By Alex Balimwikungu
After a two-year hiatus, the music concerts are back. Venture anywhere around town or the countryside and there are large banners advertising upcoming concerts.
It is the usual suspects – David Lutalo in Luwero; Eddy Kenzo at Colline Hotel Mukono; Mesach Semakula at Papa’s Spot Makindye or Roden Y Kabako in Kibibi.
One thing these musicians have in common is that their concerts bear no names of music promoters. What happened? Is it the new way to go post-lockdown? Did the feud between musicians and promoters over the COVID-19 funds burn the bridges? We can only speculate.
For starters, a music promoter is someone who publicises and promotes performances. Promoters organise gigs, book bands or artistes and advertise the shows to bring in paying attendees.
The promoter negotiates any fees for the artiste and then publicises that event through radio, television, and digitally. They go out of their way to ensure the artistes have everything they need offstage and on, from hotel rooms to sound checks.
Last year, a bitter war raged on amongst musicians and music promoters over sh5.6b that was released by State House as COVID-19 relief funds.
The Government budgeted sh10b as money to be given to artistes and promoters who were affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, which saw the closure of recreation centres and banning of music concerts.
Before a ban was slapped on music performances due to COVID-19, Uganda boasted a long list of famed promoters. Balaam Barugahara, Andrew Alphonse Mukasa (Bajjo), Abbey Musinguzi (Abtex), and promoter Balunywa, among others, were the big boys in the trade.
Today, if the direction Ugandan musicians are taking post lock-down is anything to go by, the promoters have outlived their usefulness. Are they really dispensable?
Stephen Malwadde, a music promoter with Kilimanjaro Media, is adamant that what is happening now (musicians bypassing promoters) is short-term and cannot be sustained in the long run.
He argues that with the entertainment industry back to “factory settings”, musicians think they can go it alone, which is wrong.
Malwadde, however, also admits that the COVID-19 situation also exposed some promoters as beggars and bag boys; he is not shocked that some musicians have chosen to do away with them.
“It is true the COVID-19 situation exposed some promoters. When the cash from performances stopped coming in, many promoters were exposed as beggars. They were just leeches whose livelihood was the artistes,” he says.
Malwadde insists that the artistes who have chosen to go it alone are presently fooled by the nearly free services as the industry crawls back onto its feet.
“Right now, everything is almost free or heavily subsidised as the entertainment industry looks to recover. People are desperate. It is possible to get a cheap stage, sound, venue etc. It will become harder in the long run. Do away with promoters at your own peril,” he cautions.
The music promoter argues that contrary to popular belief that if one has good music the crowds will flow, it is a different ball game.
“Most of Uganda’s musicians cannot write sponsorship proposals. The thought of them sitting in corporate boardrooms to pitch gives most of them jitters. As promoters, we meet people who matter and keep the game rolling,” he explains.
Malwadde says in most cases, promoters bear the brunt of the losses; something he doesn’t believe the musicians can stomach.
“It is not about good sound. We risk on their behalf and make losses. For most of the musicians, by the time they step on stage, they have already pocketed 80% of the money. Do you expect them to concentrate on stage when they are worried about gate collections?” he asks.
Bajjo argues that those going it alone are greedy and misguided. He says the industry runs in a symbiotic manner, where musicians and promoters work in tandem.
“It is not sustainable. Besides, some of us don’t operate like jua kalis. This is a regulated industry that is bound by contracts and agreements. We have long running contracts with these musicians. It is a big breach if they choose to abandon the promoters and go it alone. Musicians can’t survive without promoters,” he says.
How to survive Uganda’s music landscape
Many artistes might have good music, but it only plays in a few bars around their location, simply because they don’t know the right methods to use in order for their music to cut across the whole nation – or better still, the world.
Malwadde reveals that for an artiste to make it here, there is a need to understand the audience, make good use of the media, by creating relationships not based on money, but rather on friendship and loyalty.
He insists that there is need for the music promoters. These, he insists, are the Alpha and Omega of the industry and one does away with them at their own peril.