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Guardian angels or parasites? Understanding the role of artiste managers

A photo montage of singer Weasel and Goodlyf manager Chagga. COURTESY PHOTO

ARTISTE MANAGEMENT: For us on the outside, besides just promoting music and booking gigs, the understanding is that a manager should help keep their artiste out of possible scandalous situations, ensure their safety and be there in case of any necessary damage control. But too many times we have seen artistes go through the same question, raising the question: Who manages who? ANDREW KAGGWA writes.

If there is one English word almost all Ugandan artistes have mastered, it must be ‘manager’. Regardless of how much or little an artiste has attained academically, a manager is someone many of them believe they need — apparently some get one even before a bank account.

When you try to book them, they will refer you to the manager. When you attempt an interview, it is the same line they will drop. However, when it comes to attributing their success, it is all them and whenever they fail, they will blame…you know who.

Yet many of the people holding the manager tag are merely fanatics that eventually get a chance to get close to the person they idolised and now are in charge of the biggest office in the artiste’s career.

In a rare social media post, Bryan Muhumuza, once narrated his humble beginnings — doing voluntary publicity for Iryn Namubiru on social media, from there he was onto managing a band, later, Jackie Chandiru’s personal assistant and today, he is Angela Katatumba’s promotions manager.

Richard Kleberson, founder of online cult Gagamel Phamily and one of Bebe Cool’s known publicists or promoters, also started out as a diehard fan who later got the opportunity to meet the man.

Yet according to David Cecil, co-founder East African Records, much as a manager should appreciate the craft of the person they are managing, doing the job calls for more than fanaticism.

Henry Tigan

Henry Tigan

Speaking at the Doadoa Performing Arts Market in Kampala in May, Cecil noted that just as labels are supposed to publish music, copyright enforcement and marketing, among other things, a manager runs the day to day business dealings on behalf of an artiste. “…the artiste creates the art, while the manager makes the vision of that art and turns it into a viable business.”

He noted that in such markets, music labels such as Sony Music, Universal and Warner became household brands that consumers easily related with. “People would easily pick up a CD with a Sony logo without thinking twice,” he said.
And in the same way, managers too were brands that could even help an artiste get signed to a record label.

Music management in Uganda
With a big number of local managers either serving as artiste assistants and errand boys, many have come to a conclusion that maybe they are not needed.

To make matters worse, local artistes even hire managers they are sure they will not listen to. “In most cases, you find artistes managing their managers,” says West Records’ Edward Ssendikadiwa aka Sendi while making a commentary about music on Dembe FM’s popular talk show, Talk and Talk.

But he still notes that the country has professional managers such as Jeff Kiwanuka aka Jeff Kiwa of Team No Sleep, Emmanuel Mulondo alias Emma Carlos, Golden Band’s Musa Kavuma and Godfrey Kayemba, among others.

In developed music economies, artiste and manager relationships are matches made in heaven — an artiste will know the exact kind of manager they need and there are more chances they will do what it takes to attract the manager’s attention.
In that way, artistes work their skin off to create primary buzz around themselves, then organise their first showcase, invite their target managers with email detailing their work, what they have won and where they have played, among other things.
Most of such artistes will always do their best to create competitive profiles — it is mostly a system that believes that a manager finds the artiste and not the other way round.

But are managers needed in an E-economy?
The belief that artistes do not need managers in a time where much of the information has gone online has been fronted for years.

That if an artiste can create a social media buzz and acquires numbers, they have all the power in their hands.
And of course, with mobile applications such as Fezah allowing artistes to get booked and further more monitor their airplay, it easily feels like one artiste can handle their career on a handset.
This has made many wonder whether an artiste such as Bebe Cool whose face value, social media presence and market demand speaks louder still needs management.

Sendi says a manager, contrary to what many local artistes believe, does more than getting bookings. “An artiste such as Bebe Cool needs a manager for strategy, brand management— a team would be in charge of his engagements. If a newspaper wanted an inter-view with him, the management would be in position to assess whether the kind of press benefits them or not.”
Dorothy Nabunjo, the director Karizm, a talent management company, says there is only a small number of Ugandans online.
“In Uganda, where you do not have labels to get the music onto radio scheduler’s lists, managers do the handiwork of approaching stations,” she says.

