#Stayathome: After the President called for a ban on all sorts of gatherings, the entertainment industry took a hit, with many annual, weekly and monthly shows cancelled. Organisers have made losses, but what does this mean for the industry now and in the future? Andrew Kaggwa and Isaac Ssejjombwe explore the implications.
In an ordinary year, January to July can be such a busy time on the world art scene. In Africa, you have festivals such as Sauti Za Busara and Zanzibar International Film Festival in Zanzibar, Durban International Film Festival, Cape Town International Jazz Festival, both in South Africa, Luxor International Film Festival in Egypt.
Elsewhere, it is the time for the New York Fashion Week, Cannes Film Festival, Coachella Valley Music Festival, SXSW Arts Festival, This is Tomorrow, Glastonbury, yet at the moment, all these have either been postponed or totally cancelled. Even those that are scheduled for as late as September such as the Venice Film Festival in Italy are uncertain.
Because of the Covid-19 outbreak that started in Wuhan, China and later spread to other parts of the world, different countries are on a shutdown with people either working from home or simply staying home and doing nothing to limit the spread of the virus.
This has left events, festivals, cinemas and entertainment places between a rock and a hard place.
Which brings us home, Uganda. We clearly do not have as many calendar festivals scheduled between January and July; Bayimba Arts Festival takes place in August, while the always viral Nyege Nyege International Festival is a September fixture.
But Uganda being such a youthful population, there is always more than a reason to celebrate, at one point it is an artiste celebrating having a popular song after eternity, a locust party, Easter Monday celebration to cake, pork, fish and all sorts of festivals, we always find a reason to gather and break a leg.
On Wednesday, responding to growing fears of the virus spreading in many countries neighbouring Uganda, President Museveni moved to ban gatherings such as political rallies, church services as well as concerts and other causal forms of gatherings such as cinemas, night clubs and bars for 32 days.
Shows such as the highly-anticipated Eddy Kenzo Festival, Five Star Madness, the return of Salvador’s weekly Just Comedy, a slew of Easter season shows that during ordinary times start from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday.
With shows or the lifestyle of Kampala and generally Uganda affected, of course, much might change with the way people have fun or spend their free time.
Counting the losses
March was set to be such a busy schedule if business had gone on as usual; there was the scheduled French Week with a host of activities, one was a football game between African international superstars such as Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Taribo West playing against a select side of Uganda’s ex-internationals.
Then there was a concert slated for famous French Band Kassav and Vegedream slated for this weekend at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds.
City businessman and promoter Balaam Barugahara of Balaam Marketing and Promotions Agency was behind many of the French activations and says they lost a lot in preparation for the show that will not be happening any time soon.
“We lost about Shs500m. I had already paid for the venues, tickets that were made abroad, I had paid for the adverts on certain TV and radio stations, paid VAT, then the stage, among others but I have to think about other people who have lost trillions of shillings,” Balaam said.
TV presenter Douglas Lwanga over the years has been hosting his countrywide Purple Party shows. This time though, he was forced to cancel the shows after spending more than Shs30m.
Hannington Bugingo, the director of Fun Factory, says besides their Five Star Madness, the pandemic has affected many of their members independently.
“Some of us have side gigs as emcees. At the moment, no events will be going on.” He also says their show on Pearl Magic, Mizigo Express, has been halted since they can no longer shoot.
Fun Factory had spent about Shs15m putting their show together.
Like Fun Factory, many film producers too had to shut down already paid for production. Others such as Ronnie Nkalubo and Loukman Ali had to cancel their film premieres in March and April respectively.
Nkalubo’s August was set to be the first silent film screening at Bat Valley Theatre, yet Loukman’s Girl in the Yellow Jumper had been anticipated since it was first announced.
But besides known shows, there are bands such as Janzi and Qwela or A Ka Dope that have been getting regular bookings. For instance, Janzi has two nights in two different places in Kampala.
Then there is a chain of people that earn from the existence of a vibrant nightlife, the guys selling items such as sachet liquor and snacks to those in the business of printing promotional material such as posters and banners.
Since the crackdown, different artistes have found ways of staying in touch with their audience. For instance, some have been posting videos of themselves doing acappellas, playing an instrument or sending out messages advising Ugandans to be vigilant.
But most of these are not mainstream artistes, they are acts such as guitarist Ernest Otim and Sandra Suubi who shared pre-recorded and live videos, while some used the opportunity to put out new songs.
For instance, Spice Diana has since dropped visuals for her 2019 single Abafuna, Ykee Benda and DJ Mark outed their Omwana, B2C with Wujja and Bruno K’s Faridah.
Much as it cannot be confirmed if all the songs were strategically released, they have at least benefited from the holiday with some of them getting their first 5,000 views in less than a day.
While speaking on their panel discussion styled show, Talk and Talk on Dembe FM, Edward Ssendikadiwa, noted that the virus and the partial lockdown should be a chance for local artistes to release new but quality music.
“With nothing or a place to perform, artistes have all the time they need to produce good music,” he said.
But it was Fun Factory that may have gotten the best out of the situation. On the first day of the partial lockdown, the group was at the National Theatre.
It was business as usual with their skits, just that this time, they did not have an audience. Instead, they aired the show live on social media for those that follow them online. They even had a mobile money number where well-wishers could send some money to foot bills for the show’s production.
Bugingo said despite the show being hectic without the audience, they had to do it for their fans by engaging them and showing them that this was possible.
However, he says as much as they managed to stream that particular show, the national theatre has been fully locked down and they will not have other shows of the kind, until further notice.
“We wanted to continue streaming but we cannot because the theatre is closed and all employees have been sent home, so we cannot access it,” he said.
However, he added that they will be engaging with their audience on their social media platforms by continuing to load older skits on YouTube and on Thursdays they will share live links and connect with their fans.
However much as last week’s live streaming seemed like a good gesture by the institution and the artistes, it was deemed a dangerous one too, seeing as Fun Factory has a cast of 17 people, which goes against the call for social distancing.
With such shows off, Robert Musiitwa, the public relations officer of the theatre, says the industry will take hits from live performances.
He also notes that since some artistes depend on grants and donations, a global crisis leaves many of their careers hanging in a balance since people supposed to be sending them money to create work will also be recovering.
So what is the way forward?
Musiitwa notes that there will be a way out when all this is done.
For instance, he says this could be a chance for institutions such as his to rethink their marketing strategy: “Create consistent quality products, including recognitions.”
He says this time more than before, artists have to maintain communication with their audience about their latest offerings as well as bring both the media and influencers on board.
But on the other hand, he says this is an opportunity for creators, especially playwrights for both stage and screen.
“This pandemic creates a good scenario for screen and stage. So if someone out there is smart enough, this is the moment.”
What’s next for 2020
With almost half of the year cancelled, it is not known when life will return to normal even after the shutdown is called off.
What next for artistes?
Balaam advises people in the entertainment sector, especially artistes to diversify; engage in other businesses and not rely only on music because it will certainly be another source of income.
“This pandemic should be a lesson to us that we should diversify our sources of income,” he says, adding that despite the pandemic, people will need food, thus artistes should think about farming as an alternative income source.
“Personally, I spend most of my free time at my sugar plantation in Masindi,” he added.
Others such as Isaac Katende, alias Kasuku, a radio host on Dembe FM, advised that this is the time for artistes to do good.
“Celebrities elsewhere are already doing some charity, but I am yet to see all these Ugandan ‘philanthropists’.”