Dear Kenyan musicians,
Fake unity is far much worse than no unity at all. That having been said, we are not together. Let that sink in quick: like a coin in water. The sooner we stop wallowing in imaginary solidarity, the sooner we can come to grips with our real circumstances and start finding actual solutions to the issues bedevilling our industry. Or not!
For starters, which is the official union mandated to protect the rights of all musicians affiliated to this republic? When was it formed? Who was consulted? What are its objectives? When are meetings constituted and by whom? Where is it located? Is there a physical address beyond someone's briefcase or laptop for that matter? How do interested parties join it? As you grapple with that one, I will swiftly move to the matter CMOs. Last I checked we had MPAKE but from my experiences on the ground MCSK is conducting elections and doing business as usual. Personally I am a member of both but more confused than ever before; especially since establishments and individuals still pay for licences although nobody knows where that money goes to. I will sip herb tea on that one for now given that one CMO says that it has no money while the other one could only manage to pay some of the biggest artistes an average of 11,000kshs. Optimism is key after all and 11k is better than zero, isn't it? Let me sip more herb tea as I think about it.
What the hell happened to promoting 70% local content as required by the law? How many stakeholders are actively implementing that law for the betterment of the local industry? Sometime back we attended or rather crashed one pompous stakeholder meeting in town, shook hands with the crème de la crème and ate tea and biscuits in celebration of good things to come except two and a half years later there is very little to show for it. If anything there is a massive influx of foreign content and foreign events justified in part by that diligently stupid 'Kenyan-music-is-not-good-enough' choir croaking in every permeable corner. (The only thriving acts and events from within the country fit the bill in the paragraph below). I take solace in the fact that this is the same choir which will be composing dirges in the abominable event our industry finally chokes to death after being strangled by its own people; just like the hyacinth is keen on doing to Lake Victoria. That is when they will start wondering where all the good musicians disappeared to; same as they do for sportsmen and innovators thriving in other parts of the world for a lack of home-grown support.
We are not together given that this is now a matter of who you know rather than what you sing or rap about. This is also a matter of how much money you have to pay for airplay and/or to grease other doors open on your way up and which body parts you are willing to distribute for favours. It is a gatekeeper-job seeker situation in much more dire need of goodwill than divine intervention. Sorry for you if you are not rich, pleasurable, resilient, controversial, easy to manipulate or a straight up dummy that can be used to systemically dumb down audiences further. You will not make it easily. We are not together despite the fact that musicians are blessed with gifts that could be used to effect change, shape ideology and disseminate knowledge in addition to entertaining audiences and giving them eargasms. Instead some musicians now take pride in behaving like politicians and are now similarly normalizing corruption, tribalism, nepotism, classism and cartelism. I am not referring to the healthy, competitive and vibrant kind of coexistence that should come naturally to gifted people within a self sustaining ecosystem. I am referring to the bag-stopping, ego-inflating, detrimental type of monkey business that promotes professional sabotage, the recycling of ancient, mediocre content, dishonest promotions, mass brainwashing and ideological warping that benefits a few at the expense of many.
So you see? This industry is as rotten as can be despite the fact that it is relatively young, weak, unstructured and full of greedy brokers who will block any attempts at unification because they do not want to relinquish power and give it back to the creators of talent. We do not have a functioning union because that will mean more awareness, more registration, more accountability and less room for the current status quo to maintain their chokehold over our creativity. We have split CMOs because there are parallel interests to be taken care of and we have a lacklustre attitude towards the implementation of policies that will make the overall situation better for all the stakeholders involved because it is convenient for those at the helm to keep things as they are. On top of all this we have little in-groups within which we as musicians feel more special, more talented and more financially endowed than those outside them. These in-groups exist from the input (production) stages to the output (consumerism) stages and generally determine what the mainstream looks like and how it functions. Let nobody deceive you that we are together. It is everyone for themselves and this terrain is neither for the weak nor the foolish.
My take? Use all you have to get to where you can get but bear in mind that you are either doing this out of an impelling conviction or for fun. Music will remain a regular paying job for a small percentage and it is not because you do not count. It is because you do not matter to those that do the counting. Nothing will change until every stakeholder is getting a healthy slice of the billions generated from your creative content. Question is: How do we get to that point if ever? Oh. Just in case you are wondering, my contribution to the solution is speaking about the problem.