The powwow between Kenyan musicians and the media is yet to die. The blaze continues to rage, eliciting a near altercation between the two industries, writes Manuel Ntoyai
In the last week, the showbiz industry has ignited a fierce debate on whether Kenyan media has played its role in supporting local music as opposed to foreign artistes. While many artistes — since the days of the late Poxi Presha — have been fighting for local content to be given priority in media houses, little has been achieved.
Last week, rapper Khaligraph Jones opened a can of worms when he intimated that he would sponsor media personalities to a trip to Nigeria for a fact-finding mission.
“I am planning on bringing at least 10 big Kenyan media personalities/Radio presenters to Nigeria for a 10 day trip which I myself shall cater for, I want to see if some of you all will be recognised by your Nigerian fans or if you even have fans at all here, it would be very sad if you don’t though (sic),” he posted on his social media pages, with fellow artiste Naiboi volunteering to sponsor an additional five journalists for the same.
What followed his post has been a back and forth between media players and artistes with no conclusion to the raging debate. While it’s true that Kenyan music space has been invaded and probably taken over by West Africa, South Africa and Bongo music, there are reasons why the shift exists in music consumption by Kenyans.
On this, the media has taken a huge chunk of the blame. Media players have been accused of not being patriotic enough to support their own, while at the same time, there is still the issue of the percentage of airtime allocated, 40 per cent for local content.
“I have to say that it is unfortunate to see this debate resurface in 2019. Broadcasters ought to have implemented the requirement already.
When you see musicians in Kenya complaining online, even after a directive by the Communications Authority to have broadcasters dedicate 40 per cent of their airtime to local content, it shows complacency by our media,” Performers Rights Society of Kenya chairman Ephantus Wahome told Spice.
THE FOREIGN INFLUENCE
With lack of sufficient airplay, local content has taken the back seat, as foreign artistes and their labels continue to reap all the benefits. Aggressive marketing and market research to produce appealing music to their targeted audiences have placed them where they are, while our local artistes continue to labour, most of the time, in vain.
“The core issue is not that music is not getting airplay. That is just one element. The core reason why artistes are angry is that they are hungry. A hungry man is an angry man, and the easiest scapegoat is the media. That is fine.
“As a strategist and stakeholder, I am looking at it differently because it is not just a musicians’ struggle, but it’s all the entertainment spectrum; the deejays, emcees, dancers and models, among others,” says media personality, emcee and hype master DNG.
He says Kenyan artistes are not getting monitory rewards from their work because of little value on their products, disorganisation in the music industry, lack of unity among musicians, inconsistency and quality concerns.
DNG adds: “I believe under-charging our services is our biggest problem. Our rate cards are getting lower and lower by the day. Artistes are ready to perform for free to say they shared a stage with say, Wizkid! What is that? If established brands are taking anything between Sh50,000 and Sh70,000 for a show, what do you expect an upcoming artiste to charge?
“To bring it home, mindset must change. We need to treat this industry as a business. Lastly, the fans need to support us, not by tweeting or responding on Instagram, but by investing in the art that they claim to love by buying our songs, merchandise and tickets for events.”
THE MEDIA KICK
One of the media personalities who has been on the receiving end is Willy M Tuva. His brand, ‘Mseto East Africa’, has been accused as the main channel that has helped establish Tanzanian artistes and to grow their market in Kenya.
“In my show, I play East African content, but a lot of it is Kenyan music. I have been doing so for years and I even have a segment in my show ‘Mseto Chipukizi’, which helps recognise and lift upcoming local talent. What my critics have forgotten is that music has no boundaries and I urge them to focus more on the larger market,” he told Spice.
Hardcore rapper Mwafreeka blasted the media for playing the ‘quality’ card for way too long.
“If radio had supported and played the ‘not quality’ music, they would [artistes] have made money and invested in better music. Rudeboy of P Square went to a Kenyan TV station and said the reason Nigerian music is big worldwide is that it’s all you hear when you go to Nigeria. The reason bongo is big is that it’s all you hear when you visit Tanzania.”
“If something is big locally, it will be accepted worldwide, quality or no quality. That’s why Gucci Gang is worldwide despite being horrible. When you support something, you make it locally accepted,” said Mwafreeka.
Milele FM breakfast co-presenter Jalang’o is another personality under fire. Artistes and critics have accused him of claiming that the quality of Kenyan music was wanting. However, he has been trying to shed light on how the media world operates.
“Each and every radio station has its identity and what they stand for and what they want to be known for! Milele is the home of African hits, so if it’s hot in Africa it will be played.
What I am saying is, before we push [for the content to be played], we must also know different business owners have a different target audience to make money for them.
“So, once or twice you will hear a station move from their identity. Meanwhile, mainstream media, that is radio and TV, are all on their death beds. Social media is taking over, so for an artiste to depend on the traditional media they will be killing their careers,” says Jalang’o.
THE ELUSIVE UNITY
He also cites lack of unity among Kenyan artistes as another factor that continues to dog the local industry. Jalang’o says for long, upcoming acts have accused their established acts of not supporting them, unlike in other countries where the support system among the artistes is effective.
“Top artistes must now help and lift upcoming artistes. During Wasafi Festival, nobody cared about Diamond. Everyone wanted to listen to Mbosso. Support is not just by playing, but a 360 support,” he quips.
Elly Gitau, a journalist with vast experience in entertainment, feels a lot of today’s artistes are “just lazy”. “Holistically, 80 per cent of today’s music is just bubblegum. You ‘chew’ it for a few moments and spit it up. My word for our artistes though; don’t go to the studio to produce some balderdash content and expect newspapers to give you positive reviews or airplay in radio and TV.
“The ‘bubblegum’ content lacks the oomph that formed the core of the music of yore. Kenyan music produced in the 90s and early 2000s managed to get heavy rotation in the media. To many fans today, this music continues to be a darling. Why can’t today’s artistes reach such levels of quality?” he poses.
From the exchanges, a proper support system is needed to change the fortunes of the artistes in the country. Artistes do not have to rely on traditional media any longer. There is need to put the biz in the show and back it up with the numbers on social media, as the life of an artiste revolves around the ‘triple rule’; set, stage and studio.