The Kenyan musician is screwed. I say this with the utmost pain for the Kenyan music industry which employs so many people. Being a musician in Kenya has got to be one of the hardest careers to pursue. It is not for a lack of talent, for sure. You just need to attend one of the karaoke sessions or musicals in local theater and you will hear some of the best voices around. But no, the consumption of Kenyan music is still very low. Hitherto, we depended on the radio and DJs to access Kenyan music. Transitioning to a digital age, one would assume that there would be a greater hunger for our own music. Sadly that is not the case.
Complacency in improving production of music
The question then begs who or what is failing us? At the risk of sounding redundant, most of music in the industry is nothing to write home about. Content is everywhere but that needs to be transformed into a story that then other people can interpret and relate to. The tendency to use catchy phrases and loose hooks to make a ‘hit’ that soon fades away, is defining our music. Artists are falling into the trap of producing sub-standard music because that is what gets the hype. It does not survive the times though.
It is easy to argue that we are what we consume and that is why such music continues to make way to our devices. Yesu Ndiye Sponsor by Jimmy Gait is no longer popular. It trended within hours of its release. He even got interviews where he attempted to explain the song. Who is talking about it now? Social media has feigned what success is. Success is people going on music streaming sites and paying to download your music. It is Kenyans paying to come see you perform. Trending on twitter may feel good but it does not pay bills.
Anyiko Owoko mentioned, in an article last year, how there seems to be a laxity in producing quality work in the entertainment industry. I had a chat with a videographer who was on a music video set where models cum dancers were working pro-bono by virtue of being fans of the artist. I mean if they are such good dancers/models, why not pay them? If you do not pay your people, you cannot even hold them to a high level of professionalism. Something else that we do not seem to understand is not even the best actors/models can save a weak story line. If we cannot engage with your song, then we have no reason to listen to it.
Kenyans have the money but not much to buy
Comedians somehow manage to do well in Kenya. If they are doing anything else on the side, it is because they are hosting an event, where they are still doing their act. We pay to attend events like the Laugh festival, the live recording of the Churchill show. Kenyans have money to spend on entertainment. The recently held concert The Plot had its VVIP tickets priced at Ksh. 20,000 that sold out weeks before the show. The money is there, there is just not much to buy.
If PRC can afford to host great international acts, they can plan a concert of the same magnitude for Kenyan musicians. But many want to assure their target market of a good line-up hence why they reach out to international acts. Safaricom Live has in the past supported local artists. The music is played live and there is extensive rehearsal hence the good performances. Unless such work ethic is called for, may artists will readily give playback performances backed by dancers as they jump around stage. No one will pay Ksh. 1,000 let alone Ksh. 20,000 to watch that.
We neither consume nor vote for our music
Mercy Masika’s song Mwema released late last year is fast approaching 3 million views on YouTube. Only a few artists can boast of such views in Kenya. On the other hand Tanzania’s musicians can easily scoop over a million hits within hours of releasing their song. I bet some of those views are by our very own Kenyans. The late Simon Njoroge aka ‘Shrekeezy’ so aptly described why Tanzanians are beating us in our own turf in this Facebook post. We do not consume our music on YouTube unless it is of course it scandalous and even that lasts a few days.
We come second to South Africa in internet usage but that does not translate to views. Even worse, votes. We have argued that we lose to Nigeria in many award shows because of their large population. Assuming everyone in the two countries votes for their own specific artists we might lose, but then in millions. This love hate relationship between Kenyan artists and the audience is not doing any of us any good. It does not matter that Victoria Kimani has worked with some of the biggest artists (Nigeria’s Banky W, Dama do Bling – Mozambique e.t.c.) in Africa. We do not celebrate that. I wonder if a Grammy win would earn her our support. Let us not cry foul when musicians look for opportunities beyond Kenya.
The bottom line is this is a give and take industry. An artist gives good music, the audience buys it. The artists plan for tours and invest in giving stellar performances and in turn we pay for the concerts and the music industry grows as a whole. Both the artist and the audience need to want better for the industry as a whole. It can be better.