It was a dull year as event organisers struggled to pull crowds

Sauti Sol in action, Luo Festival, at Carnivore Grounds. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

In 2021, planning a live event was a game of chance. Some events, such as Sol Fest, Sauti Sol’s concert, were well-attended, with 6,000 people in attendance while for others, attendance was surprisingly low, barely cracking 500 attendees. 

What made the difference? Some people opined that Kenyans prioritise foreign musicians over local artistes, so when a foreign artiste headlined an event, they were sure to turn up.

However, that was debunked by Sauti Sol’s wildly successful concert, which led to more opinions that people were put off by prior antics that some headliners had engaged in, such as ‘clout-chasing’, and failed to turn up.

There may be a little truth in that, according to Chris Kirwa, Event Strategist and COO of CateChris Limited, but that is not the main reason, and when it is about individuals, it may be more about the experience people got from them or what they expect.

“We cannot really run away from it, but that falls into individual events. We have people who attend those events who can call out and say, ‘This is the experience that was promised, but this is what we got.’ I think that one is a consumer story where a consumer will like supermarket A and not B because of experience,” says Kirwa.

The real reason, however, is the sheer number of events that have been happening at the same time.

“If let us say we look at the Jamhuri weekend of December 10, 11 and 12, we had almost 100 events happening simultaneously across the country, with Nairobi having almost 30 events,” he says.

“Normally, if you have studied the pattern of events for a long time, usually there would be one event happening at a time. But now, for the first time, because the long weekend of Jamhuri Day was working perfectly where Monday was a holiday, we had events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So if you attend one event, I highly doubt you will go to the next one.”

That meant that there was a lot of division of the one crowd that would normally be attending one event.

Even events that are about 100 kilometres from Nairobi, such as Naivasha, are usually patronised by people from Nairobi, such as during the Safari Rally in Naivasha, where Kirwa says that 80 per cent of the attendants were from Nairobi.

“The people who attend events are a certain group of people. It’s not everybody that attends events, so the same people were divided somehow. So I don’t think that people necessarily shied away. If anything, people really attended events on 10th, 11th and 12th,” says Kirwa. “People showed up for the events because they had been prevented from doing so for a long time. For the first time, we had a lot of attendance of people, but it was split into different events. Where one event would have ordinarily drawn 9,000 people they had 2,000 or 3,000 while another one had said, 4,000 people.”

This proliferation of events was a response to their cancellation when the Covid-19 pandemic began. There aren’t many professional events people who can hold live events that meet the highest standards of quality, so the professionals usually referred to by people wishing to hold events were spread very thin and could not handle all of them.

“The capacity to manage those events was affected in terms of quality since they were so many,” says Kirwa.

On the argument that Kenyans favour foreign artistes more, Kirwa disagrees and in addition to that theory having been debunked by Sol Fest, Kenyans are generally accommodative of everyone across the board.

“Let us stop looking at just the music industry. This is one thing I have to say as an events person and somebody who has lived in this country. Kenya is accommodative to foreigners in every industry and this is the only country you can stay in that you feel at home as a foreigner. Ask any one of them who stays here,” he says.

According to him, in other countries like South Africa, Tanzania, South Sudan, Nigeria and so forth, Kenyans can hardly say the same of their experience.

“We are the only country that does that. They will tell you that they have had a hard time there. But people from all those countries are very happy to be here. We are very hospitable to everyone. We do not discriminate. So with that accommodative and friendly nature of Kenyans, definitely the creative industry will also find it comfortable to be in this country. So it has nothing to do with the thought that Kenyans love foreign music. It is just our accommodative nature as Kenyans, where we do not discriminate against anybody.”

With restrictions lifted, for the most part, things might go back to normal for events in 2022, if all goes well during the upcoming election cycle, that is.

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