21 April 2018

Kenya: Are Music Awards a Silver Bullet?

As the year glides on, the different Kenyan music awards are raring to acknowledge the best of the best in different categories and platforms.

The selecting systems for these awards involve a jury of music professionals who nominate a group of artistes in several categories and then organise a nomination event where the names in each category are presented to the public for voting.

The voting period mostly lasts about a month. Then, on the gala night, the artiste with the most votes in each category is declared the winner.

Going by global statistics, music awards are life-changing achievements to creatives and originators of any kind of musical content.

They put into the limelight the final masterpiece of private and sleepless nights that these creatives have been through, working to perfect a piece of art meant for the public.

These include musicians, emcees, music producers and video producers, to mention but a few.

ONEXTRA: Dennis Mwendwa alias Rotadee

ONE ON ONE: Viola Karuri

A spotlight is now lit above the awarded party in the midst of prominent television and radio personalities and the who's-who in society usually in attendance, catapulting them to a whole new level in their careers.

An award by itself, is nothing

There have been different award bodies over the years in Kenya but the notable ones include Groove Awards, Mwafaka Awards and Xtreem Awards for gospel artistes, and Pulse Music Video Awards and Mdundo Music Awards for both secular and gospel acts.

Others like Kisima Awards and Chaguo la Teeniez Awards (CHAT) folded, while East Africa Music Awards, which was organised by Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, was held only once, in 2011.

Most of the organisers of these awards cited lack of corporate sponsorship due to weighty costs of running the events, ranging from nominations to the awards.

For instance, CHAT Awards had Fanta as their main sponsor and since their withdrawal, nothing much has been heard from the awards again.

Other awards were accused of bias in their selection process, which caused the curtain to fall on them prematurely.

Most awards have only been presenting the winners with a trophy, but Groove Awards, in their awards gala night last year, gave some cash to the top winners, a tour across the country and the position of an ambassador to represent Groove for a whole year.

Most artistes termed this promising, unlike in the past.

Not a guarantee to success

According to a CEO of one of the big awards in Kenya, who sought anonymity, awards are not a guarantee to success or money as they are just a way to recognise a creative's relentless effort and impact on the industry.

He, however, adds that they provide diverse opportunities, financially and career wise, so it's up to the creatives to be wise enough to grab these opportunities and better their lifestyles and their brands.

Such opportunities include endorsement of leading brands and making public appearances.

Failure to understand this fact after the awards ceremony has led to heavy backlash from some winners, who term the awards a pool of frustrations.

Bahati, the popular and at times controversial gospel singer, was once overheard addressing an official from a leading telecom provider in an artistes' forum, claiming how willing he was to return the award he had bagged a year before in their name since it had brought him nothing much.

He went further to register his disappointment with a mobile network company for not sharing enough of the financial gain despite rumours that his music was the most downloaded.

Following closely with an almost similar opinion was his gospel counterpart, Pitson.

The "Lingala ya Yesu" hitmaker, in a statement and a social media post, outlined that he wished to be left out of the gospel awards nominations for 2017.

Suspicion on judges, winners

This was slightly before the famed gospel body held its bitter-sweet nomination-night affair where some names notably recurred while other big artistes were shockingly left out. Pitson's plea was, however, not heeded.

It is believed that failure to bag the most coveted award after several nominations was one reason he chose to opt out. Generally, awards have always been a matter of controversy. And with good reason -- whenever you have a group of people judging other people's work, it sometimes gets murky in one way or the other.

If you apply for awards, and actually win, you then get caught up in the mess.

From most creatives' point of view, most awards are fair. They believe that there isn't a lot of politics involved and that the jury doesn't have a hidden agenda, as they're mostly professionals and they judge by professional criteria, not forgetting the fans who decide with their votes.

DJ Ruff, a top deejay who has bagged multiple awards in the past and Groove Awards' 2016 and 2017 as "DJ of the Year", says that awards have paved the way to the blossoming of his career and people have trusted him more; hence a drastic growth in his bookings.

"When you bag awards, people will tend to attach more trust to you and think that you are the best in that field."

Mash Mwana, the Groove Awards' New Artiste of the Year 2016, had a different thought.

Despite the award paving way to publicity, he insisted that it didn't change much financially.

He still struggles with production expenses and has had nothing much to show for the limelight that he was ushered into.

So what's an artiste got to do?

He deemed this scenario frustrating at times. He was for the idea that these awards should attach direct benefits to the trophies which would change an artiste's life, including recording deals, frequent shows and cash in some instances.

Robin Akutekha, a film maker who's also passionate about music, made it clear that he doesn't attach much value to awards since most of them appear to be biased, and in most instances the best in each category ends up missing the award.

He believes that it's not how talented one is that bags those awards, but how well one knows how to mobilise voters, which seems unfair to most artistes.

He quoted his favourite artistes, including Ringtone, Guardian Angel and Otile Brown, who've not been recognised immensely through awards but have still remained at the top of their games.

"Every company has a wall of fame where they showcase their accolades to anybody who happens to wander around the office. Which is all well and good -- you want to show that at one point in your career you were creative, innovative and good at your job.

"But once the dust settles, and the only one paying attention to them is the cleaning lady, you'll need to move on. You'll have to keep innovating, keep building new stuff, and keep being at the top of your game," adds music producer and CEO of Simba Sound Productions, VickyPonDis.

georgemwendwa2018@gmail.com

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