Paul Brickhill

Article Bio
Africa, Eastern
created on:
March 13, 2007
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since March 21, 2007. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Paul Brickhill


Interview with...

Paul Brickhill, a Zimbabwean musician, writer, bookseller and arts activist. Since 1997 he has been running Harare´s Book Café which expanded in 2000 to include a new jazz venue and several arts projects. Participating in Europe Now/Europe Next
Interview with…

Paul Brickhill, a Zimbabwean musician, writer, bookseller and arts activist. Since 1997 he has been running Harare´s Book Café which expanded in 2000 to include a new jazz venue and several arts projects.

Paul tells us about his many accomplishments as well as the obstacles facing cultural operators in his region. He also speaks to us about his future priorities and goals including the need for greater intra-African co-operation to develop cultural industries on the continent.

1 – Tell us about how and why the Pamberi Trust was set up.

It all started shortly after independence in 1980 through a bookshop called Grassroots Books that was founded by young Zimbabwean freedom fighters. The aim was to provide appropriate books to the new nation and it held many book launches and public debates, eventually becoming an intellectual hub. It contributed to setting up a host of local and regional book institutions: the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Trust (1991), the Zimbabwe Book Development Council (1992), the African Publishers Network (1992) and the Pan-African Booksellers Association (1997) as well as writers associations and reading clubs.

In 1997, looking for new ways to expand book readership, Grassroots established a centre called the Book Café. The goal was to bring together - in a community setting - books, performing arts and a café that would become a meeting place for artists and intellectuals. It proved a stunning success and rapidly grew into a vibrant performing arts centre with an ´African´ feel, while the original bookshop remained the core of the initiative.

By 2000 the Book Café had expanded to include a new jazz venue and several arts projects and we began to recognize the need to rationalize these different strands of activity. The Pamberi Trust was thus conceived as the umbrella that would do so. Its focus was to build new and innovative partnerships in the cultural sector and address the problem of intra-African cultural exchange. This has been our vision for 25 years, since 1981. Pamberi means ´move forward´.

2 – What obstacles do creative people face in your country and region in turning their creativity into a livelihood?

Before we talk about problems, let´s consider the positives. Our world of music, ideas and imaginative arts has tremendous energy and passion. Our musicians, poets, story-tellers and sculptors draw from a spiritually and culturally stimulating environment. Turning this resource into an economic strength is one of our goals. Another is to link culture with mainstream socio-economic development thinking. Cultural expression cannot be separated from building a democratic society that in turn unleashes many other positive forces. Policy-makers do not yet appreciate, as we arts practitioners do, the value of the arts as a catalyst for economic growth and social enlightenment. As a result, the arts have been marginalized and suffer from a lack of infrastructure. This is the real obstacle for creative people. What is required is that the culture sector builds many more support facilities to transform artistic concepts and skills (which exist in abundance) into professional and marketable products. This has four components: skills training, access to technology (equipment, hardware), marketing (venues, outlets, audience buildings) and information.

These fundamental issues are the priorities of our work at Pamberi Trust. From that standpoint we have a chance to address day-to-day problems, such as the poverty and isolation of artists, the lack of disposable income amongst audiences, assaults on freedom of expression, other measures that stifle cultural activity, and the poor exchange of cultural innovation and products in Africa.

3 – What challenges have you encountered trying to run the Pamberi Trust?

The main problem has been surviving in an economy that has shrunk by 40% over the last 5 years and in which year-on-year inflation topped 500-600%. There are critical shortages of fuel; gas is unobtainable. Tourism has plummeted and this has eroded an important source of income for artists. We have been under unwarranted political pressure because we stand for freedom of expression in the arts. Two thirds of professionals have left the country. We lack skills and resources in key areas. We are short of sound equipment, stage lighting, computers, office equipment, kitchen equipment, vehicles and we struggle to pay rent and wages almost every month. Because we work in such a tough environment we get bogged down in day-to-day survival issues and have to focus that much harder to achieve growth and development.

4 – What successes have you achieved?

