Kenyan artistes strive to keep beats alive amid COVID-19 pandemic

Source: Xinhua| 2020-11-10 22:45:52|Editor: huaxia

This file photo shows Kenya's benga musician Makadem performs at the national theatre in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Xinhua/Allan Mutiso)

The beats have gone mute for most Kenyan musicians as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts activities at recording studios and entertainment spots.

NAIROBI, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- The beats have gone mute for most Kenyan musicians as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts activities at recording studios and entertainment spots.

Before the pandemic, Kenya's entertainment industry was on a positive trajectory, with government agencies Kenya Copyright Board (KCB) and the Music Copyright Society of Kenya having stepped up the fight against pirates to ensure artists do not lose their income.

For music producers, things were looking brighter having received 33 million shillings (about 305,56 million U.S. dollars) in royalties collected between August 2019 to January.

But as they say, sometimes the best laid out plans go awry. The pandemic has upset everything, hurting the industry as much as the musicians and other performing artists like dancers and instrumentalists.

"Music has been disrupted a lot because recording has become harder. You can't trust visitors to the studio or on shoot locations. Then many locals no longer accept visitors from other places in fear of spreading the COVID-19 pandemic," Steve Kipande, the CEO of Grip Empire, a production house, said in a recent interview in Nairobi.

Kipande noted that choirs no longer meet to practice, consequently there are no recordings.

"Choirs don't meet anymore because of the social distancing protocols and outdoor shoots in the city cannot happen. Many musicians fear spending money on production because they don't know what may happen tomorrow. Production is slow," he observed.

The challenge has seen some music producers close their studios for lack of business.

In June, Kenya Film and Classification Board chief executive Ezekiel Mutua came to the rescue of Eldoret-based music producer Kiptoo Rop, who had closed his studio due to rent arrears.

He had then converted his single-roomed house into a studio in a bid to survive.

"As stakeholders in the creative industry, we are facing a crisis never experienced before. Normally, some producers would pay for productions as investment, but now we are not even able to cater for the needs of our sound engineers and the artistes. As business people, we are suffering," said Edward Wiltons, a producer and promoter.

Since they are not able to meet their financial obligations, Wiltons said they have been forced to either terminate contracts for artists or convert their houses into studios.

"I know some producers and artistes who have rented single rooms to survive and are trying to raise resources as a group," he said, noting as a mitigation measure, they started Inua Msanii Concert to help creatives based in Machakos, eastern Kenya.

A&R manager Sameer Bry said producers are also experiencing a work backlog, as some artists have delayed the release dates of their albums or singles.

"Releasing music and getting the right attention requires a lot of work behind the scenes. There are radio interviews, TV shows, club appearances and other marketing opportunities, which are no longer available to artistes," said Bry.

But as the crisis persists and there is no end in sight, the creatives noted that they are seeking alternative ways to make money, which means a change in business model.

"Artistes have now accepted online production. They record vocals on their own and then send over for mixing and mastering. This is effective for our clients who are far from the studio, as they would normally book their sessions, travel to the studio for the whole recording process," said Motif Di Don.

The producer added that while it is still a new concept, it has helped in time management as he can work on more projects.

"The other thing that has changed is the level of sanitization we do in the booths and in the recording room. We try to observe social distancing and anyone who is not recording has to wear a mask. I think it's a positive thing," he explained.

Bry said some studios and artists are making inroads into the podcast world as others offer live-streaming services.

"This has given us something to think about and a new way to work; we now have to push products digitally," he noted.