28 March 2008

Kenya: The International Connection

Nairobi — Touring or relocating to the States may not be as easy as our local artistes have led us to believe, writes Naliaka Wafula.

The Akon controversy may signal that change is on the way when it comes to management of local shows featuring international artistes. However, on the flip side, local artistes and promoters may not be fairing any better internationally.

A well-known promoter, who started Trublaq Kenya with Big Kev, has recently been implicated in an alleged promotion scandal.

While locally these scandals usually involve international artistes, the scandal involving Dickson Thirima of Trublaq USA touches on local artistes who perform on the overseas stage. Dickson, also popularly known as Dicky Lights, has been accused by Mercy Ondiek, a Kenyan based in the States, of allegedly conning her off $10,000 (Sh650,000). According to Mercy she signed a contract with Dickson to document the transaction mid last year. In an email copied to all major Kenyan promoters, Mercy also added that her name and details had been used by Dickson to co-sign another loan that he had taken.

Dickson vehemently denied the reports in an email sent out to major promoters in response to the claims, saying that although they had both entered into a contract that was to bring Deux Vultures to the States, the tour was marred by a court case that came up from a previous tour.

Attaining the P1 visas for Deux Vultures, according to Dickson, was impossible due to the fact that during a previous tour by the Longombas and Kleptomaniax two of the artistes from both groups overstayed their welcome. Dickson claims that the reasons he had a delay reimbursing the money to Mercy was because he had to use the money invested in bringing the Deux Vultures in legal fees, a move he says he had explained to her.

Kleptomaniax on stage abroad.

Dickson further exonerated himself from blame by saying he had not received money from Mercy as part of an IOU to assist him through a rough patch but rather as part of an investment in the upcoming Deux Vultures tour. He also claimed that once the tour materialised the situation would be rectified. However, in the email Dickson did not comment on the allegations that he took out another loan using Mercy's name as a guarantor. Our attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

This may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to international shows involving local artistes. Big Kev of Trublaq Kenya says the most common problem faced by local artistes travelling abroad is the visa processing. " The visa may take longer than normal or be denied altogether," he says.

Big Kev says the said US tour was marred by a lack of sponsorship. He adds that delays do not mean the tour will not take place: "The Kleptomaniax tour, although already paid for, was delayed four times but was eventually very successful," he says.

Big Kev however differentiates Trublaq Kenya from its namesake in the States: "Trublaq Kenya and Trublaq US are two different companies. He (Dickson) does his own gigs," said he. He however was quick to add that the two companies are considering harmonising their activities to make it easier to manage local and international gigs.

Emmanuel Banda of Ogopa DJs explains that the reason for the delay of the Kleptomaniax tour last year had everything to do with visa issues and nothing to do with mismanagement.

"Every time artistes are called to perform in the States, they have to obtain the P1 visa. This is a must for every musician hoping to tour the US," he explains. "With the Klepto and Longombas tours we initially applied for the B1 and B2 visas which are visitors visas. For touring artistes, this is not allowed. We therefore had to wait for the P1 visa that is attained via the sponsors in the States."

Banda adds that it takes up to three months or more for the P1 visa to be processed by the US Department of Homeland Security before they are sent to the embassy in Nairobi. This, according to Banda, was the reason the tour was delayed.

" The Kleptomaniax tour was a success, especially considering it was winter," he states.

Banda also confirmed that Nyash had overstayed in the States. "It was probably for family reasons as his parents are based there. I cannot say for sure but this causes issues for the next person planning a tour," he says. "A delay of a day or even a few hours is enough to raise questions for the promoter."

On the issue involving Mercy, Banda remains confident that whatever the problem is, it will be resolved in due course. He has worked with Dickson previously and says in all instances their transactions have been straightforward.

"So far so good, I have never had any problems with Dicky," declares Banda.

DJ Adrian, who regularly tours as part of the Capital crew entertaining Kenyans in the States, says that most artistes get delayed when they apply for the visa late or lack a valid reason to travel, leading them to be denied visas.

"What normally happens is that the promoter calls the artistes or managers to get the ball rolling. It is usually the promoter who organises for accommodation, venue and promotion and any other details concerning the show," says DJ Adrian.

According to DJ Adrian, the top artistes currently in demand are Nameless, Jua Cali and Nonini. He however adds that the international shows are not usually as big as local ones.

"There are not that many Kenyans in each State. A crowd of three hundred is usually a good turnout," he says. "It also depends on the city. Places like Boston, Atlanta and Dallas have a lot more Kenyans than other cities."

Local artistes seem to have a special niche internationally with homesick Kenyans abroad craving for locally produced music. They are also more inclined to buy records from local artistes performing there. Collo of Kleptomaniax confirmed this in a previous interview with Pulse: "In the UK we sell our albums for about Sh2,000 during shows and people buy them. In Kenya we have to lower the price."

It is therefore no surprise that some artistes have made the decision to relocate completely. This however does not always translate to more money in the bank. Hardstone, who came to fame in the late 90s, is no longer popular with Kenyans so much so that he claims his music is no longer geared towards the Kenyan market. Other artistes who are currently in the States include Bamboo, Mercy Myra, Attitude, Lovi of the Longombas and Ida Onyango.

How are they doing musically? Pulse managed to gather the following on the Kenyan artistes currently based abroad.

Mercy Myra, who left in 2005, is not as active as she was in Kenya. Her last well-known performance was as a curtain raiser for Nigerian musician, Femi Kuti. She may be working on visiting Kenya to record new songs. Other than that, she is reportedly working for the family business in Atlanta where she lives with Attitude, her boo and father of her first child.

Bamboo, another star who left at the height of his fame, currently lives in the hip-hop Mecca of the world, New York, with his family. He however is said to spend a lot of time in Atlanta where his friend and fellow rapper, Attitude, lives. His star however is not as bright as it was in Kenya as he is now even curtain rising for Kenyan artistes who were his peers while he was here.

He has also drastically changed his style to appeal to the US market, something that has not gone down well with his Kenyan fans abroad.

Hisperformances nevertheless continue to be well received provided he doesn't curse or fall back on crunk during the performances.

It may be expected that with the crunk craze, Attitude would be the most successful US-based Kenyan artiste, having grown up in Atlanta. But musically he seems to be lying low, according to our sources, and may be more concerned with providing for his new family.

Ida Onyango, despite getting airplay and accolades while visiting Kenya, is apparently not as popular in the States. She reportedly had a bad experience performing for Kenyans in Atlanta during Thanksgiving celebrations in 2006 where she was booed as soon as she opened her mouth to sing.

Apparently, her American accent and mannerisms did not go down well with a crowd that had paid to hear Kenyan acts.

The only artiste who seems to be doing well in the US is Lovi who is said to still regularly perform at gigs. Lovi, who lives with his in-laws in California, moved from Kenya in 2006. He is believed to have acquired a music scholarship.

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