Despite all these challenges we have persevered and we still organize over 500 live performances annually; 10 every week. Around 300 artists derive all or part of their livelihood from Pamberi projects. We have achieved numerous artistic accomplishments as well by pioneering new art forms such as comedy and live poetry that are finding new audiences. We have fought hard to strengthen cultural diversity promoting the acceptance and enjoyment of all cultural backgrounds and styles. We have given a platform to traditional mbira music and have been at the forefront of a jazz revival. We publish the only arts magazine in the country, and will soon establish a web-site to complement this. By facilitating over 500 public discussions we have positioned ourselves at the cutting edge of arts development and freedom of expression. Our biggest accomplishment is that we have created a cultural space free of fear, hate or prejudice for artists and audiences without any institutional or core funding support. We have had to be 90% self-sufficient and this has strengthened our resolve.

5 – What are your future priorities and goals?

We need to strengthen our cultural magazine and website, since these give the arts visibility and profile. We also need to enhance facilities for training. For three years we have been developing a ´Culture House´ strategic plan to provide facilities where artists can attain professional standards, with technical inputs and resources (like a library). This works on the basis of residencies.

We need to strengthen the culinary culture; our goal is to establish Senegalese cuisine at Book Café which would be a wonderful intra-African cultural exchange innovation; food is fundamental in culture.

The Book Café we have created can serve as a model organization and is an important African innovation which has proved very successful. We intend to adapt this model in Johannesburg and Maputo and by doing so we will promote create effective cultural exchange in our region.

Our final strategic goal is to film performing and graphic/visual arts so that our artists may reach out towards an international audience; we have plans to produce documentaries using straight-to-DVD digital cameras and sound techniques, which are cheaper, more flexible and more accessible.

6 – What sort of support do you need to continue and improve the Pamberi Trust?

We always look to partnership as a way of overcoming problems, and we are more interested in long-term partnerships where we build a shared sense of vision and achievement. It would be nice to be able to work without the constant worry over bread and butter survival issues like rent and wages which assume monstrous proportions in an economy with 600% inflation. Progress would be faster were we able to concentrate on core project activities. It is vital that we sustain ourselves and what we have achieved so far, and with this in mind, the core projects and the arts magazine we have created are really worthy of support.

From this foundation, we need partners to help us achieve the future vision as described above. Looking back at the road traveled, we have experience and confidence in our ability. What we lack are the resources to turn that vision into a reality.

7 – How important is regional co-operation and what initiatives have you been involved in?

This is partly a practical question of economies of scale. How does a small country, like ours, with a GDP perhaps one-twentieth that of a small European country construct all the necessary components (organizational and technical) for a thriving arts industry? Most African states fall into this category. It is not possible without regional co-operation. Conversely, with effective regional co-operation, the results will be much greater than ´the sum of the parts´. Understanding this, we have built our entire outlook on the understanding of the need for African regional collaboration. One starts with contacts and network-building; this results in communication and information flow; from there practical co-operation develops in many areas; it is dynamic. We played a role in establishing pan-African organizations for publishers and booksellers in the 90s. We have been active in intra-African book trade which we see as strategic. We have forged linkages with arts organizations all over Africa, mainly in music and books. The big step for the future is the creation of Book Café in Johannesburg and Maputo.
Author: The Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity


My major proficiencies lie in publishing and books, arts promotion and music (25 years) in Africa. I have practical experience of African arts and culture.

I co-founded Pamberi Trust/Book Café in 1997; a large, diverse performing arts program in Zimbabwe (currently establishing itself in Johannesburg); and African Synergy in 2002 focused on intra-African cultural exchange. I have performed with Zimbabwean jazz outfit Luck Street Blues since 1995 on tenor sax. I founded Grassroots Bookshop in 1981. All are still active.

I have worked with ministries of education at a policy planning level (Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique), and carried out assignments in many African countries. I have written about 100 essays on the African book sector, commissioned or published in a wide range of journals and about 150 published features on performing arts. I co-authored a 13-country study on African book provision, published in 2005 by the Association for Development of Education in Africa. I have worked in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa. I co-founded and helped set up regional book organisations in Africa: Zimbabwe International Book Fair Trust 1990; African Publishers’ Network (15 countries) 1992, the Pan-African Booksellers Association (14 countries) 1997.

I believe in partnership-building, African identity and the power of ideas/cultural expression to make dreams happen.