Making contacts at Doa Doa and building music infrastructure
A great number of opportunities at DOA DOA in Jinja this month were snatched by musicians who had managers, PR agents, artist statements and CDs available — in short, professional musicians. This was further explained in a talk by Andrew Dabber about effective marketing.
Written by Serubiri Moses
When Kenyan musician Winyo was introduced onto stage on Wednesday night by Faisal Kiwewa at the BAX Conference Center, Sue Anique and I had been discussing our experience of DOA DOA.
I had confessed that I thought it was a jungle (of talent and opportunity) so that it was hard to cut your way through. She replied that she felt like that last year because she turned up completely unprepared. When I asked her what had changed from then to now, she replied that she had been to boot camp and had become a professional musician.
Sue Anique is a singer and session musician based in Kampala. The first time I heard her was at Cayenne last year in a performance of her now famous Making Luwombo — a jazz song-poem about preparing steamed plantain in smoked banana leaves.
Even though she has quite an underground following, her beginnings were not as promising. Her parents were disappointed in her affinity for languages and music in high school. After working as a PR agent for the government, she quit her job and decided to follow her dream of making music.
“All I wanted to do was sing whenever an opportunity came along,” Sue said, but quickly added that this changed after attending DOA DOA in 2011. She established a managing company for her music, which meant that she had an infrastructure to monitor and ensure payment for her product. This year, she brought along her press kit and CD in a handmade craft item which pleased many of the arts and festival managers.
One particular speaker, Andrew Dabber, even pointed her out to the rest of the participants as having ”done something right”.
This sense of doing something right is how I felt within a few minutes of Winyo’s stage performance. He sang in a light falsetto, giving himself time to explore a note while drawing it out. The performance did not feel rushed, and soon everyone warmed up to it by proceeding to the front of the stage to dance.
Here was a musician who came to DOA DOA not to gamble; he came extremely well prepared for the ”jungle”.
Looking at the pictures from his show, I can see that Winyo had the proper foundation and support for his music in addition to talent. In an interview the morning after the show, he expressed that East African musicians must become original and not shy away from their culture.
This sounded like he was reprimanding the current crop of music stars in Uganda and Kenya, but as a personal philosophy it echoed the views of Tabu Osusa, the founder of Ketebul Music, the Kenyan record label to which Winyo is signed. Their mission statement is to “identify, preserve, conserve and promote the diverse music traditions of East Africa”.
Winyo, real name Shiphton Onyango belongs to the Luo of Kenya who have a close ethnic relation to the Jopadhola and the Teso of Uganda. He comes from Western Kenya — a region which has been partly ignored by the political-economic infrastructure of postcolonial Kenya, and which reason created the tribal tension that erupted into the events of 2009. In a post-conflict Kenya, the guitarist and singer could be taken in the wrong vein by the strong use of his language, culture and heritage.
An Itesot friend who attended DOA DOA, Peter, easily interpreted all the Luo lyrics the musician sang, and this allowed me to draw parallels between him as a musician and Winyo.
I had met Peter at the open mic night organized by Isobell Marshall of Sound Foundation UK in late 2011. I remember him because of his nonconformist style of guitar-playing which echoed that of Winyo which was equally unrelenting in its infusing of culture.
This was ultimately the jungle of DOA DOA: placing professional musicians with model infrastructure next to the amateurish but talented ones, many of whom have never made money off their music. This seemed to create some positive energy in the arts development workshops that took place at the Crested Crane Hotel.
Practice for consistency
I was sitting in the drawing-room, and outside the massive window was a picturesque landscape of manicured lawns vignetted by flowering shrubs, and in its center a dominating tree under which a British harmonica player collaborated with a Soga fiddle player yesterday.
It looked like a painting.
Ordinarily this lawn would be large enough to play cricket, as other open fields scattered around Jinja, but this one had been shortened for security and surveillance purposes. The hot sun had come out after a rainy evening last night made the grass so alluring.
This afternoon a filming was going on; Rosette Nteyafas, an arts manager at Bayimba, and a few others huddled around the little garden tables and chairs while other participants simply sat on the grass.
But a tenor sax played in one of the rooms, filling the hallway with its wide and deep sound. It sounded like a cello. I found out later that the horn belonged to Will Ramsay, who gave a talk during the week. I also found out that his mantra as a musician was practice for consistency.
