Increasing the value of performing art in Kenya?

In 2016 there was at least one event per month where local entertainment venues invited a foreign act. This trend seems to be increasing in 2017 although at the same time there has been an increase in the number of entertainment venues and local performing artists on stage.

My concern is for the quality of experience that is available for the Kenyan artist's audience.*

If we look at the industry of the stage in 2016 we can see it is geared entirely to large scale events. The economic situation for entertainment venues and promoters is plain to see. In order to be able to host shows for lesser-known local performing artists they must cash out on the large crowds they can get when they bring foreign DJ's and artistes. So it is foreign acts that are sustaining our local stages and clubs - not a variety of local acts. This is really not helpful for local artistes trying to build value for themselves, and potentially really dangerous for our musical heritage.

The fact is that it is easy to bring in just about any foreign act because there is not an active regulation of events from The Performing Rights Society of Kenya or KRA. Therefore all one needs is to get the act in the country and voila! your artiste with 1 million followers on social media is on your stage. The wow factor of having the only foreign act in town for the weekend, along with their massive social media reach, means that the promotional strategies of these venues and promoters are geared toward a lower level of promotion than what is practical in order to introduce Kenyan's to their own music. Could it be the industry of the stage and clubs do not posses the means to promote our own music because they are geared toward making some of their revenue from foreign artists?

Placing an emphasis and resources towards a small set of local artists and invited foreign acts could be inhibiting the growth of healthy local performing arts sector. What are the reasons that our sector has seen the least growth out of all other A & E sectors of the Kenyan economy Source: "Kenyan Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2013 to 2017" PricewaterhouseCoopers Limited. 2013

The opportunities for audiences to appreciate the variety of Kenyan content is narrowed and it narrows the context in which Kenyan content can be performed. Are event organizers trying to fit performing art into a particular format as demanded by the corporate sponsorship? Their own understanding of audience demand? or according to the event experience they themselves are trying to deliver?

One foreign act on stage is one local act that is not.

We as musicians cherish our musical heritage, but the available spaces and opportunities we have tend toward valuing this heritage as a side-stage gimmick.

The desired outcome for the money (business) that is going behind performing art is market segmentation in terms of creating value around a certain exclusive experience that brings profitable returns. This is very different from creating value around the proliferation of performing art, in fact, it is possibly near opposite in it's recourse. Moreover, it does not translate into creating actual value for the rest of the music industry ecosystem.

Event promoters creating a dangerous situation where by we may dismiss the next generation of musical cultural heritage because we do not provide an adequate platform for it to survive long enough to be appreciated. Music needs to be appreciated as an inhered evolving cultural asset. Thereby, there is a major difference between what audiences expect from local art - and what they expect from an industry geared to accommodating and promoting foreign acts. A recent conversation I held with a prolific private event service provider revealed as much:

"My clients are willing to pay for the cost in excess of $200,000 for artists, sound, and stage all sourced from Europe, South Africa and India - but personally I am not willing to pay local acts more than 20,000 KSHS/- because no one else does."

The market is not necessarily geared toward getting more people infront of more artists or vice versa. An unregulated market like the one that exists will not necessarily create more value for more artists. It is geared toward getting larger audiences to specific events.

Indeed, the manner in which music is performed in 2016 has been almost entirely inaccessible to the mass market. Exclusivity, rather than accessibility, is the driving factor in the marketplace for performing art in Nairobi. That is people must pay $10 to $50 for limited access that is not broadcast or accessible by TV or streaming.

How to increase value around the proliferation of performing art?

Event organizers must make their content accessible to a larger audience and increase their network of local artists. The industry ought to be regulated by a body such as PRISK.

Performances can be linked directly to a large online/TV audience and these performers can be linked directly to events containing their fans and receptive audiences.

  1. Create a physical platform for artists to perform anywhere - subsidized by businesses that want to reach audiences through live music.

  2. Invest in infrastructure for local art to proliferate. This is not an investment anyone is willing to undertake due to the perceptions of high risk/low returns, but it is necessary in order for cultural heritage to thrive. Infrastructure is the equipment and instruments artists need to perform, not necessarily more performance venues. Performing artists need to occupy the events typically occupied by DJs.

  3. The 'Boiler Room' effect. Boiler Room's online streaming platform proved that millions of people want to watch a DJ perform over the internet. Live music needs to be incorporated into content for TV and for streaming. This is what will change in 2017 with the advent of content appropriation by the local digital to air channels.

  4. Make patronage of the arts affordable to as large a market as possible. why do artists not get more gigs? Probably because it is considered too expensive/time consuming/finicky/uncertain for the average consumer (of which we have several segements)


"Universally the infrastructure for music across the region is underdeveloped at all stages of the supply / demand chain, from creation through to consumption. There are serious issues for musicians in terms of making an income: there are limited opportunities to play live; piracy is rife; little is done to enforce copyright and collect royalties; returns from selling music are low and only a few stars are able to secure investment from brands or corporate sponsors. Generally people are not working internationally or across the region and indeed many are only working at a local level within each country." British Council East Africa Creative Economy Scoping Report

*I grew up in a period devoid of musical heritage. In the 1980's and 1990's the market did not preserve Kenya's heritage, in fact it buried it. The market in the 1960's and 1970's was geared toward the proliferation of local music and performance of that music with most music in this region of the continent recorded and pressed in Nairobi. The demands of the market shifted when met with the volume of music imported from abroad and the minimal cost of DJ'ing this music meant that there rapidly became no room for Kenyan music on the dancefloor and the radio. It is only now that the music from the period is considered vintage and exotic that value for it is displayed again.