Unmasking the financial reality of celebrity life

Saturday October 21 2017

There’s a perception that fortune always

There’s a perception that fortune always accompanies fame; but reality begs to differ. There are many celebrities who are famous and broke yet live a life of faking it till they make it. PHOTOS| FILE| NMG 

More by this Author

There’s a perception that fortune always accompanies fame; but reality begs to differ. There are many celebrities who are famous and broke yet live a life of faking it till they make it.

Showbiz is a make believe world of glitz and glamour. The mantra of fake it till you make it is a standard in this industry. Celebrities are expected to hang out in expensive hotels and clubs; riding in a matatu is taboo and so is showing up in a beaten-up car.

But the reality is that no one writes you a cheque just because you are famous. In showbiz popularity is necessary but not an adequate tool to make you money. There are many who have made a name without making money but you will never see that on their Facebook feed.

Financial struggles come in various forms: there are those who are broke because they just haven’t started making money and those who are broke because they have wasted it. The worst part is that celebrities are not “allowed” to be broke, they are held on a pedestal and rumours about them being broke can ruin a career for good. So most celebs suffer in silence and sometimes result to desperate measures to make ends meet.


Vivian Wambui caused quite a stir when she came out of the closet about her previous financial struggles on a Facebook post. The post revealed how she was at one point sleeping hungry yet she had a hit song on radio.

Singer Vivian Wambui. PHOTO| WANDERI KAMAU

Singer Vivian Wambui. PHOTO| WANDERI KAMAU

What saved her was an intervention by gospel heavy weight DK Kwenye Beat who would invite her to dine with his family. Although many artistes go through the same thing, very few ever open up about their struggles.

“There is a difference between music and the music business, fame doesn’t guarantee cash flow. You have to work your way up before you start making serious cash. When you are starting out you have to beg producers to record you and sometimes take opportunities in between sessions when the producer is free, to get your songs done. I chose to share my story to inspire people; too many artistes suffer in silence,”

Vivian says.

To make ends meet, she took up a Karaoke gig that was paying her Sh4,000 a month; it at least paid her rent.

“My parents brought me up to be a hustler. I had seen what happens to desperate ladies in this industry and I was determined not to become a victim. The night life can also trap you in a vicious cycle so I had to be focused; working the karaoke gigs at night and pushing my music during the day.”

Many artistes are also too proud to pick up an extra job especially one that they deem to be beneath them. Without decent cash flow to meet their basic needs and reinvest in their music they stagnate. Worse still, the facade that they put up of a successful lifestyle makes it hard for them to receive help from Good Samaritans.

Some are lucky to find friends and family who support them, but those who don’t live a pitiful life of borrowing, begging or sleeping around for cash.

“When you are a-nobody, no one cares, it’s bad for everybody but it’s worse for ladies; that is why we have very few female artistes,” she explains. “Desperate ladies are really used in this industry and when everyone is done with them, most of them never really recover. That’s why I have a passion for helping them. I have started a movement called “Moran”, where among many other things I try and shepherd up coming female artistes.”

Money is what money does and many artistes end up broke simply because they don’t manage theirs well. Having managed artistes for years now, Buddah Blaze has seen it all. According to him, it all boils down to poor financial management and ignorance.

“You make money from your brand not just your music,” he says. “You can’t sing forever, you have to set yourself to make money even when you are not hot. P Diddy hasn’t dropped a song in ages yet this year he was number one on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, because he learnt how to commercialise his brand.”

It’s a dirty secret that there are many veteran artistes both local and international who struggle financially. Though no one will openly speak about it, industry insiders know all the sad stories that hide behind fancy social media posts.

Nyashinki highlighted the plight of the pioneers in his hit single, Now You Know, when he said ‘Kaa ningebaki bado, ungekua na taki ya kuskia nikiwaimbia Ama by saa hii mngenifanya vile mnafanya ma pioneer’ (If I had remained would you still want to listen to me or would you be treating me how you treat the pioneers.)

Artist Nyashinski. PHOTO| JEFF ANGOTE

Artist Nyashinski. PHOTO| JEFF ANGOTE

He went on to explain how industry veterans are mistreated, and hired for peanuts to open for Naija acts. No matter how big a celebrity is, a day will come when they are not hot; phone calls and juicy deals eventually come to an end. In that day, what they did in their days of plenty is what determines how well they survive.

“Most of the artistes I have worked with have done well for themselves because I instil a discipline of saving and reinvesting into everybody I work with,” Buddah Blaze explains.

“This is a business like any other, you have to work hard and spend your money wisely if you want to survive. If you are not good at financial management please get a manager who will help you with that.”

Kapedo Kadima showed up on our screens about a year ago and his star has been on a steady rise since. The spoken word artiste is a regular on the Churchill show and has recently released a powerful political peace, Vote Peace, which has received constant air play during this political season.

Though he has come a long way he admits the going is not that easy.

“There was a time I got so broke that I asked a friend to give me a job at his restaurant. He actually refused to hire me but instead gave me some cash to push me along. Things have improved but it’s still tough, because I have to invest to grow my craft; videos and studio time are expensive. I thank God that I have a team that is helping me put things together,” he says.



To help him along the way, he has begun Kapedo Blazer Designs, a fashion outlet where he invests his showbiz earnings. He admits that entertainment is a periodic business with sharp highs and lows; developing multiple sources of revenue is critical.

“Showbiz is a tough business, people should not assume we are doing well just because they see us on TV. When you see an artiste you love trying to put something together please support them. We all have a dream, support mine and I assure you God will support yours.”

While most artistes struggle to make it in the entertainment industry, others like Groove Award winner Eko Dydda have had a smooth ride to money and fame. As a new artiste in the industry back in 2010, even before he released the video to his breakthrough hit single Niko Na, Eko Dydda was already booking performances and cashing in handsome cheques.

“I was already getting money with just the Niko Na audio. This is why I keep saying God’s grace is sufficient. Within one year so much had happened, I was a respected artiste, I had won an award and I was being sought after,” he says.

Very few are as lucky as Dydda and there are many celebrities who are famous and broke.

The cloak of presence makes it easier to hide their status while the code of silence makes it harder for them to get the help they need.