The Debate on Live Concerts in Kenya: Are we getting it right?

Cover; American Neo Soul Singer Dwele will be at the Blankets & Wine November Edition

The debate about live concerts in Kenya is one that has been ongoing on social media for quite sometime now. The debate is further fueled just before an upcoming event and soon after.

This discussion came up again a few days ago between Buddha Blaze ( an event promoter), Clay Muganda (Journalist) Tim Rimbui ( Music Producer), Anzetse Were and myself on twitter. This was following some statistics shared by Blaze on recent live performance attendance in East Africa.

Apparently, the recent Rick Ross concert in Tanzania attracted 22,000 fans, Konshens in Uganda drew 25,000 fans yet the recent James Ingram concert in Nairobi had only 500 fans.

Several causes have been attributed to the now growing trend where only a few Kenyans go for live performances and where most believe that it has become an elitist affair. We look at some of them.

a. Gate fees
This is the single most contentious issue. Explaining it becomes something close to the chicken and egg question. Do promoters transfer all the cost of bringing an artist to gate fees? Is that the reason why only few are able to afford?

Although some would argue that if one appreciates the music then they ought to save up for the live performance, there is the question of ‘is the artist really worth it?’. This has been a nagging debate especially because Kenya is slowly gaining the reputation of attracting ‘washed up artists’ as a few described them online.
The fine line between the worth of an artist versus fans finding value in the live concert is a very thin one.
Lack of sufficient sponsors to cover some of the costs is another thing that drives up the cost of each ticket.

b. Culture
Ugandans are well known for the seriousness they show when it comes to partying and having fun. It is quite the norm for their clubs to have a cover charge which can be anywhere between 500 – 1000 Kes depending on how recent or exclusive the club is.

Tanzania is equally the same though there are those clubs that won’t charge entry fees. This is the clubbing culture and thus they will gladly pay to watch an artist on stage. This however is lacking in Kenya. Most clubs prefer charging more for alcohol than have a cover charge and thus making Kenyans feel like they ought not to pay for entertainment. That coupled with the culture of downloading music as opposed to buying CDs has made Kenyans put more weight on alcohol to the extent where they will equate anything to ‘how many bottles I would get for the same amount’.
Indeed Blaze confessed that he has on numerous occasions been accosted to give complimentary tickets to events by the same pals who do not mind spending Ksh. 10,000 in a single night on drinks.

If Rick Ross had decided to perform in Nairobi after Tanzania, he would not have drawn the same crowd despite charging the same amount (yet the Kes has more value than the TZs)

c. Personnel in the respective corporate companies
It came as a shock to many to realize that Rick Ross’ concert in Uganda was sponsored by EABL (Uganda Breweries Limited to be more precise). And yes, EABL is headquartered in Nairobi.
The personnel in the Marketing departments for the different corporate firms in Kenya seem to be reading from a different page from their counterparts in UG and TZ.

Granted that Kenya has its fair share of the expatriate community living in the Nairobi suburbs (thanks to the UN headquarters and countless NGOs and the growing list of multinationals headquartered here), this coupled with the many Nairobians with white collar jobs with disposable income makes it irresistible for corporates. Thus many promoters in a bid to pull in the corporates, will prefer to bring artists that the above group would readily pay Ksh. 5,000 to watch as was the case with James Ingram.

d. Promoters
Kenya has a clique of promoters who over time now seem to operate as a monopoly and thus dictating who comes in. Due to lack of many players and regulation, most of these promoters have been cutting corners when bringing artists with some failing to honor their contracts thus raising controversy with musicians. Anyone remember the Fally Ipupa or Apple Gabriel of Israel Vibrations controversies with promoters???

Due to this, even the UG and TZ promoters would rather not work together as was the case with Rick Ross who I am sure connected his flight through JKIA.
This (failing to honor contractual agreements) has let to many artists demanding 80 or 100% appearance fees upfront.

It will take a lot from all the players for the state of live concerts in Kenya to change from seeming like it is for the select few to that equal to or better than Uganda.

Safaricom with their ‘ Safaricom Live’ concept has shown that with good organisation, it is possible to have successful live concerts. This is despite their initial pitfall with one promoter whom they have since replaced.

In related news, I am reliably informed that the American Neo Soul artist Dwele will be in Nairobi for the November edition of Blankets and Wine. Akon is also confirmed to be coming for a concert at the Carnivore on 27th and 28th of this month.

11 Oct Buddha Blaze ‏@ItsBuddhaBlaze
@njukey @Anzetse @Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay A concert is a concert. If u love music u will pay the ticket price. Am I wrong?
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11 Oct Anzetse Were ‏@Anzetse
@ItsBuddhaBlaze @Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay Yes it is classist and promoters need to be aware of that either to work with it or change it.
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11 Oct Buddha Blaze ‏@ItsBuddhaBlaze
@Anzetse @Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay What comes out of this = we live in a Class addicted society. People create non existent class barriers
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11 Oct David Njuki ‏@njukey
@Anzetse Most people I meet at these high cost concerts have no idea about the music … @ItsBuddhaBlaze @Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay
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11 Oct Anzetse Were ‏@Anzetse

@ItsBuddhaBlaze @Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay NOPE concerts are about music but security is something folks will consider before stepping out.
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11 Oct Buddha Blaze ‏@ItsBuddhaBlaze
@Kenyanpoet @rimbui @mqhlay @Anzetse TZ and UG have kept concerts about the music. Kenya its has become about seclusion and class groupings
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11 Oct Anzetse Were ‏@Anzetse
@Kenyanpoet @ItsBuddhaBlaze @mqhlay Yeah it is elitist and ignoring that won’t change anything. Ppl feel like they’re paying for security.
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