - comes as a blow to the Zimbabwean live music scene and the many established and up-and-coming artists who considered the venue a second home. The Book Café was arguably the only venue in Zimbabwe offering live entertainment seven days a week. It also offered popular open mic nights, film, comedy, discussions and poetry. Prominent acts to perform at the venue in recent weeks include Victor Kunonga, Transit Crew, Tendex, Cynthia Mare, Evans Mapfumo, Tariro neGitare and Bob Nyabinde.
The iconic venue first opened at its original Fife Avenue shopping centre venue in 1997 and has since treated audiences to nearly two decades of memorable live music. In March 2015 it celebrated its third anniversary at 139 Samora Machel Avenue.
Tomas Brickhill issued the following statement via the Book Café’s Facebook page: “The Book Café has had a significant positive impact on the Arts and on cultural entertainment in Zimbabwe’s capital, including bringing traditional mbira music into the mainstream, championing freedom of expression in the arts, providing a platform for Zimbabwe’s first stand-up comedians and hosting a regular weekly Open Mic.
“The closure comes after several months of valiant struggle to find support to continue running, including a crowd-funding initiative through Indiegogo which witnessed love and support from people in Zimbabwe and around the world, but was not sufficient to put the Book Café on steady ground.
“The venue has faced many struggles through the years, and somehow has always managed to pull through, due in no small part to the support of its patrons and in particular to the large community of artists and performers who have passed through over the years, who shaped the very nature of what the ‘Book Cafe’ concept means, and affectionately refer to the venue as ‘the home of the artists’.”
Brickhill added: “I’ve decided to take a step back in order to re-strategise and restructure the business. It was a difficult decision to close the Samora Machel venue, but if Book Café is to have any place in the future of Zimbabwe’s Arts & Culture scene, I believe that our current course of action is unavoidable. At this stage it is too soon to speculate where or when we may reopen, but I am confident that in Book Café we have one of the strongest and most respected brands in the country. I have no intention of letting this be the end of the story for Book Café; but in order for us to start writing the next chapter, we have to close the last one. Aluta Continua.”