In showbiz, relevance is equal to dominance. Manuel Ntoyai finds out who pulls the strings in the game
When it comes to making it happen in showbiz circles, specifically the music business, there has always been a debate on whose role supersedes whose. Who is the cog in the wheel? While trying to answer the question, a couple of issues arises creating a labyrinth of conflicting case.
For showbiz to be complete, professionals must be employed to take care of business as artistes do the tripple S, that is Stage, Set and Studio. While at it, it is common to hear that a certain celebrity has fired his or her management or has been expunged from a certain label. In TZ, Wasafi Records boasts of top management personnel and are currently laughing all the way to the bank. But what roles do managers perform?
“Music managers are in charge of running all aspects of the business either for an individual artiste, or as a label. This includes establishing and maintaining contacts with the people in distribution, media or even when corporates come calling, this is when managers step into the picture and negotiate on behalf of the artiste. They are responsible with creating a monetary value on the brands,” says Dennis Njenga, the managing partner at Kaka Empire.
However, this particular arrangement has been seen to create fallouts and just like marriages, these kinds of partnerships at times do not last. The common denominator has always been money. It’s always about the money. Locally, Kiddis and Grandpa Records paint the picture clearly. The two may clash once in a while, but without each other, there is no business.
A while ago, Kenyan DJs decided to hit back at artistes threatening to disregard their content. The issue simmered after local artistes accused DJs of promoting foreign content as their countrymen languished in poverty with loads of content out there, and yet get zero support. In return, a section of artistes put things in motion in their respective collective management organisations and came up with licences that sought to have music users (read DJs) pay for the music they use. The issue brought the two factions at the crossroads with some DJs threatening to stop playing local music.
“Did you know that a DJ can play in a club all night without featuring local music?” DJ Stylez recently wrote on Twitter.
Even deejays plying their trade in matatus have felt the wrath of artistes, with almost every PSV playing Jamaican exported riddims.
DJ Lyta for one has had some fire directed at him with his Hot Grabba mixtapes having almost an entire playlist of Jamaican music.
“The music business relies a lot on hype and when the hype is on riddims, the most sensible thing to do as a businessman is to seize the opportunity and while at it, promote some local content that blends with it. It’s nothing personal, but again, we also do local mixtapes and their demand is never as big as the others — it comes down to math,” he says.
Tranquillity followed, and even with the current ceasefire, one might hear grumbling here and there with the two sides still feeling supremo over each other.
The name promoter is taken with a pinch of salt in showbiz circles as they are known to be a scandalous lot. Basically, there are two types, the fake and the real ones. However, there is a thin line between the two and trust is the virtue that is often abused leading to heartbreaks.
Fake promoters have been accused of leaving artistes stranded in airports, hotels and even backstage after performances. Promoters control the money from the corporates and take the risk while artistes on the other hand control the crowd and the content. Before developing trust and a warm working relationship, the two parties have always treated each other with caution.
Many con men pose as promoters and will even act as the booking agents, but due to lack of experience, they end up doing bookings on behalf of the real promoters and when it’s time of the event, you see most events flop and artistes don’t show up due to lack of transparency and monkey business driven by greed,” says Opipi, who runs Opipi Inc.
“There are also artistes who you book for an event and when they get a bigger show, they return the cash and don’t care about expenses lost. Others turn up late and drunk and they are fully aware that there are sponsors who will be asking questions at the end of the day,” he says.
There are different roles for producer out there, but in the Kenyan context, producers are the sound engineers and at times, the managers. Most of the time, artistes land on the hands of these producers while still raw and with time, develop their brands at the expense of the producers. Quite often, the chemistry between the two is fire and at times, cold as ice. When making music, a simple document such as split sheet can cause endless drama and court sessions like when Lil Wayne got sued by Deezle for not getting proper compensation for the song Lollipop. Again, when the bind between the two break, at times it leads to the artiste losing his foot and rhythm in the game and what comes next, is trying to make a comeback for the artiste, which is not always guaranteed. But also rightfully, artistes have accused producers of insatiable appetite of their own money, despite putting them on the map in the first place.
When it comes to making sure that content is played, media plays an important role. Often media and artistes have been running in a circus, with the latter accusing the former of not supporting their own. One of the most admonished media players is Mseto East Africa CEO, Mzazi Willy M Tuva, who many have accused of favouring music from Tanzania.
“I believe a radio presenter plays a key role in promoting East African music and supporting by nurturing talent because of the on air platforms and the huge audience we have. Mseto is credited with breaking the East African boundaries and uniting East Africa through music,” he points out.
“When I started Mseto, most radio stations were not playing local content, but I changed that by introducing our Kenyan stars, popularising Bongo Flava and Ugandan music. I believe that a presenter has the power to influence the audience to appreciate our own content,” he adds.
With conflicting angles and need to push for a better market, the defining moment for music stakeholders is upon us. And as with every gatekeeper, each plays a role in how the the machine operates. They run the town!