He grew up in a world where doing business was a foreign concept and capitalism a dirty word. This was the world of Mozambique in the 70s and 80s where Moreira Chonguica’s worldview was formed by the regime of socialist-communist leader Samora Machel, who favored state-owned corporations over the private sector.
“The word business did not apply to me because of the context I grew up in. I never thought about business,” says Chonguica, 35, when thinking back to his youth.
So when he started playing the saxophone as a teenager, it was meant to be a hobby, not a career. It took him many years until he realized that he could make a decent living from his passion. Today, he is actively marketing himself as a brand, by associating with big corporations like Woolworths and Vodacom.
Chonguica always felt at home in the world of jazz. Every afternoon after school, almost religiously, he visited the local library to browse through leading jazz magazines like Downbeat and Jazz Times, learning about the international world of music. He came to know about festivals, master classes, the music business and the evolution of sound technology.
“I thought, ‘Hello, there is something here that I am missing.’ I started questioning myself and I understood, ‘Ah, music is a business!’” he recalls.
Reading musicians’ biographies became his obsession. Chonguica wanted to find out all he possibly could about the person behind the voice, the business behind the musician.
“From watching music videos on TV, I always thought being a musician was just fun. But when I started reading about the successful artists of that time, like Bryan Adams, Sting, Michael Jackson, MC Hammer, Run-D.M.C., Vanilla Ice. It dawned on me that they are musicians, but they are also companies,” he says.
That’s what he wanted to achieve, as well, one day, he thought.
Chonguica did not only look behind the scenes of music. He also studied the careers of famous sportsmen like basketball star Michael Jordan and the business success stories of multinational corporations like fast food chain McDonalds.
“Michael Jordan created a fingerprint, an identity, a lifestyle. I understood that it’s not only about your success as a sportsman. It’s the way you talk, the way you dress, what you drink, with whom you collaborate. My perspective had changed completely. I started looking at music the same way as at sport,” he explains.
One day the penny dropped: he had to turn himself into a trademark.
But until then, Chonguica had a long road ahead. How was he going to grow his fledgling music career into a thriving business? Step one, was to leave poverty-stricken Mozambique, which had just emerged from more than two decades of bloody internal conflict. He enrolled as a music student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa in 1997. Living for the first time in a market-driven economy, Chonguica woke up to a sobering reality: combining his dream of being a jazz artist with making money would be extremely difficult.
“I suddenly realized that it would have made much more sense to study economics or engineering or architecture. I got a fright. I thought I have no future. I didn’t want to be just another poor musician.”
In a panic, he played with the thought of de-registering from his studies. It was a drastic decision for someone whose relationship with music had begun early on in his life, pretty much before he could walk or talk. His father, a medical doctor who ran the national health ministry’s pharmacy department, was an ardent music lover. The turntable in the family’s living room in Maputo’s Polana neighborhood hardly stood still.
“My father had a huge collection of LPs. Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Johnny Clegg, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Pink Floyd, the Police and lots of instrumental jazz. Every evening when he came home from work, he put the system on loud,” says Chonguica.
Chonguica, the boy, listened, and his devotion to music grew. He soon attended a state-subsidized music school where he was introduced to the saxophone—an instrument he never put down again. It was this deep-seated relationship with music that made him years later, as a student, change his mind once again.
“I realized that a musician is who I am. I decided that I have to make it work. I have to change the game. I cannot just play saxophone, I have to turn it into a business.”
And so he graduated with a degree in jazz performance and ethnomusicology and started to play and tour with top South African jazz artists, such as Jimmy Dludlu and Alvin Dyers.
“I purposefully attached myself to the big names, toured with them and played at the top jazz festivals in the world,” says Chonguica.
“It’s like when you’re a soccer player, you want to play with Real Madrid,” he says in reference to the Spanish football club, one of the top performing clubs in the world.
A trip to the United States in 2000 opened his eyes to the world of music even further.
“I saw musicians making a lot of money, getting the right publicity, becoming famous. It was ‘wow’. My perspective of how the music business works totally changed,” he says.
His role model became Quincy Jones, who over five decades in the entertainment industry not only excelled as a jazz trumpeter and performer but became one of the top record producers of all time, working with pop icons like Michael Jackson.
“Quincy Jones is my hero because he shaped and changed the world with music. He built an empire,” says Chonguica.
Back in South Africa, Chonguica changed tack. He didn’t want to be a member of someone else’s band anymore. He wanted to become an artist in his own right, build his own brand. He teamed up with Woolworths and was a celebrity model for the retailer’s winter men’s collection. He became a brand ambassador for Laurentina Premium, an SABMiller beer, Vodacom Mozambique and Mozambican airline LAM, and has collaborated with Nokia, J&B and Mozambique’s largest commercial bank BCI.
“I am marketing myself differently [from other jazz artists]. I am creating concepts of myself, buzz words. Someone will say ‘I know that guy. I want to book him’,” he explains.
He also created an independent recording label, Morestar Entertainment, and produced several albums of conceptual African fusion of jazz, cleverly keeping tabs on his musical output as well as his earnings: “I own everything I do.” Three South Africa Music Awards (SAMA) and another two nominations later, Chonguica’s records can be downloaded from all major music websites, like iTunes, SoundCloud or ReverbNation, giving Chonguica a global presence.
But it’s the branding that has kept Chonguica financially afloat much more than income generated from performances or music sales, especially since the global financial crisis hit in 2008.
“The first thing that’s affected in an economic downturn is entertainment. There are less jazz festivals, reduced budgets for musicians. I came to the conclusion that I can’t depend on festivals and gigs to make money. It’s not sustainable,” he says.
Chonguica’s advice to young musicians: Create our own concepts. Brand your band, young man.