One of the most popular showbiz websites in Rwanda recently threw a party for local musicians to meet their fans and "celebrate the growth of the Rwandan music industry."
Sure they had a bunch of reasons to celebrate because there has been a notable step up over the last five years especially on the earnings factor for the artists.
A popular artist earns about Rwf300, 000 (Approx. US$485) after performing at a good show and much more on big or important concerts.
Though this amount is minimal compared to other places where music is done for a living, it is better than six years ago when even big names like Mahoniboni and groups like KGB and Family Squad performed for free, curtain-raising for regional and international artists who were paid in thousands of dollars.
Artists like afro-beat star Kitoko, rapper Jay Polly, R&B singer Mani Marti have lately signed prestigious advertising deals with big corporate bodies like MTN, Airtel, BRALIRWA and others.
Brewer BRALIRWA sponsored a number of entertainment events and the often controversial Primus Guma Guma Superstar (PGGSS) project where participants are paid Rwf1million (Approx. US$1.6 million) monthly as long as the event runs. The grand winner walks home with Rwf6million and gets Rwf18million in kind.
Organisers of the party also celebrated how recording studios increase in number every other day and producers come up in recordings in genres that did exist before, like hard rock and afro-fusion. Good videos can be shot unlike when Bernard Bagenzi was the sole video maker around.
On the flipside, one may be slow to celebrate because much as the Rwandan music scene looks more attractive today, competition in almost all aspects has reduced. In fact some folks argue that the industry grew to some level and is now on its way back down.
Talking of music and video productions for example, studios increased because anyone who can get a computer, some software and download some beats for sampling can open up a cottage studio even when compromising quality.
Meanwhile renowned producers like the seasoned Mozey and Lick Lick left the country to seek greener pastures elsewhere while Pastor P formerly of Narrow Road studios has gone silent since he moved from the Gikondo-based studio.
Producer Jay P who made songs like Rafiki's "Igikosi", KGB's "Arasharamye", and Miss Jojo's "Tukabyine", has refocused to making radio commercials and doing public relations work.
Troubled DJ B who produced songs like "More Fire" and "Zubeda" is always on the move from studio to studio and the first hip-hop producer and one of the best Rwanda has seen, Beezy B, of the TFP records just disappeared.
Mozey's home studio 'One Way Productions' where Ugandan singer Jamal recorded his first song "Oba Wuwo" that later became a countdown record holder in Uganda, has been buried in a series of management problems since the producer's departure just like Lick Lick's Unlimited Records disappeared right after he left for the US.
"These days when you go to local studios, only a few producers can give you what is close to what you want to listen to. That is why most artists especially those in afro-beat, opt to crossing to Uganda for producer Washington (who did most of the local dancehall hits)" says Platini, one of the Dream Boys duo.
With the disappearance of fair studios and fair producers, the kind of monster- songs like Meddy's "Amayobera", Jay Polly's "Ndacyariho" and Miss Jojo's "Tukabyine" ceased on the Rwandan music scene. Today's producers that turn out hits like "Biracyaza" of King James and "Bibaye" of Urban Boys rock for only a few days.
Aime Crispin, former radio presenter and founder of Satelite magazine comments: "New promising artists are coming up but they are not yet to the level of former local stars like (TPF 3 hero) Alpha, The Ben, Meddy, K8, all who left for the US. In fact it is their songs like "I am in love" and "African Swagger" (for The Ben and Alpha respectively) produced from North America that rock Rwanda."
King James stands out as the undisputed king and would take the "Artist of the Year" honour since he has no fierce competitors left. Not even Mani Martin has lately been absorbed in the cultural beat, or even Tom Close who reduced pace after that controversial finale of the PGGSS first season, 2011.
Knowless, for the female singer too has no fierce competitors since "Siwezi" singer Miss Jojo is currently more of a women's rights advocate than an entertainer since the "Woman" album launch. Fans' favorite Miss Shanel who now prefers to go by "Nirere Shanel", refocused to film acting where there is more bread to earn.
Aime Murengezi, a local music fan says concerts too are no longer the thrilling kind supposed to leave memories behind. The last six concerts held at Petit Stade for example, which include Tom Close's and lady-rapper Paccy's, were well attended but most of the performances were not worth paying a penny for.
"Compared to the era of singer Meddy's "Amayobera" album launch in 2009, Riderman's album launch a year before, Tom Close's "Sibeza" launch, today's concerts are boring and monotonous, with poor organisation," Murengezi says.
The East African Promoters (EAP) which organises the famous end of year "East African Party" concerts and once brought together big regional names like Nameless, Kidumu Kibido, former Blue 3, DNA of the Banjuka fame on the same stage performing, this time round contracted Ghana's Fuze ODG of the "Azonto" fame but he couldn't put the lone video off like in his great video and fans felt cheated again.
Calebs Gumosabe, an entrepreneur and event organiser pours out his frustrations.
"These days even when you organise even the small parties like the Bye-Bye Vacancies or Hip-hop carnival where revelers used to fill the venue whatsoever, people are reluctant to come not only because money has gone scarce, but also because fans have been let down quite often."
As long as there is no competition in Rwandan music, growth will also be unlikely. Perhaps it's time party organisers hosted a conference to discuss issues that suppress competition in the industry, like poor compensation of artists, lack of sponsorship for events, unfair promotion by self-centered radio MCs and lack of originality to grow the industry.