Kenyan acts take personal initiatives to change course

Monday, August 19th, 2019 00:00 |
Karun on stage.

The quest to decipher the irony that comes with Kenyan acts having one of the most advanced and forward-thinking societies in Africa, but yet to be tapped fully economically, is stifling.

From all corners of the country, a myriad diverse artistic talent exist, but making ends meet, especially for the youth despite their vibrant ideas, is proving a complex puzzle.

However, this is not the end of the road, as an array of mini-conglomerates take the bull by the horns. This is in the spheres of music, visual arts, media, fine arts and social events to see ideas come to life and for the artistes to earn sustainable livelihood.

“I think being experimental in Nairobi is hard. Ninety per cent of all our press and revenue is generated from outside Kenya. And it really sucks,” says Nairobi-based producer and creative, Jacob Solomon aka Jinku.

Jinku has been an influencer in Nairobi’s arts and cultural scene, working alongside buzzing crew EA Wave. Together, the crew has been organising events since 2015, centred on alternative music, fashion and more youth-oriented crowd activities.

This has helped them gain the attention of foreign media as well as investors who have been able to offer a hand in promoting their non-conformist style.

“I am playing a long game here. So far, with my friends at EA Wave, we have managed to shine a light on the alternative scenes and featured on Boiler Room (a global online music broadcasting platform commissioning and streaming live music sessions around the world), Fader (a New York City-based magazine that covers music, style and culture and the first print publication to be released on iTunes) and DJmag —a British monthly magazine dedicated to electronic dance music and deejays. As interest in East Africa grows so does our name. For that to happen you need to cultivate opportunities here,” Jinku tells Spice.

The music

Musically speaking, a plethora of genres exist in Kenya. From urban music’s gengetone, kapuka, Afro house, hip-hop, to the indigenous tribal delinquencies such as benga and mugithi, there is much to be celebrated by the masses here at home.

Regardless of a rich roster of musicians, the anonymity of the corporate world (private sector) and government limits the optimal realisation of existing opportunities.

“As a creative in Kenya, there has never been rules to success. We have to activate our entrepreneurial sense, stop centralising Nairobi too much and get the other cities and towns such as Nakuru and Kisumu involved. Let’s realise arts is vocational and create opportunities across the board,” says Jaaz Odongo, founder of audiovisual production solutions company, Motion Image and Sound Limited.

Jaaz is a son of Jack Odongo, a legendary Kenyan musician with African Heritage Band that rocked the airwaves in the 70s and 80s. He recalls how international music companies such as EMI Music Publishing and PolyGram were influential in creating handsome revenue streams for artistes before the industry was engulfed in rampaging piracy in the late 80s.

He is currently doing his best through a company he co-founded with Ndohho Wohoro to offer artiste management, production, music mixing and mastering, event production and songwriting services. They have worked with music stars such as Fena, Karun and Charles Righa aka Rigga.

“I encourage artistes to diversify. Try not to put all your seeds in one basket; grow skill sets and do not be reliant on one thing. In Nairobi, you can’t depend on one thing, situation, person or a job. So, spread your risks across. For instance, a show can be on the cards, but gets cancelled on the last minute, leaving you stranded. It’s healthy to be mentally prepared for such scenarios,” music entrepreneur Taio tells Spice. 

The events

One way creatives get to share their work and interact intimately with supporters is through events. Collectives such as The Kenyan Renaissance (TKR) —a group of young Nairobi-based artsy individuals— have taken responsibility in pooling resources to help with the growth of a vibrant domestic artistic scene.

They do so by organising gigs around the city and giving platforms to up-and-coming artistes through online channels such as Apple Music and Soundcloud, while changing the narrative about Kenyan music.

“TKR was formed by a group of music and art enthusiasts from Nairobi who had a passion for changing the perception of Kenyan music. This morphed into so much more because many people were attracted to it and we ended up forming an art collective of six individuals. Because of all the attention, our endeavours have gathered pace with a mandate to showcase, document and in essence, immortalise this new age art movement currently going on in the city.

Our goal is to grow the industry and show people that we can build our own table instead of asking for a seat at someone else’s table,” says TKR creative director Luke Ochieng.

Alongside other acts such as ADFamily through event Shrapnite, EA Wave with various gigs at Alchemist and collectives such as Boombox.KE run by Kenya’s DJ Kace and Passport Experience by DJ Fully Focus held at Alchemist, are some of the budding showcases in the capital growing in numbers seeking to involve the Kenyan audience week in, week out to grow the art society.

The media

Slowly but surely, even creatives in the media scope are setting up shop with the hope of making it count some day. From digital magazines, podcasts, online video content and online radio shows, among others, there are no limits to what the current generation of future leaders are up to in regard to cultivating platforms and avenues for art consumption.

“The public is supportive. We have since collaborated with many organisations and people like Bukachi Akatsa of FTC plunged us into the podcast world and Brian Obonyo of The Ubunifu Space, Tangaza Magazine team, Bow James of the art collective called OnDifferentDimensions and soon we’ll have collaborations with Mviringo Magazine,” adds Ochieng. 

The plea from creatives is to build the industrious art sector to salvage Kenya’s legacy in the art and culture domain.

“Going forward, I would really like to see more Kenyans appreciate artistes and music more allow themselves to experience new things and open themselves up to new experiences, especially in the events and nightlife culture. Kenya is not just about one form of art.

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