The Abroad Connection for Kenyan Artistes-Suzanna Owiyo
The Abroad Connection for Kenyan Artistes-Suzanna Owiyo
While a few Kenyan musicians are setting international stages alight, for the majority achieving such feats remains a pipe dream, write CHARLES OTIENO and STEVENS MUENDO
At the Radio City Hall, New York, last Saturday, Kenya’s Suzanna Owiyo was on top of the world.
The songstress sauntered onto the stage singing her hit track, Sandore to thunderous applause. The guitar strumming diva was the toast of the day during the Mandela Birthday concert. As soon as she took her bow most world leaders and celebs including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and musicians Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Akon, Aretha Franklin, Josh Groban, Lil’ Kim, Cyndi Lauper, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse who also performed, lined up for photo session with her.
The jubilant Kenyan star joined other artistes on stage again to sing a birthday chorus for Madiba led by Stevie Wonder.
Earlier in the night, the celebrated singer performed alongside Eddy Grant as he sang his hit, Johana with Africa’s crÈme de la crÈme: Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Baba Maal, Angelique Kidjo and Thandiswa Mazwai.
“It was a great experience rubbing shoulders with the world’s greatest at the red carpet and having a one-on-one with celebrities we only meet through television,” a jovial Suzanna told Pulse.
“Sometimes you never get to know that you are equally celebrated until you hear it from them. Alicia Keys and Akon were amazing just as Stevie Wonder. We just had a party.
“I watched their acts and learned a lot. And what an opportunity this was for me and I believe that more Kenyan acts will soon join in up there,” Suzzana added.
Among the collaborators were the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who joined Josh Groban to sing You Raise Me Up.
Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo performed the spiritual Afrika. Rapper Lil’ Kim’s duet with Cyndi Lauper offered a stripped-down rendition of Lauper’s Time After Time.
Suzzana was not the only Kenyan artiste at the Big Apple. Hip-hop head cum radio presenter Mwafrika was also in another part of New York rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nas, Mos Def, Common and Damian Marley during the Rock The Bells 2009 International Hip-Hop concert.
Rock the Bells is presented by Guerilla Union since 2003 and has established itself as a world-class hip-hop platform by hosting legendary performances by Rage Against the Machine, Jay-Z, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Public Enemy, Lauryn Hill, Blackstar (Talib Kweli and Mos Def), Hieroglyphics and Busta Rhymes among others. Elsewhere, Nameless and Wahu are riding high. The couple landed an invite to perform in Liberia during their upcoming independence day alongside Amani.
Tusker Project finalist
Joining the international foray, comedian Walter Mongare aka Nyambane led a host of Kenyan artistes for US city-to-city month tour. They included veteran comedians Mzee Ojwang’, Mama Kayai and Tusker Project finalist Linda Muthama alongside the Altimate band.
The shows were supposed to take place two years ago but were abruptly cancelled because Ojwang’ and Mama Kayai could not get travel visas from the US embassy in Nairobi.
According to Lloyd Osunga of Umoja Entertainment whose promotion firm is hosting the comedians at the All Star Club (formerly Cache) 153 3rd Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey, this is probably the biggest Kenyan entertainment event.
The four-week road trip across the US is dubbed Kenya’s Legends of Comedy US. TheTour kicked-off last weekend in Boston, Delaware and New Jersey.
Tonight they will raise the roof at Raleigh, North Carolina and tomorrow at Washington, DC. On Sunday they will be at Atlanta, Georgia.
They will later appear in Birmingham on July 27 and Houston 31. The tour will also take them to Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Chicago.
Ironically, unlike Suzanna’s trip — which was fully funded by Zain — Nyambane and company were hustling after anticipated sponsors of the tour pulled out in the eleventh hour.
The tour had been estimated to cost close to Sh30 million, which Nyambane did not have. After the sponsors pulled out, he downsized, cancelling numerous concerts in some states and disappointing fans.
