The Permanent Presidential Music Commission handles all matters entertainment at state events. Manuel Ntoyai goes behind the curtains to find out what goes on before those colourful presentations are staged for the president
Preparing for a state function is no joke for all the parties involved. Whether it’s making simple renovations or ensuring everything is in place and ready for a presidential function is no mean task. Away from the state of art furniture, bouquets of flowers and impressive décor are the people behind the spectacular opticals and entertainment.
In all state events where entertainment performances are involved, it is the mandate of the Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC) to select and coordinate the performers. The commission is also mandated with the promotion, preservation and documentation of music in the country.
For state functions, the process is initiated by a phone call from an official of PPMC to a performer, where one is informed of the itinerary that involves marathon of rehearsals, in some cases such as marking a national day runs up to six days in total; three days at the PPMC headquarters in Nairobi and three days at the event’s venue.
All this is done with ease, as the band selected by PPMC engages music performers (most of whom are used to playbacks at gigs) for hours and eventually shaping their content to fit into the live music audience expected.
From deciding the colours of the costumes to working out to get into shape, artistes have every reason to wait for this big moment — performing for the Head of State. For some, it even gets down to checking their diets.
“We usually select the artistes, bands and deejays from a long list of names submitted to the selecting committee.
The committee will vet them and select the song to be presented during the event,” PPMC director Dr Donald Otoyo told Spice in an interview.
He says that the selection must meet a number of criteria, the first being local representation. Then regional representatives are selected to give the event a national outlook.
“This is also part of our mission; to promote the development and practice of music and dance and spearhead the growth and development of the music industry,” he adds.
From there, the commission communicates to performers and they are given the rehearsal schedules. As the day of reckoning gets closer, the rehearsals get longer as the chemistry between the band and the acts on stages gels. They are not just the rigorous dancing and singing, but also to harness the connection with the band and everyone involved in the performances.
When it comes to managing the backstage, there are several considerations that are checked by the stage managers. However, the biggest has always been time and stage usage. How performers get onto the stage, the time they spend there and checking and having backups to equipment such as microphones.
“When you get on stage, there is need to employ rehearsal and performance skills appropriate to the role, demonstrating strong command and insight.
One also needs to be aware and understand the specific rehearsal techniques appropriate to the role and style or genre of the performance, such as relevant forms of physical and vocal preparation, relaxation and improvisation,” says Torome Tirike, who has been hired by the PPMC as an emcee in a number of state functions, including the recent Madaraka Day celebrations in Narok Stadium.
While social and corporate gigs have relaxed some rules when it comes to entertainment, state functions on the other hand follow protocol to the letter. There is nothing like last-minute changes as everything and everyone has to be in place and in time.
“We rehearsed for three days at the stadium under the supervision of the director of state functions.
As the event emcees, we are tasked with making sure that the programme runs smoothly and that can only be achieved when there is proper coordination between all the parties involved, especially due to the time factor,” says Torome.
When it comes to welfare of the performers, the commission handles all the logistics, but with state functions now going the devolved way, there has been a step up in terms of coordination by the national government through the Office of the President and the county government.
“This year’s Madaraka Day celebrations took five weeks of preparations, to make sure that everything was set for the big day. There were a series of meetings which were chaired locally by the county commissioner George Natembeya and the county secretary,” says Narok county director of sports Benson Kariuki.
While logistic are every event organiser’s nightmare, proper synchronisation and effective communication channels are key to making the event a success.
“We are talking about an event that is attended by tens of thousands of people whose expectations must be met. At Narok we had to increase the number of terraces, organise the backstage for the performers, accessibility to important places such as the sanitation facilities and most importantly, deal with security issues.
“Everyone loves entertainment and preparations for this is also key. From setting up the stage, doing sound checks and last minute changes have to be overseen by hawk-eyed security personnel. The tension was there, but everything fell into place and I am happy we were able to deliver,” Kariuki says.
Previously, cases of malpractices and allegations of brokers getting kickbacks for “connecting” individuals with the state function jobs had been rife. The case was different this time round, as an efficient structure from the Office of the President ensured such scenarios were a thing of the past.
“For the last few years, the welfare of artistes in such events has improved for the better and the payment is also getting better,” gospel artiste L-Jay Masai, who was one of the performers during this year’s Madaraka Day celebrations, told Spice.
Currently, a powerful delegation from PPMC, including the director, is attending an international music networking event dubbed The Midem in Cannes, France, rooting for the music trade show to be held in Kenya in 2022.
“PPMC is on the forefront of forging international partnership and connections. We firmly believe that attending international fairs, showcases and festivals goes a long way in expanding networks of contacts in the music industry, discovering new styles of music and musicians and learning about the latest trends in the industry,” says Otoyo.
PPMC supports government projects, giving them a youthful look. The most recent is the partnership with the ministry of housing and urban development to release the song Tujenge, the official song for the Affordable Housing Programme, one of the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda. Gospel singers Mercy Masika and Pitson performed the song, with inputs from Mr Vee, Chris Adwar and Jacky B.
Groove Awards winner Guardian Angel released a song titled Kenya, just before the 2019 Madaraka Day celebrations. Produced by Vicky Pondis, the music project was commissioned by PPMC.
“This song is a reminder to my fellow countrymen that God loves Kenya and it’s a beautiful country. Despite the many challenges we have, Kenya is still a blessed country with many opportunities, a rich history and hardworking citizens. A big thank you to the team at PPMC for bringing this idea to life,” said Guardian Angel.
PPMC’s clients include practicing or aspiring musicians and dancers, music and dance organisations, trainers, music teachers, ethnomusicologists (those who study music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it), other researchers, churches, ministries, parastatals, educational institutions and music and film producers, among others.