Live Music: With coronavirus forcing people to stay indoors, artistes have thought of better ways to perform for them. In Uganda, Bobi Wine, Chameleone, Navio and Spice Diana have held online concerts, but to what end? Andrew Kaggwa writes.
When singer Ann Nassanga, alias Afrie, set up an online show at the end of 2017, she was only trying to get herself performances under her terms. She had performed at festivals and music activations but of course, Uganda having such a small number of artisans, she was almost singing for the same audience.
Her online shows, aptly titled Afribytes, were her way of playing to a larger audience of friends and people they may know.
Her show peaked at about 200 live viewers then, the numbers kept going up with the shows she did later. The video from that stream today has more than 10,000 views on Facebook.
But after four of five shows, she abandoned the idea and resorted to playing a song on her piano once in a while. Her set was simple – a piano and her in a quiet place. Besides the first number of shows where she had a mini band, those that followed were very minimalistic in nature.
Even her video feed used to come off a phone, stationed in one place. She said the reason she abandoned the whole thing was because it was costly.
“With the kind of music I do, I need to rehearse, pay a band, rent rehearsal space and yet there were no returns on the shows,” she said in an earlier interview.
Whether Afrie was the first local artiste to have an online concert, it is not easy to confirm, it is said others such as KS Alpha were also staging mini shows online.
The shows, unlike conventional ones, were always stripped down and intimate in nature. In Afrie’s case for instance, she read feedback and answered questions that people online were sending in. That was 2017.
Then coronavirus happened. For a moment, life as we know it was paused; festivals, concerts, weddings and social life as we know it came to a standstill.
The President would make an address suspending public gatherings on March 18, barely 10 days after Cindy Sanyu’s Boom Party concert and only a week to Eddy Kenzo’s festival.
In Kenya, most of the artistes are proactive, thus it was not surprising that when the lockdown was effected in their country, most of the artistes that had shows planned simply went ahead to have them online.
While in Uganda, many went on with their lives, taking on all sorts of online challenges and of course, keeping their audiences engaged.
It is after a series of Global Citizen home concerts with artistes such as Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez and musical treats such as Yemi Alade’s session with Angelique Kidjo that people started thinking about doing something about the boredom.
Concert bug bites
In Nairobi, about two online shows had already been done, although it was rapper Nyashinski’s A Stream of a Life Time that raised the bar. He was releasing a new music video, Glory and an album, Lucky You at the same time.
Later, other Kenyan artistes such as Fena Gitu too did shows to release new material or celebrate birthdays.
In the week that led up to Global Citizens, Together at Home Festival, rapper Navio had advertised a concert to mark the release of his Strength in Numbers. But after the success that was the Global Citizens festival and of course the local influence of shows such as BBS TV’s Chamuka Mu Diiro, the idea of having online live shows was more valid than before.
Kenneth Mugabi had been impressive on the TV show thus it was not surprising he was the first artiste Fezah booked to have an online show.
Brands such as Club Pilsner and Africell too joined the fray with the Club Beatz at Home and Africell Couch Concert respectively. Club has on their part been very consistent than all other brands that have attempted to do shows.
They had showcases featuring Irene Ntale, Ykee Benda, A-Pass, Lillian Mbabazi, John Blaq, Lydia Jazmine, Mun*G, Fefe Bussi, Chozen Blood, Naava Grey and Jose Chameleone, among others.
With online performances, the demands were different, art enthusiasts were at least quick to notice that unlike live shows, there were fewer gimmicks into online shows. It was always the artiste and the music.
Then there was the production; the Club Beatz at Home, for instance, impressed with Fenon’s sleek productions, but others somehow suffered. At the beginning, many were produced with poor sound output while on other days, they struggled with the Internet.
But soon they fixed the issues, hired the right people on sound, camera but somehow did not know why they held shows. This probably made the show promotion problematic.
Most of them were organised in the heat of the moment that they were barely noticed when they happened. In fact, even Bobi Wine’s Ensassage Mu Nyumba took many by surprise.
Improving live shows
But as more shows happened, it was clear artistes are taking their productions more seriously than they have done with normal shows. There had been a face lift from the crew and band.
