From choppers to special food: What it takes to host star artistes

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

Social media went into meltdown yesterday after Jalang’o exposed the outrageous diva demands singer Akothee made before accepting to perform at the upcoming Luo Festival.

They included Sh1 million performance fee, a branded chopper, 10 white Range Rovers, 40 bouncers, four armed policemen, security dogs, a personal chef and a private toilet.

She wanted the event organiser to provide white sofas on her personally designed backstage with good lighting and sound system guaranteed for her performance. 

“I am not happy. What kind of artiste is this who wants to arm-twist event organisers. @akotheekenya I have paid you but I am not happy. You want me to go back to the village. Every time we do this event you come with new requirements and demands,” Jalang’o said.

And what would Diamond Platinumz ask for on top of his Sh6 million performance fee? A presidential suite and four extra double rooms plus an extra single one for his accommodation, two wireless Sure brand microphones, pioneer DJ mix machines with two decks, a glass stage with trussing and decorated with LED tights with moving heads.

For the Waah singer, the backstage must be well equipped with air conditioning and six personnel (four being security, one waitress and one representative from the organisers’ side), water, juices and snacks. Please avoid bacon or any form of pork-based meals for the boy from Tandale.

Artistes’ technical riders and other demands have been an ongoing dilemma for event organisers and promoters.

Barely a month ago, a Kenyan music promoter wanted to fly in American music ace Beyoncé to Mombasa for a New Year gig.

Besides the performance fee as well as the processes one has to go through to get an A-lister like her for a concert, the promoter was shocked to learn of some of the demands in her rider. 

You need to keep her dressing room at 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius), get her chicken legs seasoned with cayenne pepper and rose-scented candles.

She uses a large table for catering dressed with white tablecloths and brand new white towels in the bathroom. No Coca-Cola please. She only uses Pepsi products.

This would probably remind many of Rick Ross when he toured Kenya for one of the mega concerts held in Nairobi before Covid-19 checked in.

The ‘Boss’ as he is commonly referred to was said to have demanded 30 round trip air tickets that included 10 first-class tickets and a helicopter to facilitate his movement while in the city. 3,500 bottles of his premium Luc Belaire champagne, 1,500 fresh towels and 200 bottles of lemon flavoured water were part of the rumoured list, which the rapper’s management denied as fans started making a fuss about it.

What about Kanye West asking for a barber’s chair and a Coke and Hennessy slushy machine backstage; and Adele expecting chicken salad sandwiches, Marlboro Lights, the “best quality” red wine, and six metal teaspoons in her dressing room? It is never an easy task for an events promoter to host an international artiste.

With major artistes set for concerts here in the coming weeks, one wonders if promoters will break even. Those expected to come calling include legendary Congolese soukous singer Koffi Olomide, Jamaica reggae and dancehall singers Charly Black, Konshens and Popcaan as well as British afro-swing collective NSG.

Akothee on stage during her charity concert at Uhuru Gardens. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

“Events are tricky to handle due to the logistics and the finances involved in ensuring they are successful. Unless you have a corporate sponsor or a partner who is ready to cater for the costs involved, it is hard to make an event work for you through ticket charges,” says Chris Kirwa, an events planner.

“It is even more complicated now since Covid-19 regulations make it hard for concerts to realise as many numbers as they would want. That makes it almost impossible to make money in events without a sponsor,” he adds.

According to Dan Odhiambo, an event organiser behind the popular Kikwetu Festival, putting together a proper event that involves an international artiste is quite expensive.

Having hosted some of the biggest concerts in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, Odhiambo says it takes a knowledge organiser to put together the technical, human and financial resources needed to arrange a reputable event.

“First of all, you need to have knowledge on how the industry works as well as the terrain you are operating on. You don’t just pick on any artiste. You must know the trends and be aware of which musician is popular at a given time for your target audience. In this, your human resource should have strong teams with specialist knowledge in marketing, public relations and revenue sourcing,” he says.

“Most international artistes come with big requirements. The big ones especially from America will ask for a minimum of $100,000 (slightly over Sh10 million) for their performance fee. This is cash a promoter has to pay the artiste’s management agency when they sign the contract and pay the last of the percentage once they land at the airport. You must also pay for a work permit (usually referred to as special passes) to the immigration department as well as artiste withholding tax to the Kenya Revenue Authority,” he says.

Established artistes from Nigeria performing in Kenya charge performance fees of about Sh7 million while those from the neighbouring countries like Tanzania get paid Sh5 million, on average, for one show.

Ironically, it would cost more to host Koffie Olomide, or any other orchestra from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because of the exorbitant local flights' charge and also the number of people one is meant to cater for; from band members, technical crew and the artiste’s handlers.

Dancehall artistes from Jamaica are among the most affordable to work with in concerts. This explains why we have more reggae and dancehall concerts compared to other genres.

Aside from the costs for artistes, other major expenses usually include venue booking, sound and lighting, security and management team handling the event.

While leading sounds and lights companies charge between Sh300,000 to Sh1 million for sound and lights depending on the structure of an event, top venues, especially popular events open-air grounds in Nairobi do go for about Sh100,000 per day. Security, which includes police officers, bouncers, ambulances and fire engines can sum up to another Sh100,000. 

Odhiambo says other major costs usually go into advertising and other forms of promotion, allocations that must be factored in when one is assembling the event management team.

“Right now, events have to be about customer experience and that speaks to the kind of content that one needs to deliver. In this, one has to look at an event as a product; from programming, lighting, sound and digital engagement. Technology has become a major component of event management. We have a number of event management software catering for different kinds of events, ticketing, guest management, exhibitions and conferences,” says Odhiambo.

Having run events for years under his Pambazuka Entertainment stable, Leakey Odera says: “You might do everything right in planning a concert or any other event and then on the big day, the weather decides to mess you up. Rainy weather, for example, can mess up everything from attendance to execution. Anticipating for risks is always a major part of planning but, sometimes, the plans backfire.”