The Allure of Kenyan Music Fading in Europe

Top Kenyan singers can no longer attract the crowds they once did in central Europe, where in the first place, their population is small and spread out, forcing event organisers to think twice before inviting any artistes.

Awillo Mike

Awillo Mike

There are three main reasons for this. First, Kenyans’ population in Europe is static after stringent Schengen Visa entry requirements of 26 European Union countries, and three non-EU countries were harmonised in the mid 2000s.

During the same period, the German government added another caveat to the flow of au pairs into the country, and those who came in between 1990s and 2005 are either babysitting their own kids themselves, married, engrossed in furthering their education or simply outlived the night binge.

Again, entertainment has become an economic issue to most Kenyans because they are spread in cities that are far-flung from each other and without them it is a total loss.

Secondly, Kenyan singers have themselves contributed to the downward spiral. A majority of them are stuck to their hits of yesteryears.

The simplistic effort with which contemporary music is produced in pre-recorded Fruity Loop studios — which do not require gruesome rehearsals — is another factor to the low popularity of Kenyan music. There is a large number of untalented solo career singers saturating the domestic market with music genres that can hardly sell beyond Kenya’s borders, all to the chagrin of the few gifted musicians.

Like football or athletics, no amount of training or practice can make one a musician — it is inborn and pasting lyrics on pre-recorded instruments one cannot claim ownership within a day or so. It is not the same as composing a song with assortment of instruments played live that can take weeks or months to bring to a desired format — I call them “singer” since most of them sing in one key note voice.

Music is about creativity and spontaneity. Replicating one beat adopted in an earlier hit, belting out the same old songs ad nauseam is a sure route to oblivion.

Lawrance Madole or Marlaw might have faded from the music scene, but not his songs with melodies that are distinctly unrelated.

With his trademark hoarse voice Joseph Mayanja (Chameleone) of Uganda steers away from monotony and carved himself a niche in the entertainment circles releasing danceable repertoires as often as he has been doing.

In this league are others like the Bongo maestro Rehema Challamila (Ray C) and the late Lucky Dube. Their vivacious voice will not fade soon, the way Luambo Makaidi or Franco, an accomplished Congolese guitarist, has his music transfixed in the memories of many, 25 years after his demise.

Third is the lack of sensibility to the prevailing economic situation by our singers. They still sling to the belief that the euphoria their hits elicited several years ago is still intact. They also believe disposable income is in abundance abroad no matter what one does thereby contributing to the fatigue by fans, organisers and NGOs.

The term ‘organiser’ means business risk-taking people as opposed to promoter who is paid specific amount of money to facilitate an event.

The crowds Kenyan singers can attract is economically untenable and Jaguar’s tour in July this year drew less than 120 people, a sad testimony compared to more than 300 people who attended Chameleone’s show a few weeks earlier.

Another case in point is the tour of Tanzanian artiste Diamond Platinumz in Stuttgart in August 30, which was marred by chaos. Fans ravaged the hall utilities and stole or destroyed the DJs’ laptops after the organisers inadvertently delayed Diamond’s arrival to the venue to mop up enough money to pay the singer his balance in advance, confirming the obvious that Diamond was communicating through mobile phone with his friends already in the hall and he knew his hosts were uncomfortable.

But the venue was already a war zone by the time the money issue was cleared. By that time the police were fighting a running battle with the revellers, making it impossible for the terrified Bongo Flava star to leave the car when he eventually showed up at 4am.

To the Nigerian promoters, it was a double tragedy — they are now ruminating over the scale of the damages they have to settle. It is rumoured the singer will return for a free show. However, revellers suspect they will have to dig deep into the pocket to put a bottle on the table.

With some organisers dropping along the way or are concentrating on disco events Lady Jullie, in her private capacity she has remained resilient alongside Kenya Development Associates, a non-profit making organisation credited with enabling most East African entertainers to make their débuts in Germany and other parts of Europe since 2003.

It does not make economic sense to engage a singer whose market has sunk to unprofitable level to demand an equivalent Sh350,000 and above in fee alone to travel all the way to entertain 130 fans bringing in just Sh229,000 from gate collection at a hall which costs Sh117,000 plus Sh105,000 before miscellaneous costs are added.

This has forced up-coming singers to charge less performance fees. This has equally proved disastrous due to the fact that costs such as those of air ticket, visa, insurance, hall and personnel remain the same. Whether drinks are sold or not, recouping the total costs is a mirage. It is even more horrendous to an organiser when a singer demands Business Class ticket and additional shows in other cities or the neighbouring countries.

Our music is still known as simply “Kenyan Hip-Hop” or “Kenyan Dancehall”, save for Ohangla or Mugithi which are rightly typical Kenyan. There is no American Jazz, Soul or R&B and without the desire, will and talent to grow no one has missed our CDs in music stores outside Kenya.

– The Star