It is emerging that photos of Kenyan artistes on tour abroad are often stage-managed. Many exaggerate the success of their American or European tours for hype. BONIFACE NYAGA examines this curious trend to uncover the truth behind Kenyan artiste’s global tours.
Fake it till you make it is a mantra that many in the Showbiz industry have embraced. Going global is a big achievement for any artiste but in the absence of substantive success many Kenyan artistes are putting up a façade to save face.
Last year local comedian Chipukezeey was caught flat-footed when it emerged that the facts of his meeting with his long term idol, Kevin Hart, were exaggerated. Nonetheless, promoters admit that there are numerous opportunities abroad for Kenyan entertainers, if only they would drop the theatrics and put in the hard work.
Atlanta based Kenyan promoter, DJ Jey Mbiro is a pioneer of the Kenyan gospel industry. He has organised American tours for Kenyan gospel artistes like Kelele Takatifu, Eunice Njeri and many others through the Sauti Awards platform. Back in the day DJ Jey formed Badilika Deejays together with DJ Nevs – who later formed Spin Rej Deejays, the stable that mentored the likes of DJ Mo and DJ Celeb.
The highlight of Badilika Deejays was bringing Isaac Blackman and The Love Circle to Nairobi for the reconciliation concert in 2009, after which he left for the states. He toured with Zaidi ya Mziki across a few states and eventually settled in Atlanta where he began organising gigs for Kenyan artistes.
“Celebrity status has really gotten into the gospel ministry, and they bring that pride and arrogance to the US,” he admits. “I have booked artistes who want to stay in the car until their performance only to dash out and drive out immediately after. That may work in Kenya but please do not try that in the States.”
The people who come for his events are either African immigrants who are looking to connect with what is going on at home or Americans who are fascinated with Africa. They want to mingle with performers, buy albums, take pictures with entertainers, and ask about Africa. However, if an artiste disappoints, they will blacklist them and never invite them again. At this point, many artistes result to cheap theatrics to impress people back at home and hide the shame of their failure.
“There are opportunities here for African artistes who remain true to their roots and work with promoters who can package them for the American market. If you want to make it here, do songs in English and Swahili; people in America like learning something new while understanding what you are communicating,” he says.
To help Afrcian gospel artistes break into the American mainstream, DJ Jey launched Sauti Awards a few years back. The award show recognises African artistes in the diaspora, many of who shelve their talents when they go to the States, like Nyashinski.
He said: “We would have never heard of him had he stayed there, and the US is full of ‘Nyashinskis’. African music is still not big in the US, unless you are performing to Africans who don’t pay very well. However, there are those who have made it and are doing full time music, like Fred Obare.”
Having successfully toured the states, Dr Ofweneke admitted that many Kenyan entertainers linger there longer than they should. Though they go there for a genuine booking, many exaggerate the nature of the booking to score points on Instagram.
He holds that international tours are a great opportunity for Kenyan entertainers to learn and grow their craft.
“There is no need for me to leave Kenya, with all the bookings I get here only to go to the States to take photos in a mall,” He admitted. “I honestly don’t understand why people go all the way to the US for Instagram likes; I actually love home so I take the first flight out the minute I am done. The US is not sinking into the ocean, go home after you are done and if you are good they will call you back.”
He argues that there is really no value in going to America to perform to a Kenyan audience. He maintains that unless one’s content cuts across cultures then they are not an international act, just a local act performing in America. In the past, Dr Ofweneke has done shows in Boston, Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle, and he asserts that his audience was a cross section of African immigrants with a few Americans. Social media, he says, has helped him push his brand to fans everywhere.
“Some of my colleagues end up in this quagmire because of being swindled by promoters and return home empty-handed. Ask around before jumping into a deal with someone who will embarrass you; be wise, America is not heaven,” he advices. “You cannot serve funeral food at a wedding so make content that can be consumed both locally and internationally.”
These sentiments were echoed by American based gospel artistes turned label owner; Ken Eddy Krezi. Through his management company, Krezi Global, Ken Eddy Krezi is packaging local artistes for the global market. He admits that many artistes don’t listen to advice and instead want to do things their own way. Instead of following the proper channels to get things right many rush into global tours for the hype and Instagram glory, only to suffer great losses. He said:
“It boils down to how we define success; is it about hype or tangible results. But honestly speaking if you deal with monkey event organizers your event will flop regardless of where you are. I believe I have been to events that are very successful like Sauti awards and some that were just ‘monkey business’. Have proper management structures and deal with people who are keeping international standards if you want to be successful.”
Other minority groups like the Mexican in USA and Indians in the UK have managed to develop thriving subculture that has crossed over to the mainstream. This they did by working together and creating opportunities for their entertainment content. Wizkid, Fally Ipupa, and even Sauti Sol have had very successful international shows. By so doing they have proven that if an artiste puts in the hard work and does it the right way, they don’t have to fake it to make it.