Why do Kenyan artistes get paid peanuts for shows
“Why are the Kenyan artistes always falling for the trap of promoters telling them we are giving you a platform? Come share stage with international artistes! For how long will top Kenyan artistes be curtain raisers? They even curtain raise for artistes who have only been in the game for one year… ,” Akothee ranted.
“Why do Kenyan artistes collect peanuts? Are we so desperate for performance? This is our country and we have our fan-base here and that’s why promoters need Kenyans on their shows. Platform is a word they use to belittle you and make you feel like you need it badly” she went on.
Akothee's exasperation was coming from a familiar position for many a Kenyan artiste. Getting the short end of the stick from promoters and event organisers.
You’ve got passion and grit, a growing portfolio and you’re more than willing to put in some elbow grease. Now you just need a path into the limelight.
That is where promoters come in with a platform that could get you noticed. The catch? You'll get nothing in the way of pay, or if you do, you get paid in loose change.
While thousands of Kenyans pay gate fees and upfront advance tickets for concerts, foreign acts leave with the millions while our stars, who are used as curtain raisers get nothing.
Many have gone on social media with their woes, vowing never to work with these promoters.
Then there are instances where they are paid alright, but paid peanuts. All this while foreign artistes get paid huge sums of money for a performance in Kenyan concerts – sometimes up to Sh10 million.
The likes of Burna Boy, Tekno Miles, Omarion, Davido, Diamond, Morgan Heritage, Jah Cure have left Nairobi with a lot of money after their concerts in the past. At the same concerts, Kenyan celebs who shared the stage with them have been left crying.
What is even more interesting is that the locals acts put in a lot into such performances trying to prove that they are not push overs in the game.
“Sometimes as an upcoming artiste you barely have numbers or even shows on your side so sometimes a promoter might approach you and since you desperately need the platform. This mostly happens to struggling young artistes. Truth be told this happens very often. I personally have been in such situation a couple of times,” says Beryl Owano, a fast-rising musician.
It is good publicity and a build-up of a good performance profile for such upcoming artistes when they share the stage with big foreign shots. This is the line most promoters use to hook them into cheap contracts, thanks to their desire for exposure.
In Kenya, it's been an uphill for an upcoming artiste to get recognised, leave alone get a gig. Many don’t have the right marketing structures to get their names out in an industry ruled by powerful cliques.
Even with a good song and a sizable fanbase, these young stars will end up settling for anything just to get their name known, hence the misuse in curtain raising for free – in the name of free exposure.
“Right now we have a name but still we have been shortchanged uncountable times. Specifically from the Gengetone genre almost everyone has been through this struggle. We have been hosted in big concerts where we got no penny after. We have curtain raised for big names but still the event organisers try and play us,” says Nelly The Goon, a member of the popular Ochungulo Family group.
“We don’t understand why this happens since they can bring a single person foreign artiste, pay them handsomely but then look down on us. Promoters don’t generally respect young Kenyan artistes despite the fact that we command the numbers in those concerts. I wouldn’t want to point a particular event but this happens and I am glad you as Pulse have decided to address the issue. I think it’s long overdue,” he says.
But the story is different for established Kenyan stars who are also used as curtain raisers for foreign artistes – as much as they are celebrated here at home. Why would for example rapper Khaligraph Jones aka The OG or even say Wyre The Love Child be used as the second best in a concert where say Burna Boy is the headline star.
Is it right for promoters to use celebrated Kenyan stars as second fiddle performers in gigs that feature foreign musicians – even when we know many fans are going to events mainly to celebrate local talent?
Khaligraph Jones, who has been in the industry for sometimes now and commands a huge following has a different school of thought.
“When an international artiste jets into the country, performing before him does not necessarily mean that you are curtain-raising for them. This simply, to me, means you shared the same stage so literally you are all equal. Only that they are visitors and get the respect to headline the show,” he reasons.
“The young artistes too have their own fans who actually attend the shows specifically for them. Nobody should undermine them and there is nothing as paying an artist with ‘exposure’ any more these are not the yesteryears. Such promoters, if there are any left, should be ashamed of themselves and style up,” he says.
The same sentiments are echoed by Moon S Kenya, a, Afro pop singer and songwriter. “I remember not too long ago a promoter called me to curtain raise for a show in Voi but instead he was to pay me with ‘a platform’. I mean I could not pack my bags and travel all the way and come back empty handed. Although I turned the offer down, I know the challenges and work that we put in these videos and audios so I don’t understand where these promoters have such nerves from. It is not just unfair but inhuman,” she says.
Promoters are portrayed as the bad apples in all this, shouldering most of the blame. They are described as rogues operators out to milk artistes dry.
But Don Chacha, a Mombasa-based promoter, believes this blame is misdirected. “We are also in business. Sometimes when upcoming artistes know that I have a show, my phone floods with the new musicians begging for such platforms. This happens to so many promoters. When the artistes are given a chance to perform they cry foul that they were never paid, which is too much of a dishonest move,” he says.
“Right now in the Kenyan industry corporates are not doing enough to support all these artistes, therefore, the big backlog goes to the promoter. I pay any artiste I am working with, but again when we are negotiating some are (too) timid to confront a promoter. When you pay them as agreed they cry foul that they were shortchanged,” he says.
“As I said this is business like any other, so when we haggle with musicians we expect them to bring a spirited fight. Why would one settle for Sh10,000 yet they wanted Sh50,000 but never brought the issue up? After the deal is when you get complaints on how you shortchanged artistes.
“Everybody, like in the Western world, should have a rate card and be brave enough to defend it by all means. Once I get to you trying to work with you I have already seen a potential, so if you cowardly take any deal don’t go crying foul,” he says.