Party action returns but sector still limping

Visiting Jamaica's reggae sensation Etana in action during the Vybez Radio Pamoja concert held at the Waterfront, Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi on October 30, 2021. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Music concerts returned to Nairobi last week with Jamaican star Shauna McKenzie, better known as Etana, entertaining thousands of elated fans. This was the first major concert in the capital city since March last year and two weeks after the lifting of the night curfew. 

It was a reprieve for revellers after a long dry spell that had not only forced them off the social scene, but also rendered hundreds of entertainers jobless.

The concert at the Waterfront, Ngong’ Racecourse had the partnership of Standard Group’s Vybez Radio to open the new season and breathe hope into an industry that was on its deathbed.

According to a report by the Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak), an estimated 15 per cent of clubs and restaurants across the country never came back, leading to an estimated 200,000 job losses. 

Leading entertainment establishments such as the iconic Florida 2000 as well as the 20th Century Cinema in Nairobi CBD made their exit from the scene during this period.

“I hadn’t gone out for over a year and attending the Etana concert was such a moment for me. I enjoyed every moment of it. It rekindled good memories of major entertainment events that Nairobi is known to host. We should have more of such,” said Esther Keli, 32, who attended the Etana concert.

With the end of year festivity season kicking in, many events have now been lined up. A number of international artistes are expected in Kenya in the next weeks for concerts in and outside Nairobi.

Big entertainment names such as the legendary Congolese soukous singer Koffi Olomide, Nigerian Afrobeats star Tiwa Savage and Jamaica reggae and dancehall singer Charly Black as expected to make the December action menu. Also expected over the next few weeks are Konshens and dancehall artiste Popcaan.

And known for the Grown Up and Roots mixtapes, British afro-swing collective NSG; consisting of Kruddz, OGD, Papii Abz, Dope, Mxjib, and Mojo is also expected here on Jamhuri Day.

“Showbiz is now back and the economy here in Oslo, Norway, and Kenya where I run my businesses has opened and I am announcing my return to Nairobi where I will be hosting the second edition of the Curvy Curves modeling competition on December 4,” Norway-based award-winning promoter Donnah Akinyi told The Saturday Standard.

Even as audience-starved solo artistes and entertainment groups head back to clubs and go on tours, it is not all rosy.  The pandemic brought with it new realities that will continue to live with us. 

“I am not planning to attend any show before I confirm that I am completely out of the risk of contracting Covid-19. The fact that curfews and lockdowns are over and that clubs and concerts are back does not mean that we are out of danger. I have seen people celebrating and behaving as though Covid 19 never existed. This started as soon as the president announced that curfew had been lifted” says Carol Wamalwa, a PR personality in Nairobi.

“People are travelling from one city to another partying and I personally think the accumulated risk is more than it was, especially for die-hard party lovers,” she notes.

On their part, club owners are lamenting that spending and consumption habits are still below expectation. While some attribute this to the financial burden caused by rising cost of living, others believe that job losses and salary cuts hit the spending power of most Kenyans.

“The average person who used to attend weekend gigs and spend say like Sh5,000 per a night might not have that as a priority anymore. Whoever used to buy say a bottle of Black Label for Sh4,500 is now taking a cheaper brand, say Gin, for example that might cost him Sh1,500,” says Mickey Kibwana, a bar owner.