For instance, Myko Ouma has been a common fixture on many of these shows; he was part of the music direction team for Bobi Wine, Spice Diana and alongside Pascal Mugambe and Eddy Mwesigwa, played with Bebe Cool for the Africa Day Benefit Concert.
This time last year, many of these instrumentalists would be playing for only a few artistes at festivals and smaller shows such as Fezah and probably Maurice Kirya.
Of course the move has impressed many. Singer and producer Kaz Kasozi, for instance, says it is good the mainstream is learning to appreciate quality professional works.
“I am happy something positive is happening to the industry as a result of the lockdown, we tried doing some of these things three or more years ago but no one seemed to grasp the ideas.”
In the same vein, bass guitarist Ernest Otim says now that all artistes have realised that they sound good during their online performances, they should carry it forward even to the concerts.
Otim was the key instrumentalist during Lilian Mbabazi’s performance at Club Beatz at Home. He also notes that artistes should embrace having backing tracks (semi-live performances), instead of crowding the stage.
To pay or not
Most lockdown concerts have been free, something that kept many artistes away from the idea. Diana Namukwaya, alias Spice Diana, says hosting a large scale online show is a sacrifice.
“You need at least Shs10m to put it all together; that is a sacrifice especially if you do not expect to make returns,” she says.
Now the question that has always been: To pay or not to pay for online shows? There are fears that if these shows ever become a new normal, Ugandans may forget that they are supposed to pay for the art they consume.
Fezah is known for the shows they put together for different artistes at Design Hub and with the lockdown, they too thought out of the box and curated a number of online shows.
Their first show was with soul artiste Kenneth Mugabi and unlike the other organised shows, it was not live on Facebook or Youtube – it was on Zoom, with a price of Shs5,000 attached to it.
Speaking to the Talk and Talk panel on Dembe FM, Elijah Kitaka, one of the brains behind Fezah, noted that the reason for putting a price to the show was to ensure the artiste’s work is given some sort of value.
Zoom was one of those applications that became a big deal during the lockdown and w
as used by different people to host conferences, online drink-ups, movie nights and for many online concerts, artistes used the application to play together even when they were in different locations.
For instance, most of this year’s American idol contestants did the live shows from their homes with backup artistes and a band also doing it in different locations.
Mugabi’s show attracted more than 200 people that even when some things did not go well, another was swiftly staged. Fezah has since had shows for Michael Kitanda and Sam K!mera.
After his show, Bobi Wine was lauded for peaking 30,000 live viewers. Before him, shows had struggled to surpass 10,000, some could not even attract 5,000 viewers.
Robert Sebunya, a digital marketing consultant, says this showed a failure on the way Ugandan artistes market themselves.
“Bobi Wine is an artiste and a politician, his appeal goes beyond Uganda, if he had promoted the show the right way, he had all it took to attract a number bigger than that.”
He says most Ugandan numbers online are organic, which is a problem: “Ugandan artistes have not yet seen the importance of investing in digital marketing,” he says adding that while online, they should target an audience beyond the Ugandan borders.
Sebunya also believes that local artists need to salvage their following and turn it into monetary value, noting that with a successful website and a beret symbol on a global scale, Bobi Wine should be benefitting from merchandising.
Referring to Diamond Platinumz’s showcase for the Viacom produced Africa Day Benefit Concert, he says the Tanzanian artiste used his minutes on screen to throw around brand placements as he gave Africa a virtual tour of his house.
He says product placement is one of the easiest ways artistes can make money off the following they have.
He also believes brands may have missed an opportunity to organise a concert people could have paid for; “Imagine a Bebe Cool, Chameleone battle concert… that’s one show, if well packaged, Ugandans could pay for.”
There has been belief that more could have been done with content creation alongside the shows but unfortunately, many were produced with a television mentality – none of the shows had follow ups that delved into interviews of choices of songs artistes sang or what they thought about the concepts altogether.
At some points, both artistes and brands did not even seem to understand why they chose to have the shows.
For the future, many agree such online concepts are here to stay, but besides a few memorable or forgettable hours, the belief is that artistes should find a way of benefiting from that part of creativity since good art never comes cheap.