In the past, Kenyan artistes have held numerous gigs abroad. Right now, there are countless music promoters and agencies who have been hooking-up the local acts with concerts abroad. A case in point is United States which has over a dozen Kenyan music promotion units including Kilimanjaro Entertainment, Katnice Entertainment, Umoja Entertainment, Wazimu Entertainment, Payuka Entertainment, Kenda ladies in Dallas, Charles Tall of Genge Dallas Entertainment, Nagg in Los Angeles, DJ Sisqo in Dallas, Tru Blaq in LA, Wazimu Kenya in Kansas, Take Over DJs in New York and Atlanta, Club Nai in Dallas, Queenz in Atlanta, Joshua’s Club in Kansas. This has led to cut-throat competetion and allegedly unfair business tactics such as defacing other rivals posters and organising parallel shows to split the crowd.
Due to lack of proper planning and funding some of these concerts abroad look like a nine-year-olds birthday party with an audience of less than fifty persons.
Quite recently, a Kenyan artiste’s concert in Kansas City attracted only a paltry 50 fans who included friends of the promoter and his ‘abroad’ girlfriend.
But even of much interest is the manner in which some of our musicians, some of whom cannot even host a concert in Kisii town, manage to garner deals with promoters abroad in the name of being the ‘big thing in Kenya.’
And how insulting it is to Kenyan music fans in the Diaspora to be conned — by rogue promoters — into attending gigs featuring artistes whose last hit single was on rotation five years ago.
It seems there is more than what meets the eye in these so-called international tours.
Overseas Kenyan concerts
It is now emerging that some of those dubious concerts are organised by wealthy women who are actually girlfriends of the said musicians.
In fact, the talk of a Kenyan musician having a show abroad, in most times, comes with other side deals; an excuse for business trips, a visit to relatives abroad or a chance to visit clandestine ‘girlfriends’ who are now behind most of the overseas Kenyan concerts.
“How comes year-in-year-out it’s the same dismal performing artistes who come to perform here. How comes top artistes like Jua Cali and Nameless are not the main performers,” wonders Humphrey, a 24-year old Kenyan student in Texas.
“I think we are being short changed. There are many new Kenyan musicians like Mejja and Madtraxx with a good following here. The promoters are glued in the past,” he adds.
But Jaguar refutes the claims saying: “I have managed to sell my music via YouTube and Facebook and that is how I connect with music promoters abroad. I don’t perform in many local concerts because the pay is not worth it. You know I am a serious businessman”.
“Nowadays, there is a Kenyan promoter in every State. The promoters work in a chain and sell shows to each other via website once an artiste lands there. Once your show succeeds and gets you popular following demand from fans, the promoters will keep getting you more concerts.”
Jaguar discloses that Nameless and him have already signed a contract with More Fire, a Kenyan music promotion unit in Finland to perform in Finland next month.
And just like Jaguar, DJ Eazy B, a veteran in the industry who may not be ranked highly locally is also with Kenyan fans abroad.
“The last concert we had in Dallas some few months ago was the mother of them all. The turn up was overwhelming. I have been working closely with Wazimu Entertainment in Kansas City while Suzan of Nagg Entertainment organises my Los Vegas shows. Charles Tall is the man in Dallas,” he says adding that he will be having a gig in Dubai in three weeks before going to London where he has already sealed another deal with a promoter he refers as to Hinge.
DJ Lastborn, yet another old school DJ has been scoring highly on the international scorecard.
“Once you click with the fans there, they will always keep asking for you and that explains why we have kept it going for that long,” he says.
Stars like Jaguar have ‘partners’ who not only organise for their concerts but also provide accomodation at their place of residence.
Artistes have in the past got stranded overseas after their concerts flopped and this new trend could be a way to cut costs.
Truth is, however glamorous they may seem or sound, most shows are mere flukes.
Admittedly, Ogopa Deejay’s artistes manager Emmanuel Banda who has led artistes in his stable in overseas tours says sometimes, artistes end up performing in dingy clubs after promoters dupe them.
One artiste had to be bailed out by friends abroad after his show flopped, recently. That is not to say all our artistes are not making it big overseas.
Nonini, for example, has a wide following from Kenyans in the diaspora who ask for him and pay for his shows online.
Amani’s concerts in Norway are also among the most attended shows.
Nameless concerts abroad have never flopped, just as Jua Cali’s. And their success can be attributed by veteran promoters who market the shows and get them sold out even six months before they happen.