According to Tim Rimbui, one of Kenya’s renowned music engineers, producers and also founder of the Ennovator Music, a Nairobi-based production house, all Africa’s successful artistes do not have a manager, but a team of managers.
“Music is about a network, you can do all sorts of things by yourself but you will go further with a team that helps you create a good network,” he says.

Rimbui says a manager is one who helps an artiste notice other avenues of making money out of their music and image. “They will be able to negotiate deals that are away from a microphone,” he says.

In the same frame, Swangz Avenue’s Julius Kyazze says in the E-commerce, artistes need managers more than before.
“The distribution platforms make the work seem easier but a team is needed to select the right songwriters, when to put out a song and which kind of song.”
Kyazze also notes that in this environment, one even needs a digital team to manage what kind and how much information about an artiste is put out.

Angels or parasites?
Over the years, alterations between artistes and people that used to manage them have become common, especially after the parties part ways; from Jeff Kiwa vs Radio and Weasel, Pallaso vs Team No Sleep, Henry Tigan vs Suudiman and Emma Carlos with almost everyone he has managed.

From Left: Jeff Kiwa, Mozey Radio and Weasel

For the public, these could be because the artiste regrets being used by the manager and of course, a few times some artistes have decried the relationships in brutal songs.

In his view though, Carlos says at the beginning of artiste-manager relationships, all parties are driven by passion.
“But deep down, artistes always believe they can be independent of their managers thus work to achieve that independence.”
Emma Carlos says many of the attacks that come after the relationships are done are psychological, as artistes want to show their former partners that they can do without them.

He notes that he has different contracts with different artistes. “The way I worked with Wafagio is not the same way I worked with Khalifa Aganaga,” Carlos says.

Some artistes have, however, argued that most managers in Uganda can only manage a single type of artiste.
Lebon Bls, one part of rap duo Kongoloko, notes that most local managers never believe in the artistes’ craft and thus work towards changing them to what brings them money: “They intend to shape artistes in ways that tend to tamper with their style and sound.”

Although much of what managers turn artistes into may be an immediate success, it comes at the expense of the artiste’s creativity.

“It is true we change artistes’ styles because we are running a business and we always look for something that can be sold to the audience,” says Carlos.

Managers have also often been held responsible for artistes’ unruly nature where they fail to guide them but lead them onto a path of destruction.

It has been said some managers buy liquor and drugs for their artistes, some go as far as buying prostitutes to entertain them and making them too intoxicated to make independent decisions.
“Such management is only manipulative and aimed at ripping off artistes,” Sendi says, adding that some of these people may exploit this weakness.

When is one ready for management?
Before picking any random manager, it is always crucial for the artiste to have started the journey themselves — branding, marketing and booking their gigs, social media presence, a website, a docu-mented music catalogue and a solid fanbase.
Most of the times, as an artiste goes through this process, they learn to appreciate themselves and their craft better so as not to be redefined by a manager.

In one of his blogs, music executive Jeff Rabhan notes that it is important for one to know who they are and build an audience in their home town. He notes that without a strong sense of identity or belonging, one is only wasting time seeking representation.

“If you are not popular where you are, how can you expect to be on demand anywhere else?”
Sendi notes that for artistes, a manager is needed as soon as the day they choose to perform professionally. “Most Ugandans wait until they get a hit song, which is wrong.”

What should one look for in a manager?
In Uganda, it is a norm for people to hire siblings, husbands and friends as managers.
Much as it is something professionals discourage, it is a trend across the world. Look at Whitney Houston, The Jackson 5, Beyonce, Usher, Miley Cyrus, are some of the top artistes that have employed family members, especially parents as managers.

However, it has also been argued that unlike Uganda’s Ntale that has a sister for a manager, Usher and other pop star have hired family members that were basically backbones of their rise.

On many occasions though, Ntale has revealed that having her sister as a manager is one of the best things that has happened to her and that even without experience, she believes she will learn the tricks with time.

Sendi says one should look for a manager that is not just knowledgeable about the industry but believes in the talent they are working with, and importantly, believes that artistes need management that is financially stable.
Kyazze believes that a manager today needs to know how to play with the digital space. “One needs to learn how to use the various e-tools available to make better decisions on distribution channels or promotion.”

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