Susumila, Timmy Tdat, Femi One and Guardian Angel caved in to pressure emanating from the evolving music scene and had to play by the market’s expectations, writes Manuel Ntoyai
When starting their music careers, artistes most probably have plans: on how they are going to make it. While no idea is too crazy and as Oscar Award winner Lupita Nyong’o once said, dreams are valid,sometimes the chasing of numbers calls for change of sails into a different direction.
Artistes have to take risks to make their brands not just popular, but also long-lasting. While at it, some are forced to stop music altogether while others tweek a few elements here and there to adjust to and stand changing currents.
The biggest of it all comes when they have to change their style of doing business (genre) to something “more trendy and fun”. This doesn’t always work out for all; some fall of the ladder. The lucky few hit a goldmine and enjoy the success that comes with it.
“When I started music, I was highly influenced by ragga. Even in school competitions, everyone knew I was the hotshot when it came to it and this extended to my career,” says Timmy Tdat.
However, after observing the market and how his music was doing in the streets and on media, it dawned on Timmy he wasn’t reaching out to as many people as he wanted.
“Something had to change. First, I found out that most of my fans did not understand Jamaican Patois that I was using and hence could not relate to the songs,” he says. Having identified the problem, Timmy went on to rebrand his music. This, he says, is called money moves.
“I realised there is beauty in simplicity and when Wele Wele came out, the response from my fans and media was immense. I knew I had hit it right. The problem was now living up to these standards and expectations in terms of quality packaging,” he adds.
True to his words, his brand became visible and sought after. For Susumila, rap music was the well he drew his creativity from. Coming from the coastal city of Mombasa, he first broke out as Kanali before later changing his name to Susumila.
“I love hip-hop and I know deep down, I am a rapper. However, most of the artistes who were around me such as Chikuzee and Ally B were singers. Everyone was pushing for Ziki La Nazi, by Ally B, as the official sound for Coast,” he says.
With the rise of Afro-pop music in the continent, Susumila joined the wagon to ride on the wave. He often collaborating with Bongo Fleva artistes and before long, he had fully immersed himself into the beat.
“Some of the moves were necessitated by the market and the need to stay relevant. It was risky because there are fans who think that we stopped doing hip-hop music, but the majority have jumped into the bandwagon and moved on with me. It is essential for an artiste to be flexible because the market demands it,” he states.
Those who do not know much about Femi One’s background might be surprised to find out that she used to do hardcore hip-hop. So big was her reputation that hip-hop heads projected her as one of the toughest femcees in Kenya.
When she signed to Kaka Empire the release of her new songs immediately labelled her a sell-out. “I needed to diversify my brand and expand to more horizons. I needed to grow my fanbase and show that I can do hardcore and commercial music as well.
When critics stated that I was a sell-out, I knew I would prove them wrong by increasing my portfolio. I believe I am a much better artiste and my music is not limited to just rap fans,” she intimates. Guardian Angel came up as a reggae artiste with songs like Amazing Grace, which catapulted him into the limelight.
Producer J Blessing saw the talent in him and introduced him to R Kay for recording. While here, he tried to do Zouk music, but his heart was elsewhere.
“Zouk is not the sound that the current mass market is listening to. That is why I crossed over, switching to the new sound (Afro-rap). I teamed up with Vicky Pondis who has mastered this sound. Since I’m also a songwriter, I was able to handle pressure from my fans and they love my hit Nadeka,” he told Spice.
As the showbiz world continues to grow, so do the artistes who have aligned their brands, taking advantage of current market forces. The biggest challenge, however, lies in not just taking the step of faith into untested waters, but also convincing their fans that they’re there to stay.