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Social media in Kenyan digital space, more artistes are becoming visible

By Barry Silah
Friday, May 15th, 2020
Nonini.

With the advent of social media penetration into the Kenyan digital space, more artistes are becoming visible and sellable. However, some of them from the yester years are finding it hard to make a coin in this era. BARRY SILA explores.

The musical scene in Kenya has transformed tremendously over the years and with it has come different styles of presentation.

With the entry of strong bandwidth and Internet connectivity, many artistes are now much better poised for commercial success.

All manner of artistes have tried their hand on the trade from the post-independence to the new millennium.

Different entities have been set up  and many job opportunities created, especially the youth.

With social media influence now taking root, artistes such as Khaligraph Jones, Willy Paul and Ethic are now commanding views and raking in decent amounts of money.

However, a certain so-called golden generation of Kenyan musicians—from the late 80s to the early 2000s—have gotten swallowed by the new age generation of artistes.

The new acts are not only commanding airplay, but also rubbing shoulders with corporates and therefore, becoming popular and richer because of their interactions on the Internet. 

Music connoisseur and events guru Moses Mbasu aka Budha Blaze says the real problem are the cartels who have taken over the industry such that the true greats have been pushed aside.

“As it is, music in Kenya is not developed enough and this is why even the older artistes feel left out. Professionals do not run the industry and so, the legends feel disrespected.

Tedd Josiah.

People in the media have no time for creativity, but rushing after those with click baits.

We need a clean up even though online platforms have taken over, we still need a dialogue of how best the oldies get a piece of the cake because most of their music is timeless.

It is important, however, to embrace technology, but only the right approach should be used,” says Blaze.

Generational change

“World over, music is about trends and we just have to get used to that fact. We have a new generation of acts coming through each and every day, but urban music has a short shelf life because of the evolution process.

Back then, we did it because it suited us, but as time went on, we had to find new meaning to life.

Maji and I started as youngsters—around 19 years of age, but overtime, we have accepted transition,” says radio presenter Joseph Ogidi aka Gidi of the now defunct rap duo Gidi Gidi Maji Maji.

Gidi says majority of the ‘golden age’ artistes have since found new purpose and have other things going on in life including families.

“In any case, with social media influence, people are now doing things out there because the new kids have to take over.

Suzanne Gachukia.

The other challenge frustrating old acts is that royalties are a problem and piracy is on the increase,” he points.

Veteran music producer Tedd Josiah of Audio Vault Studios—a founding member of R&B groups Ebony Affair & Hart that flourished in the 90s—says radio stations have since been compromised to play “shallow” music thereby ignoring quality golden music.

“Firstly, good music will never die and that is a fact. The media has let itself get influenced to play funky music and there has been a frenzy to also play sexualised content.

A big generation of the golden music is left out, thus starved of money and this is sad for the welfare of the families,” says Tedd.

He feels most of today’s music mostly speaks to the young souls, thus people such as the late Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams and Fundi Konde, who died poor, are ignored. 

“A large audience is being partitioned and for some of us guys, we have to find better footing.

We rarely hear music from guys such as Hardstone or Eric Wainaina anymore and we wonder why such rich music goes unappreciated.

Musicians such as Ayub Ogada and Africa Heritage were big exports and Jack Odongo mentored great musical sons yet we hear less of them and this is unfortunate,” he laments.

Pushing the hustle

Singer and producer Kevin Waire aka Wyre says most of the so-called older generation of artistes create their own events and push on with the hustle.

Avril.

“Every artiste I think has individual plans so it could be wrong to assume their level of activeness has subsided.

Certainly, not all things have to be paraded on the limelight. Some of us have privacy and it still works,” he says.

He adds that music comes with trends and genres that change, in that what’s on high rotation on the airwaves has to be what is hot because that is what dictates that line of business. 

Homeboyz Entertainment’s John Rabar aka DJ John agrees that new blood has to be given their space in the industry.

“It is a natural cycle that happens with all industries. Music as any other business will always see models change ever so often and it is because relevance is key.

The older artistes have now to think of diversity because music goes beyond the stage and studio.

What we need to understand is that majority of those who drive the music industry are the young people and therefore, they want to listen to those who only connect to them,” he tells Spice.

He acknowledges the new dawn of the Internet saying, “Now we have a good platform that is online where most of us can do live shows and make money, so it is a positive challenge I think.

At Homeboyz Studios, for example, in the past 10 years we have produced hit songs and won awards and in fact, should be leaving off it, which is not necessarily the case.

Chris Kirwa.

It is about reinvention and not finding excuses or sympathy,” says Rabar.

Suzanne Gachukia, formerly of R&B group Zana Ziki, states that most oldies hate the intrusive nature of social media, even as they push on with doing their thing.

“They might not be doing as much events, but they are alive to the music scene. A lot has changed in the industry and it is about disruption and adapting for most of us.

Audience reach is challenging and also most of us have been undercut by some organisations, so it becomes a frustrating journey even though music is our passion,” she says.

Rap artiste Hubert Nakitare aka Nonini says ways should be left wide open for the new kids on the block, since it is their time.

He says, “It is the time for the new guys to do their thing. The industry is dictated by what is hot and relevant so it is definitely their time.

However, for the older folk, if you have a good plan and you got into the industry with proper strategy, you should not worry.

What has failed many artistes is the branding aspect, which is actually crucial in sustaining entertainers.

People must have passion, then the creativity aspect because right now we have multiple channels to reach people and make money.”

Singer Avril believes stagnation is nothing to be welcomed in the music scene. “Life does change and that applies to music as well.

People have to elevate themselves and push other projects such as being directors or producers.

The important thing to note is that trends are here to nudge us to move on or improve, so the industry demands reinvention.”

Sustenance strategies 

Mr Filter, the one third of yester year’s rap group Wakimbizi, blames showbiz politics for pushing aside veteran artistes.

“Even though we agree the industry has changed in terms of style and content, we know part of the problem is cartels.

Artistes, especially of my time, did well and built numbers, but somewhere along the line got frustrated by some event organisers and promoters who ‘ate’ our money and misused our talent.

These made some artistes to leave the country in search of better grounds out there.

Poor royalty payment by the requisite bodies and poor management from the artistes side are the other challenges that have seen some artistes waste away and others quit altogether,” he says.

Events manager Chris Kirwa says it’s all about choices and personal belief for older artistes. “A lot of the older music folks are not really into social media right now and that is their biggest handicap.

In this era, you cannot solely rely on events, so people must be fully aware of how the industry is changing.

Most of them have had to go under, but for a few of them, it was about adapting fast and also incorporating the young into their projects.

Adding insult to injury, we have Collective Management Organisations that are not really working for most artistes; and for the old guard with low musical rotation on, it must be tough,” he intimates.