This is THEIR Story. Making HERStory…
We’re not big on gambling, but we’re willing to bet our last dollar that you, or someone in your immediate circle,has been to one (or more likely, more) Unplugged Zimbabwe hangouts. Since the first event in 2013, Unplugged Zimbabwe has blown up to become a lifestyle staple, with its signature mix of Zimbabwe’s finest talent , both established heavyweights and Up & Coming Artists, becoming the ultimate “blankets and wine” weekend outdoor experience for the whole family to enjoy. With over 50 Unplugged Sessions to date, over 200 local & international Acts, and an average 4 000+ strong crowd at each session, the power, popularity and influence that is Unplugged Zimbabwe cannot be denied.
But even more impressive than the indomitable rise of Unplugged Zimbabwe is the drive, clarity of vision and purpose and sheer brilliance of the two remarkable trailblazers masterfully steering the Unplugged Zimbabwe ship into the Cultural Movement it has become. One, a Hospitality Management Specialist with a background in Finance and Marketing, and the other, a Communications Strategist with a background in Law and Broadcast. These two childhood friends who birthed Unplugged Zimbabwe out of their shared love for local music continue to blaze an impressive trail and are well on their way to conquering all of Africa with their growing Portfolio of works which span Arts Infrastructure Development, Event Management and Artist Development.
We have our blankets and wine all set to see it all unfold! In the meantime, allow us to introduce the unstoppable powerhouse duo that is Chiedza Danha and Ellinah Chipumha . We celebrate the phenomenal women they are, the power of their story, and their remarkable journeys to “Becoming”!
THE EARLY YEARS
You as young girls. How would the people close to you describe you then?
Ellinah: I was described as ambitious and I was determined to complete any task handed to me.
Chiedza: I was outgoing and confident, but also a sensitive child.
What were the BIG dreams and aspirations?
Ellinah: I always dreamed of travelling the world…because of that I wanted to be an air hostess.
Chiedza: I wanted to be a doctor first, but mainly because I thought that’s what adults wanted to hear, then for a long time I wanted to be an actress.
And who influenced those?
Ellinah: My parents have been strong pillars in my life and they have always supported my dreams.
Chiedza: My parents primarily, especially watching my mother who always had a career that was considered just as important as my fathers. That’s how I learnt that work is an important part of self-actualisation.
What do you remember vividly from your childhood- what memories stand out?
Ellinah: I burnt my fingers with those old bar heaters when I was 3. My mum had just had my little sister and all the attention was going to her. So ‘they say’ I did it for attention. But know I got scars that never went away (Laughs)
Chiedza: I had a rich childhood that was full of play. I grew up in a diverse neighborhood that had lots of kids of different ages, and we created adventure ourselves – riding bikes, hiking, building treehouses and lots of neighborhood sports tournaments. I remember learning skills like hockey and public speaking through neighbours that really became family. I have to remind myself as an adult how happy it makes me to pursue adventure!
How does a day in your life today look?
Ellinah: My days are filled with meetings with potential sponsors and a lot of strategizing and researching new ideas.
Chiedza: My day starts off with me focusing on communication consulting work for the first half, so it’s a lot of conference calls and getting my head stuck in report writing. The second half is Unplugged focused and this work intensifies around event time. Evenings are spent with family.
How did you get here? How did this dream and this life come to be?
Ellinah: We think it was our love for music. We attended a lot of live concerts when we were outside the country. So when we got back to Zimbabwe, we realized there was a lack of outdoor family friendly live concerts. We then sat down…did our research and came up with our concept.
Chiedza: As Ellinah says, the shared love for music was the genesis. We just wanted to see more of it in safe and accessible spaces – so we created our own platform. We also wanted more people to see the talent we’d seen at places like the Book Café. The Book Café was home to some really gifted people and we thought we could make a genuine effort at connecting them with new audiences.
Why do you get up in the morning to do what you do? What drives you?
Ellinah: Because I am doing something I love. Something I am passionate about. That’s what drives me.
Chiedza: I’m driven by challenge, and more and more these days by a desire to make an impact.
And what’s the most fulfilling part/s of doing it all for you?
Ellinah: The fact that we are giving up-and-coming talent a chance to market themselves and get recognition. Also, that we have created an atmosphere where a whole family can have a day out together.
Chiedza: Just having an idea and seeing it through has been a major source of pride, I think for both of us. But also seeing how many artists got their break at Unplugged and are now household names. It’s amazing to be part of a process through which other people live out their dreams too. I also think the number of young people the event supports – we have a staff complement of over 70 people at each event; most of them are young, and female.
What are some of the challenges or the things you want to change, or wish were different?
Ellinah: The biggest challenge is getting sponsorship. Budgets for corporates are becoming more and more limited because the environment itself is so dynamic so they have to prioritise core business. Sponsorship is largely considered a frill. Another challenge is venues. There are not many options for events on our scale and with sufficient amenities. We need to do something about this collectively.
Chiedza: Zimbabwe presents a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we really benefited from first mover advantage in our space, no one was really doing what we did when we first started. But this was a challenge in itself because we had to educate the market and educate financial partners about the value of supporting music events. Once people really understood the concept and recognized the value, they got behind the idea.
And what’s the next big thing for you? What new projects or prospects are cooking up in the pipeline?
Ellinah: We don’t ever like to give away too much, but we’re always thinking big!
And we love it when people doubt the scale of our ambitions.
Chiedza: Exactly what Ellinah says. We are definitely big dreamers and never limited by what is already in the market.
How would those close to you describe you today?
Ellinah: Fun, reliable, outgoing, go getter, loyal to those I love.
Chiedza: Driven, compassionate, fiercely loyal and introverted.
Work, Life, Play and Everything in between? How do you juggle & manage it all?
Ellinah: I am such a big planner. I organize everything in advance. This way I know what I am doing and when, and leave time for rest too.
Chiedza: I struggle to achieve balance because I often bite off more than I should, so this is work in progress for me. I have such mixed interests too and I’m learning as I get older that depth is important to me, so I’m trying to focus more deeply just on things that really I feel happy and fulfilled exploring and doing.
What’s the role family and those around you have played in your story?
Ellinah: Our families have been super supportive from the get-go. They motivate us, encourage us and help us financially when need be. They have really been our pillars of strength.
Chiedza: Like Ellinah says, we can’t overstate enough how much they brought to the business in terms of emotional support, motivation and financial support. Ours was an unusual ambition, but they have always stood in our corner cheering us on, and that confidence carried us over when things have gotten really tough.
How do you get away from all the noise when you need to?
Ellinah: It’s been a lot easier now that we have the event 3 times a year. It’s now easier to take time out and chill. I love reading, traveling and am obsessed with Netflix…that’s how I get away from it all.
Chiedza: I find I’ve become more of a gogo with time and home has become my favourite place to be, much of that’s come out of being able to sit with myself and be content. I draw energy from within, being an introvert. But I do like traveling and I love reading and writing.
Our conversation with Chiedza & Ellinah continues in Reflections