Corona effect: Has the beat stopped for local musicians?
By Caroline Nyanga and Joe Ombuor
| April 28th 2020
Every Friday and Saturday, popular ohangla musician Onyango Alemo, famed for the hit song Tabia Mbaya, would be strumming the night away in a club or rehearsing for the popular Luo nigh themed show. But not anymore.
Alemo, like many other entertainers locally and abroad, is feeling the pinch of living in a time of coronavirus, the highly-infectious virus that has turned the world on its head.
When the government announced a raft of measures, including a dusk-to-dawn-curfew, to tame the pandemic's tide, it was expected that the music would stop given the sector is so intrinsically connected to huge audiences and live experiences.
With social distancing being the new normal, clubs and bars being shut, and gigs cancelled, many musicians and entertainers have been thrown into a spin. Once loud and bubbly social joints fell eerily silent.
"Since the coronavirus hit the country, things have been really tough. I have lost more than 10 shows and now I have to think outside the box to make ends meet. Other than whiling time away in the house, I have had to reboot my entrepreneurial skills to get by," said Alemo.
Things are no better for fellow ohangla musicians Emma Jalamo and Musa Jakadalla who were forced to cancel four concerts in the wake of the pandemic.
Jakadala, known for his hit song Hera Remo, hopes the virus will be contained so that artistes can continue earning a living.
"I spend most of the time with my family and occasionally in the studio recording new songs. I was forced to cancel several shows locally and abroad," said Jakadala.
He advises fellow artistes, and Kenyans in general, to exercise patience and adhere to government directives to help fight the pandemic.
Top mugithi singer and bandleader Mike Rua admits life has been extremely difficult for him. Rua, whose latest release is How We Do, revealed he spent a lot of money preparing for a series of shows abroad.
Unfortunately, he could not fly out for these planned events scheduled for Good Friday through to Easter Sunday.
"I have been left with nothing save for the little savings in the bank, but I hope things will get back to normal in God's time," he said.
Another popular mugithi singer, Samido, said it has been tough without shows which is what brings in the money, but he is optimistic the country will overcome the pandemic.
Veteran Kikuyu musician Kamande wa Kioi said he is now concentrating on part-time farming and business to make ends meet.
Members of the award-winning afro-pop band Sauti Sol are spending time with their families and recording new music, while David Mathenge, popularly known as Nameless, is working at home while spending quality time with family.
Kora Award Nominee 2018 Nyashinski, like many young musicians, is fast adapting to the new normal. Nyashinski has decided to go online where he entertains his fans.
"I strongly believe this is the best I can offer to my fans at this moment," he said.
Veteran gospel singer Jemimah Thiongo revealed she has ventured into part-time farming and is rearing chicken. She is not alone. Many popular musicians from Nyanza, Central and Western regions are doing the same to weather the tough economic tides.
On his part, gospel singer and composer Solomon Mukubwa said: "With no concerts coming my way I may be forced to look for alternatives to survive."
Feeling the heat
Perhaps most affected are locally-based Congolese bands known to patronise city bars and clubs to earn their daily bread. Many of them say they have been forced to rely on Kenyan friends and relatives abroad, most of whom are refugees to earn a living.
Congolese star Koffi Olomide is also feeling the heat. He said it has been difficult for him after he was forced to cancel several concerts in Africa and abroad that would have earned him millions of shillings.
This came at a time when his Kenyan fans were looking forward to his first concert two years after he was banned from performing locally by the government after he was filmed assaulting one of his dancers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
With the rise in Covid-19 infections and deaths, several other local concerts have been cancelled until further notice. They include the African Moja Concert, featuring Tanzanian bigwig Harmonize, Congolese El Rise Matadien, Emma Jalamo and award-winning star Willy Paul.
"We are saddened by the fact that we will not be able to entertain our fans as planned. Our fans should understand that this is beyond us. Let us all join hands in fighting this pandemic," said Harmonize.
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