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How artistes are surviving harsh economic times

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 An empty wallet [iStockphoto]

It is becoming apparent that artistes are collectively broke. And never has that message been clearer than earlier this week, when singer Nonini and MCSK CEO Dr Ezekiel Mutua traded blows that ended up with a legal notice for Mutua to apologise and delete tweets aimed at the artiste.

Depending on what document you have saved on your gallery, about 16,000 Kenyan artistes are sharing less than half of the millions the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) collects annually. 

“Waiting for my Sh2,500 bob from MCSK,” a leading singer wrote with jest in a WhatsApp artistes’ group, a true nature of how artistes can find themselves living from hand to mouth. 

Lean times are a reality in showbiz. Content consumers move to other creators, hits drop down the charts, promoters pick newer and hotter artistes, and in the case of the Covid pandemic, a total shutdown happens.

In 2020, DJ Creme De La Creme made news when he left the city and relocated to Kericho.

“As you know, there are not many deejaying jobs and with little income flowing in, I asked my wife if we could move back to Kericho where the rest of our family lives. My dad could not believe that we had made such a decision. We got a huge house with a big compound and my family especially our daughter liked it. The place is near-obsessive and we are planning to make it our permanent home,” he said then.

“Entertainment is living from hand to mouth unless kwa wale wako established fully, and those who have gigs round the clock,” deejay Benn On Point said.

The deejay, who through experience has always made sure he is a resident deejay in more than one club, had planned for January a month earlier. 

“For one, gigs in December are the only way to survive January. Because in January, nothing much happens, unless at the end of the month, when people get paid,” he said. 

“Most deejays in January are in survival mode, maybe just hoping for a Valentines' gig, a ruracio hapa na pale, or a wedding. It is even stressful to look for gigs. Everyone is stressed in January, including the club owners, who are also parents.”

"I have been blessed and my weekends are majorly booked but all that said and done, sometimes the industry is on a slow. Not much coming in from clubs, that is why I have some businesses that I am running on the side that ensures I am on the safe," said Rajyz the DJ.  

While some celebrities are honest about the hard times, others can’t relate to that narrative. Eddy Butita, OGW, stand-up comedian, writer, director, and founder of several companies that deal in the business of content preached that content creators in whichever form can’t rely on one business. 

“I don’t know about the others, but as Butita, I can’t depend on one revenue stream for survival, especially live shows which are seasonal,” he said.

“We have been so busy this January, doing scripts, producing shows, working with different clients… We are in a crisis at the moment, we are behind schedule on things we are supposed to deliver to our clients.”

According to the funny man, creators should have at least five avenues of making money. 

“You must keep things moving. If you have five ways of reaching the masses, there is no way all of them can dry up at the same time. Entertainment is so wide that you cannot fail to find revenue pockets within.”

Thespian, gospel singer and big-screen actor Aaliwah said has been in showbiz for too long to be caught off guard. 

“I have learnt over the years to make Njaanuary work with some savings. I save for a whole year and only use the cash during the leanest of months,” he said. 

Aaliwah was sympathetic to celebrities who face tough decisions when the shows dry up. 

“No matter how much we plan for tomorrow, we are always caught off-guard. The only way, other than savings, is to have thriving side hustles,” he said. 

There was a time when celebrities like musicians, dancers, MCs, and comedians depended solely on shows, but with internet access becoming global, there is no excuse to keep content running. 

Streaming is such a huge platform, that music companies are calling the shots. This week, Universal Music Group announced that it is pulling out its music from TikTok over licensing battles. 

Mtandao imefungua world. Let us work…” Butita said about the impact the internet has on content creation. 

According to singer G-Kon, artistes need to adapt to the changing trends of the industry.

"As trends shift and public interest wanes, the ability to adapt is crucial. Some people, like myself, have reinvented themselves, taking on diverse roles, mastering new skills, or collaborating with fresh talent.

"This adaptability has allowed me to stay on top of my game. But not forgetting I also work in a hospital. So if music does not pay that much, I still have a fallback plan," he said.

His sentiments are echoed by upcoming rapper Kuky.

"Truth be told, I cannot depend on the music industry to pay my bills, save, invest and still enjoy myself. I have a regular job and that is what keeps me afloat during tough times.

"On the other hand, working with other artistes and holding joint exhibitions, shared studio spaces, and collaborative projects helps reduce costs," she said. 

While the internet, especially social media is bridging the gap between celebrities and their fans, several celebrities have come out to seek financial aid from the public, blaming their being broke on life’s ups and downs.

In May 2021, Ghipuka Ambassador Visita came out to look for rent for an apartment he was living in in the Roysambu area. 

Blaming Grandpa Records honcho for not paying him his dues, he said shows had dried up and he wasn’t getting much from his talents. 

'Dudaing' sound engineer Magix Enga has also made the news for being broke. Late last year, he cried out for help to sort out his young family. 

"I have a one-month-old baby boy who is depending on me. I tried to pull myself together but the studio I was working at was shut down because of rent issues," he said.

And as the year closed, TV personality Kimani Mbugua asked for a Sh200,000 boost to start a business.

“I have lost so many things, I have lost so many friends in this journey. People got tired of me and I am in a position where most people are not willing to help,” he said.

Across the border, the record for the biggest monetary loss goes to showbiz personality Idris Sultan.

The winner of Big Brother Africa - Hotshots in 2014, bagged $300,000 (Sh48 million at today’s rate) as prize money, which he admitted to squandering even as some went into a gold business he started with a friend.

Sasa kitu kilifanya so much money ikapotea and I don’t understand zimepotea vipi ni kwamba I used to authorise the release of funds for several projects upon Mike’s approval without asking questions. We were close and before I knew it, not much was left and there was no yield in the businesses,” said Sultan.

Butita explains that he will never advise content creators to invest in businesses outside of showbiz.

“You will never find me telling a young creator to invest in, say a kinyozi (barber shop) when they have no idea how to run one. Wewe si kinyozi. Invest in what you are good at first, before venturing out,” he said. 

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