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Which reigns supreme between sing-along and dance?

By Jasmine Atieno
Friday, November 13th, 2020
Agnes Nonsizi.
In summary

In music, there are many facets that make or break a song. And as Jasmine Atieno writes, the jury is still out on whether the most successful musicians, or songs, are those that engage the fans in dance or in singing along

The truth is that there are artistes and songs that became so successful in the 80s and 90s, and are still relevant to this day.

The trick, some people say, was the musicians’ ability to engage the fans in their live performances, while others opine the secret is in the composition; the lyrics.

The question is, what is the best trick when it comes to having a song have a lasting memory among one’s fan base? Is it the sing-along lyrics or the dance?

 For instance, veteran gospel singer Esther Wahome’s music has lived through the time.

His mega hit Kuna Dawa—released in 2004 off her debut album Yahweh—has stood the test of time, especially after becoming the club banger it has been for almost two decades now.

Esther says her preference has always been sing-alongs rather than dance.

“In the entertainment industry, 90 per cent of the content is secular and only about 10 per cent is gospel, so we can’t really put these on equal boards.

As a gospel artiste, my music is about impacting more lives through God’s message.

As much as my music is played in clubs and such, my purpose when I am performing is to drive the revellers to their healer and not just to shake and dance,” she tells Spice. 

She adds, “Also, the gospel industry has different categories of artistes. For instance, when you compare an artiste such as Mercy Masika with Willy Paul (back then), they are completely different.

Willy Paul is more about the hype, while Mercy is a vessel for hope. For myself, I am more about “do you get the message, do you believe, do you see and confess what I am confessing?”

The tongue is a powerful tool and when they sing along to what I am confessing, they are confessing it with me.”

In nature, Mombasa-based singer Susumila’s music is engaging to the fans. His latest hit Sonona ft Mbosso is basically the listener’s favourite. He says sing-alongs are the kind to engage the Kenyan fans.

“I think these dynamics vary from one country to another. In the USA, for instance, they prefer dance performances.

In Kenya, on the other hand, a majority of artistes don’t perform with dance, rather, sing-alongs are our way of engaging the audience and gaining popularity.

If you look at artistes such as Jua Cali, Khaligraph Jones and Nyashinski, there is always that line that belongs to the fans to sing along to back-to-back when the artiste is performing. That way, the fans feel involved in the performance,” he shares.

Magic in perfection

Sauti Sol, one of East Africa’s best music ensemble have achieved so much for they have made it their mandate to keep the fans engaged, whether in their songs or during live performances through a combination of dance and sing-alongs.

According to one of its members, Bien-Aime Baraza, the trick is to perfect the craft holistically.

“It is not about one specific thing; there is the need to be excellent in both dance and sing-along lyrics if you have to win in this industry.

You have to understand that your fans are not in love with you because you are just an amazing person, but because of the hardwork you put in the craft. So, you have to work at perfecting your craft all round,” shares Bien.

Music fan and critic Charles Adhola opines that any artiste with a significant number of songs that have simple sing along lines that fans can engage with, Red Bull will always win the preference of the masses.

“Why were some fans inclined to think that Mose Fan Fan’s Papa Lolo was a new release? Why was the song so popular?

Music artistes.

It is because there were sing along lines. There are a number of songs that stick in the minds of fans for long and the fact that they can sing along it makes them relate more,” he says.

Since producers play an integral role at perfecting the recorded music, they have to constantly adjust with what is best for the fans.

As Amz Producer intimates, there are many ways that an artiste can maximise the fan engagement during performances.

He says: “First, own the stage; make it your playground. Don’t spend the entire time in front of the microphone stuck on one point.

Energy; don’t give the audience a break; the show should constantly give something for the audience to focus on.

Choose an outfit that matches your energy and have someone to record your performance.

A few days after the show, sit down and watch it. Review it. Get to understand what your audience is looking for.

The more you know about your audience, the more you can cater to their needs. Lastly, practise is the number one way to build confidence.”

He adds that when making the music, producers also put deliberate considerations for the purpose of stage performances.

The artiste’s target audience determines how the stage performance preparations will be. 

“The chorus should be short and catchy. Choruses take the huge chunk of time in a song because they are repeated several times.

A short and catchy chorus will make it easier for the crowd to sing along.

An artiste should also consider the types of beats that are trendy. This way, it will be easier to engage the crowd,” says Amz.

Reality in readjusting 

Top reggae deejay and producer ZJ Heno intimates that as much as he would not create music with considerations of the audience before, he has had to make the adjustment with time.

“In any form of performing arts, it is always good to engage the fans. As an artiste, have a sing along chorus that people can relate to. So, the sing-alongs are very important.

As a creator, I never used to consider it, but nowadays at least 10 to 20 per cent of my creation must consider the audience,” he says.

Ketebul Music founder Tabu Osusa is a key part of the East African music industry. For the last 30 years, he has been involved in the music industry as a promoter, producer, composer and band manager.

He has been actively involved in shaping the careers and running some of the top recording and performing bands and artistes in the country, including the much-acclaimed Orchestra Virunga and The Nairobi City Ensemble, and most recently Iddi Achieng, Makadem, Suzanna Owiyo and Winyo, among others.

“An artiste is only good when they record well. Once you record well, you can perform well.

When it comes to live performance, all of these matter. The problem with the artistes today is that most of them can’t perform and also can’t be advised.

Also, you cannot compare the western music scenes with the African scenes. Locally, there are many genres and it all takes proper management to master.

There is no one specific side that works for all genres and all artistes. Music is art and there is no formula,” says Osusa.

Music publicist Agnes Nonsizi opines that although each artiste is different from the other, they are all expected to move with their biggest strengths when it comes to engaging the audience.

She tells Spice: “It all depends with your strengths. There are artistes who are good at live performance while others are best in recording.

So, if you are good on stage, you have to maximise on that. For example, when you look at Beyonce, she puts the most in the dance than singing, while another artiste will sing more than dance.

It would be really hard for a gengetone artiste to perform with a live band. It is all up to the artiste to recognise their strengths and perfect them by putting in the hard work through practicing.

Understand your audience and work on your skills; dancing is not for everyone.

Also, we need to get more people to invest in music. Some of these things need money. Resources are key.”

MC Philipo has seen the best and worst of live performances. He feels that new artistes should pick dance over sing-alongs until the ground is fair enough for them.

“Sing-alongs need well established artistes. Newcomers need the dance more, because people cannot sing along to a song when they don’t even know the artiste.

A new artiste has to use dance and while at it, teach people the song. But not every artiste is a dancer; we only have a few of such who are really good dancers, one of whom is Willy Paul.

It also depends with your target audience. For instance, Sauti Sol’s target audience is one that can sing along,” he says in conclusion.

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