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Why Kenyan entertainers are now trooping to Middle East

By Manuel Ntoyai
Friday, November 15th, 2019

With Kenyan entertainers seemingly hypnotised by the opportunities in the Middle East, MANUEL NTOYAI sheds light on whether the five-hour flight from 254 is worth the journey

The grass is always greener on the other side. Sometimes. And for Kenyan entertainers, the other side of the fence seems to be the Middle East, where they go to showcase their talents, and as they say, the party never stops, especially in Dubai. 

Today, a legion of continental artistes will be performing down in Dubai at the One Africa Music Festival. Arguably one of the best shows in terms of the calibre of artistes performing and payment, the platform not only promotes African music, but also showcases Africa’s best and brightest talents on a global level. Among the performers are Burna Boy, WizKid, Eddy Kenzo, Tekno, 2Face, Tiwa Sawage, Harmonize, Diamond Platnumz, with Akothee as the only one to fly the 254 flag.  

“Africans, especially Kenyans, love to have a good time as much as they are known to be hard workers. Given an opportunity, they flock clubs whether there is a big event or not. Since its easy for them to follow things back home, they always know what’s trending, which artiste is on top of the game and which deejay mix is on heavy rotation,” Dubai-based promoter Liz Jahsoljah tells Spice. 

When it comes to the actual business, promoters would strike a deal that caters for logistics such as flights, accommodation and other expenses.

“Each artiste make their own demands. There are those who will demand (and deserve) first class flights; then there are those who will make do with economy class. Some performers have crazy riders attached to their contract, but since we are all in for business, there is always a middle ground or a party willing to change their position,” she adds. 

Fake promoters, naive performers

However, this has not stopped fake promoters from preying on naive entertainers quick to agree to ‘sweet deals’. “A couple of years back, rapper Cannibal had an issue with a promoter based here in Dubai. When news went round about what conspired between him and Waziri (the promoter), it was an edgy period for us promoters, but soon things normalised,” says Liz.  

Speaking to the media after the altercations, Waziri was quick to remind everyone that showbiz, just like any other venture, has its ups and downs. “Investments in this industry are high and the losses are higher since there are no insurance policies to cover events because they’re based on speculation, similar to the stock and foreign exchange market,” he said. 

Among top entertainers in the Middle East are deejays spread across entertainment joints. From Qatar, Bahrain to Dubai, they act as agents for clubs and artistes, providing plug-in services, which sees everyone walk to the bank smiling.

DJ Renee, who plies her trade between Dubai and Bahrain, says there are a number of issues to consider before booking an entertainer.

“We have to look at the brand equity, the performer’s fan base and then start looking for licenses, which normally go for around Sh28,000, then a two-week visa that costs around Sh15,000 before we book flights for them,” she says. 

The West African flavour

As it is back in Africa, West Africans artistes and deejays have an advantage when it comes to getting bigger and better paying shows. One Africa Festival is almost a West African affair, with their East African counterparts getting fewer slots. However, this has not stopped Kenyan entertainers from claiming a slice of the cake. 

“At times, once every two months, we normally have a Kenyan thing, and Kiza Lounge is known for that. While there, we interact and network with other Kenyan entertainers. At the end of the day, I would say anyone planning to relocate to Dubai has to work harder to plan and connect with the market because things here work a little different,” she adds. 

Rapper Gkon says: “In Bahrain for example, there are three famous Kenyan promoters who pull the shots; Moha, Vincent and Victor. They make our stay as comfortable as possible and negotiate our fees to everyone’s satisfaction. Normally, artistes get paid from Sh100,000 upwards, depending on their brand equity and then they take care of other logistics including your crew and for those who want, an escort or two for your pleasure.” 

 But while it is all smiles for a section of the entertainers, up-and-coming acts based in Bahrain feel they are still getting a raw deal. 

“While many international artistes come here and are given five-star treatment, the rest of us have to struggle to get paid-shows. Despite coming from the same country, some deejays here want you to perform for free in the name of supporting each other,” says Dubai-based singer 2GB.

She adds many of the budding artistes also get overlooked when they return to Kenya; they cite the reception is always lukewarm and they receive little or no media attention or rotation.

“It is sad when some of us who have to work other jobs in order to get money to pay for our recording and video shoots. We receive almost no recognition back at home and what’s even sadder is seeing someone you left back there doing better and scaling the ladders of the system so quickly, that they come to get paid here in the Middle East while you are still struggling,” adds 2GB. 

Popular street entertainer DJ Lyta is a frequent performer in the three countries, with Dubai being the favourite. “People there love reggae and dancehall music and Kenyan selectors are amongst the best in the world. Apart from Kenyans who follow us religiously, we have guys from other nationalities who also love reggae music,” he says. 

Big brother is watching

As the old adage goes, when in Rome, do as Romans do. Partying in Islamic states is not easy, especially with the strict Sharia laws regulating affairs parties and events. “In Kenya, we can party at a local joint from morning to morning, it’s a 24-hour booze-fueled party here.

But it’s different there. Clubs operate up to 2am and after that, the party stops. The disco lights go off and normal operations resume. There is police presence everywhere, some dressed as civilians, while CCTV cameras will give you the feeling that big brother is always watching,” Lyta says.

According to the Hot Grabba mixmaster, such opportunities are not only financially rewarding, but also compel one to be more professional and learn and appreciate other people’s cultures. Usually on these visits, entertainers can take advantage to shop for equipment and upgrade their wardrobes.

“With the two-week visa, one can take advantage to get quality studio equipment and even do their videos. However, it is rare for us to spend extra days because life there is expensive. So, the ‘parte after parte’ is normally back here at home,” he adds. 

Kenyan socialites are also known for flaunting on social media when they get to Dubai. While some go there for private reasons, the business-minded ones leverage on their huge social media presence to host parties. Vera Sidika is known for hosting her parties at Kiza Lounge in Dubai, which last week also hosted comedian Eric Omondi and Congolese musician Awilo Longomba. 

According to Doha-based promoter Sheikha Mercy, the top selling point is that Kenyans also flock to their events and this goes a long way in supporting the artistes.

“We recently had MC Jessy here and East Africans came in large numbers to offer support. Social events are not just for networking, but also a way of relieving stress and improving mental health,” she says.