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Musicians have at times found themselves in tight spots

Musicians have at times found themselves in tight spots, after conforming to foreign agendas when working with NGOs.
Manuel Ntoyai delves into the issue

A few weeks ago, creatives converged at the Kenya Cultural Centre where the Annual Democracy and Human Rights Festival was taking place. The festival brought together 350 strategic stakeholders for a two-day interactive engagement, exploring opportunities, threats and strengths related to the pursuit of democracy, human rights and gender equality in Kenya. One of the session was dubbed, Curating for Social Change.

On the panel were stars Juliani, Fena Gitu and DJ Gregg, who have previously worked with international organisations and received funding for projects under the artivism canvas. Music and activism form a large picture of what many today call artivism. The word is coined from the two words, art and activism, given the prominent role that art is playing in helping shape the opinion of many in today’s society.

Given the magic it creates and the huge numbers of fans worldwide, music has been used as a platform to reach out to the masses, often with different messages intended. At times it is about love, but other times, the world’s of popular culture and entertainment has found itself crossing roads with politics and the world of activism.

“Music itself has that ability to penetrate subliminally and its value often lies in providing us perspective and new ways to envision our world. Given the situation, people have leveraged on this cultural topography to push for different agendas,” rapper Hustla Jay says.

Hustla is one of the few artistes who have made inroads as one of the creatives directly involved in pursuit of justice and equality in the country. He has done a number of songs including Continental Scars and Minyororo, which he backed up with a couple of documentaries.

This saw him perform at various gigs where our learned friends met and he made quite the impression on former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. “As artistes, we have a role to educate and inform the society and while at this, some of us have taken a proactive role in ensuring that we attain certain social changes. Often, it creates a buzz, which at times attracts like-minded individuals and organisations who might be interested in working with you,” he says.

Music plays a crucial creative role, as it can work as an access point through which agendas can be pushed and this helps to engage people who are otherwise alienated by certain systems. Given the financial muscle that they come with, the carrot is often dangled, leading the artiste to at times be labelled a “sell out”.

Some end up being called names such as puppets and pipers of foreign masters whose motive is always taken with a pinch of salt. The needs to conform to the sponsors agenda has always created a lukewarm relationship, as artistes feel they are being used and once the contract ends, they have no links of working with the organisations and end up dealing with a worked up fan base who might feel betrayed by the artiste’s action.

“It is not hard to work with these organisations if you know what you are doing. Some of us have developed a win-win formula creating a formidable partnership,” Juliani stated during the festival. “What we as creatives should do is make sure that we do not compromise on the packaging or be used to push agendas, which directly creates conflicts within the society.

Conflicting interests are dangerous to any artiste,”shares the Machozi ya Jana hit maker. Dennis Njenga who is the managing partner at Kaka Empire agrees. “If you create a situation where everyone walks home happy, then it is a good deal.

Artistes want monetary value attached to the deal and the other party is interested in the numbers and influence the artiste has,” he shares. However, he warns that at times, the organisations or individuals could be too stiff and stick to their principles, an experience he had while negotiating a partnership deal for songstress Avril.

“There is a time when a certain NGO wanted to work with Avril and they were unyielding on the avenues they wanted the message shared on. Then when it came to packaging of the intended messages, we felt that we were compromising too much and had to take a step back. Eventually, we came up with an arrangement that benefited both parties,” he adds.

Given the sensitivity of such symbiotic relationships, artistes have to take a proactive role in not only defining their roles, but also set the bar for the environment in which their creativity can flourish. While at it, they have the delicate task of making sure that the message is not lost, and nor do they lose their way in the artism world and forget why they possess the talent in the first place.

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