Even though Will Ramsay, a 50-something man with an Afrikaans accent, was not especially at the performing arts market to get his stuff noticed, it was. He had only been invited to give a talk on the Global Music Academy, a summer school built to produce indigenous African music study materials from different African regions that both Kaz Kasozi and Winyo had taken part in. And though his talk was memorable, everyone would immediately recognize the sound of his tenor sax blasting through the corridors.
When I asked him about his tenor sound, he mentioned that it is quite difficult to play the instrument for 3 hours constantly without losing one’s momentum. It was this sense of preparation that would make the jazz musician appear to everyone as a professional.
Small music infrastructure
The colonial hotel provided a utopian space in which many brains were opened to new ideas of ’starting festivals’, ’creating small music infrastructures’ and ’appreciating different kinds of music’.
The talk on starting music infrastructures emphasized the new-born Bayimba Co-Op, which was started after a talk last year (and repeated this year) that was given by the Un-Convention team from the UK.
(Un-Convention is a group of musicians who started their organization by creating these informal conferences in which they could air out their frustrations on the music industry.)
Those talks then led to what is being called “small music infrastructures”. This move to create other avenues for musicians to sell and market music was an effort to decentralize the monopoly that big labels had in London.
For the purpose of clarity on the subject of Uganda’s music industry, especially in terms of how the media has been utilized by music promoters, I will focus on the exuberant talk on ”Effective Marketing” given by online researcher, consultant and blogger, Andrew Dabber, who gave a researcher’s view of the inner workings of radio advertising.
Dabber’s notorious example revolved around his native country of New Zealand, where at one point it was common for people to say, ”They play really good for a New Zealand band.” A phrase which deemed music from other countries better than music from the home country.
The blogger reasoned that this was mainly because of how people related to the music played on the radio, a problem which started at the very beginning of radio broadcasting when, according to Evan Kindley in n+1, radio stations “needed content to fill time and keep people listening and capital to keep themselves afloat”.
Radio, therefore, became the hub that fostered a strategic relationship between advertisers and musicians.
In Kampala, this same relationship has been noted in the format of the ‘Album Launch’ — an event that receives enormous backing from corporate brands. It is also noted that many musicians have been asked to incorporate brand slogans in their lyrics.
Singer José Chameleon released his single Moto Moto in the later months of 2011, a song which bore references to cars. In early 2012, Pepsi’s Mirinda brand decided to use both the song and Chameleon’s image in an elaborate soft beverages campaign that would last a few months. Its overall theme was ”Win a Car with Mirinda”.
It is quite hard to tell (even though many suspect) that the song was written with prior knowledge to the campaign, and therefore the singer made alterations based on the advertising campaign. This is just one example as there are countless others.
The blogger noted that all it took for such a biased opinion on music from New Zealand to change was when a government campaign to ”play more New Zealand music than foreign music” was launched on the radio. Overnight, the number of listeners of New Zealand bands soared, especially as they were being played next to the titans of foreign music, which meant that listeners could associate them with top acts from abroad.
Andrew Dabber gave the participants one of the methods used in advertising which he eyewitnessed during his days on radio. The theory was revolved around two properties: frequency and quantity.
Frequency would represent the number of times a song was played on the radio, whereas quantity the number of listeners tuning in at the time at which the song was played.
The blogger realized that the two properties equally high-ranking meant for immense financial turn over for corporate brands. This meant that any agreements between musicians and corporate brands highly favored the latter.
In the case of the New Zealand bands, the music campaign invariably took on a government infrastructure to support local bands in the country. But as in the case of Chameleon, ‘Moto Moto’ is patronized by Mirinda and other associated free market corporate infrastructures that favour their product sales more than the artist’s sales.
In fact, this relationship is so extreme that it is rumored that Mirinda owns full copyright to the song ‘Moto Moto’.
The power of networks
The solution was in what was called the ”co-op”. If musicians would network with each other and lay grounds for structures that allowed for distribution, as well as events and marketing, that would grow the music tremendously.
Sue Anique had started a music business model of her own, but was since the only musician signed or benefitting. The only way, Dabber said, people would recognize Ugandan music to be worth listening to, was if people like Sue invited more artists to join her, and in effect building a stronger and more sustainable business. The more structures identical to Sue’s will emerge, the higher the growth for the entire music industry.
To emphasize his point, the blogger asked every musician in the room to go outside for a group portrait in the picturesque lawn. That would be evidence of the hope that this group of musicians could move towards, building an alternative music economy run by themselves.
Serubiri Moses has been published in The New Vision reviewing live music. As a poet, he is featured on the pan African website, Badilisha Poetry Exchange.
All photos by Bwette Daniel Gilbert.