CENTRESTAGE: Are Kenyans not proud of their own?

By: JOSEPHINE MOSONGO

In a series of tweets, singer Victoria Kimani expressed her disappointment over Kenyans’ “lack of loyalty and sense of pride” towards their own stars in music and the arts in general.

“The least supportive… Kenyans make it hard for an artist to be an artist, this includes fashion, art, music, acting whatever,” she tweeted.

The “Mtoto” and “Prokoto” singer who is a signee of Nigeria’s Chocolate City record label continued to chide the unsupportive fans for not valuing Kenyan artistes’ efforts.

She went on to say: “Then get angry when we are appreciated elsewhere, this is heartbreak. We are the least patriotic people on this continent as it pertains to the arts.”

Kimani, who engaged her followers for almost two days on the topic noted that Kenyans only begin to appreciate local entertainers, mentioning Lupita Nyong’o, after they have received fame and recognition from around the world making them celebrity sensations.

“Lupita had to travel and be uplifted by others for you be proud #Kenyans. Life without art is hell… how can the Kenyan youth not have an interest in the arts? Who robbed us of our self-expression?” she asked.

Kimani is the first artiste from Kenya to be signed by Chocolate City, which artistes like Ice Prince and M.I.

Kimani is not the first artiste to complain about the role fans play in showbiz specifically the music industry to ensure that Kenyan music has a heavy presence in the international sphere.

True to Kenyan form, after her rant that saw her trend on Twitter under the hashtags #SupportYourOwn and #SomeoneTellVictoriaKimani, Kenyans on Twitter latched onto the hashtag and weighed in on the issue.

As some members of #KOT supported her sentiments and praised her music, others chose to take shots at her statement coloured weaves and questioned whether she was really Kenyan.

Kimani, however, took the trolls head on and responded through retweets. At the same time, she took advantage of the buzz she created and announced the release of her video “Two of Dem” and asked fans to vote for her in the upcoming AFRIMA Awards.

UNWAVERING SUPPORT

Unwavering support from fans greatly hinges on the popularity of an artiste in a region or even globally, that is according to Arthur Kamau who is affiliated to MTV. Kamau, who is also an award winning television producer, opines that if an entertainer is celebrated in his home, then it will be easier for other people to appreciate them as well.

In last month’s Google’s trending personality searches in Kenya, Caitlyn Jenner was the second most searched personality while Julius Yego, “the YouTube man”, came in at number six after setting a new African record. Monica Juma was the tenth most searched personality. The late Ino Ni Momo singer Murimi Wa Kahalf topped the list and this was after his death.

Other people searched for were footballer Roberto Firmino, Orange is the New Black actress Ruby Rose, American civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal and the Al Shabaab terrorist Thomas Evans who was killed in Lamu.

“If your country is talking about you, that noise will be heard in other places,” says Kamau. “Other countries will take note and they will be curious to see what you do or can do. A song like Sura Yako made people curious about Sauti Sol which means, if we didn’t care, nobody will,” says Kamau.

He also notes that artistes should first be celebrated at home and given the accolades they deserve. This will in turn earn them respect beyond the borders not just from their peers but also from fans across the world.

Kamau insists that the industry needs to build on fans’ support and make them realise that their voice matters, a lot.

“When other notable artistes come into the country they need to be told whose making waves locally, and that is who they should be working with.

Not the other way around. The idea is if a foreign artiste, regardless of how famous he is out there, wants to make it in Kenya, they should be collaborating with our best, not us running to find them, that is how Nigeria’s music grew,” he says.

From his experience working with MTV, Kamau is certain Kenya is extremely talented “but the sad part is that many have not yet fully understood the showbiz world”. He claims Kenyans are not aware of how powerful and influential they are and it is indeed a worrying situation because “other countries can see the amount of talent coming from Kenya, but we seem to ignore it.”

To prove how big a deal Kenya is, adds Kamau, especially in music, the Official MAMA’s after party will be held in Nairobi.

“They could have done it elsewhere and they know it. If we just get it and understand, see what these other countries see in us, we could shut down the whole continent.

BIG DEAL IN TANZANIA

Ten years ago Nameless was a big deal in Tanzania but we didn’t understand what was happening. Diamond was smart enough to know that if he made it in the Kenyan market he could make it anywhere else, and look at where he is now,” he adds.

To back up her argument, Kimani shared a screenshot of a portion of an unnamed research that shows Kenyans are the least interested in music. The research shows that only 55 per cent of Kenyan youth care for music, a very low number compared to Uganda’s 70 per cent, Tanzania’s 94 per cent, Nigeria’s 72 per cent and Mozambique’s 85 per cent.

Howwe, a Uganda entertainment website rates and tracks artistes according to the number of downloads, plays and their online visibility.

Sitya Losi hitmaker and BET winner Eddy Kenzo is the most popular person in Uganda right now, The Goodlyfe crew, which is made up of Radio and Weasel, come in second.

Jose Chameleone, a popular fixture here in Kenya takes third position while Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni also makes the list as an artiste at number 13. Sauti Sol, now undoubtedly the biggest name in Kenyan music, is confident that Kenyan artistes and the industry as a whole are just as popular compared to any other African country.

But despite being among the best, what keeps the industry from blooming further is people who spew hate instead of encouragement.

“There are people who put others down, if you look carefully on the comments section especially on YouTube the negative comments come from Kenyans, our society has a way of crushing dreams.

The only people complaining are Kenyans and we are becoming known for hate. When something is good you should crown it, not beat it down,” the members say.

The band, which travelled to Uganda for a show after the MAMAs in South Africa, performed for Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Barack Obama then flew to Rwanda for another concert, are certain that Kenya ranks among the top talented artistes if not the best.

For them, constantly booking gigs in and out of the country shows they are a popular group not just in Kenya but around the world.

Still, as much as artistes require support from fans through positive feedback, the multi-award winning band point out that the media needs to play a big role in highlighting the arts, giving them just as much publicity as they do to politics and other stories.

“Journalists have the responsibility to make sure they paint a good picture of the arts: In music, theatre, and the entire entertainment industry. The amount of time given to politics is just too much, it’s about time the media started glorifying the arts,” say Sauti Sol.

Fans and critics agree that although there is always room for more growth, the arts have definitely come of age especially music. While some like Kimani want to see more support from fans for Kenya to continue gaining momentum both globally and in the region, others like Sauti Sol need the media to put more emphasis in highlighting the arts.