STL’s Unconventional International Music Success

 

Kenya’s Stella Mwangi’s (STL) “Work” was chosen to be the official trailer soundtrack to the movie “A BadMoms Christmas”, which will hit theaters on November 3rd. The girl hasn’t even recovered from the song being used as the campaign theme soundtrack for Tommy Hilfiger’s Summer/ Spring line 2017. Or the same song being featured on BET‘s hit series Being Mary Jane‘s Season 4. Did I mention it being the official theme song for Reebok Classics ‘Free Your Style” 2017 campaign?…And that the beats to her song “Set it off” was also featured on the second season of HBO‘s TV Series “Insecure“? (I know! I’m jealous too).

With piracy being the major challenge that it is for artists, there’s very little hope (if any) left for album sales as a source or revenue. Those that are a step ahead are exploring alternative ways to earn from their music. In Nigeria, ring-back tones are making Nigerian artists millionaires. In Tanzania and Uganda, local artists plan for self titled concerts where they are the main acts and fans actually show up. Some of these concerts are even sold out. Try that in Kenya and tell me how it goes. No, actually- don’t. (I’d hate to be the reason for your career misfortunes.) Unless there’s an international act headlining the concert, you can only depend on a few family members and a handful of friends to show up. (And maybe your friends’ friends’- who have probably been promised free booze or a free to and from ride home). It could be a cultural thing- where we just don’t have it in us to support our very own or maybe I am wrong- (which I honestly hope I am).

If STL’s international success this year is anything to go by, it’s about time Kenyan artists start exploring different avenues to earn from their music. We’ve had endless battles between artists and MCSK over “insulting” royalties .While the system needs a change, artists need to be creative and open enough to see what else  can earn them what they deserve. What really works for you as an individual? (Because hey! just because Avril was a brand ambassador to Oriflame doesn’t guarantee that you will score a brand endorsement deal yourself. Or because Diamond Platnumz has a “Peanuts” business you can succeed by launching your own).

If you are an artist reading this, you’re a creative, I will leave it to you.

 

 

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A letter to M.I Abaga: The take home

As promised earlier this week, I finally got to watch the Loose Talk Podcast that featured M.I Abaga on what had all started off with an open letter to him from Pulse Writer, AOT2 . The discussion was centered on among others;  M.I’s Chairman Album, the switch in his rapping style, his take over as the CEO of Chocolate City and the role of entertainment journalists in pushing African art forward- 2 hours, 46 minutes and 15 seconds. (I know!- too long for a YouTube Video). But I can promise you this;  every minute of watching was worth my time (and will be yours too-if you haven’t watched it yet). Especially if you are a Hip Hop artist, enthusiast or entertainment journalist. I got upset, had my mouth wide open in disbelief , was laughing at some point, nodding  my head in agreement and sometimes, cringing  and hoping someone eventually takes back their words. Everything that you could possibly experience as you interact with great media coverage of arts.  Without fear of contradiction, this was definitely one of the most historic conversations about music that has ever happened- hands down.

10 crucial things that I picked up on;

  1. Entertainment journalists (EJs- for the sake of the rest of this article) recreate what is happening at every moment. We tell it like it is, even when the person we are writing about will not necessarily like what we have to say.
  2. A better part of EJs that came before and even those that are there today have failed. We need to have hard hitting journalism (even in entertainment) that’s not just gossip.
  3.  As an EJ, if I dismiss 10 of your songs that I think are whack, that doesn’t take away from you the fact that you are a great artist.
  4. Positive or negative reviews, it adds to an artist’s numbers.
  5.  Media has an important role to play in pushing arts and entertainment forward. It’s not just a matter of getting the job done. Get your facts right. Don’t just chase views.
  6. As an EJ, if you have the platform and contacts, use them both responsibly.
  7.  Build relationships with artists, understand their journey and how they view things. That way, you are able to write from an informed place and well rounded article.
  8.  If you are writing a review,  make sure that your critic covers the expanse of an artist- talk of the good, the bad and the ugly. Be balanced.
  9.  Make a clear distinction when you are giving a fact and when you are giving an opinion.
  10.  Artists have to keep changing and evolving with their music, in order to survive, which sometimes alienates some core fans.

In the words of M.I, “let journalists and artists work together to push art to greater heights. We are the hope for Africa. It’s not artists V/S journalists.”

(Referring to Osagie and AOT2) M.I also said that this was the greatest podcast they had ever done in their lives. I absolutely agree, not for entertainment value, but for the issues that were tackled. This was a great first step towards a culture change in Africa’s Music Industry as a whole.

The amazing Wizkid verse that didn’t make the cut on Drake’s One Dance.

I’m a bit late on this one. But just in case you don’t know, Wizkid actually had an entire verse on Drake’s One Dance, that did not make it to the final cut of the song.  Yes, Starboy did get international recognition for his role in writing the song. But do you know just how big of an impact having a verse on that song would have had on Wizkid’s career? I am talking about a song that was on the number one spot for 10 weeks straight, on Billboard Hot 100 charts and was the most streamed song on Spotify ever, (as of 2016) with over 950 million individual streams. Let’s not even get into the song getting a Grammy nomination. But mad props to Drake  for being smart on this one…If at all he let Wizkid’s verse be on the song, he would have stolen all the shine and murdered Drake 😉

What do you think about it?

 

 

 

A letter to M.I; my take

Some time not so long ago, M.I  Abaga was asked about his silence in the music industry.  He responded by saying that his work as the CEO for Chocolate city had taken over his life and that it had been harder than he thought it would be. He also said that as he got older, it was getting harder for him to write and sing about certain things, such as being in a club, as younger artists would be in better positions to write about such.

Then came “A letter to M.I“. Dope song, minimal instrumentals that rightfully channel all the attention to the sick bars; such an incredible listen. The song pays homage to Nigerian rapper MI for being such an iconic artist who was at some point considered to be a “rap god”. All this in 50 seconds before isht takes a real turn and gets into how M.I had lost his “mojo” over time, failing to deliver to his fans the kind of amazing music that they were previously accustomed to from him.

Disclaimer Alert: I LOVE M.I. But I do need to give credit where it’s due. A letter to MI is one of the most amazing HipHop songs that I have heard in such a long time. The lyrics are well thought of and the creativity that puts together an entire story through a rap song is definitely something that more  HipHop artists should learn to do.

However, if  you are a creative, then you better than anyone else know that sometimes you hit a plateau that has you revolving around the same ideas. Other times, you give up everything that you can for your craft, until you have nothing left to give. The result; exhaustion and possible depression. Nothing as horrible as feeling defeated in something that you love. That my friends is when you need to stop and just breath.

It’s OK to take a step back. It wouldn’t be a first. Nyashinski, Alikiba and Mafikizolo all did. They came back with such a big bang we almost forgot about everyone else in the game. If anything, a break (no matter how long) is the best possible time to re- evaluate, think about why you fell in love with your art, what worked, what did not work and how to do it even better.

So much as I miss M.I’s contribution to the music industry, give the guy a break. It might  just be what he needs to get that charm back.

Your’s sincerely,

Felista Esolio.

 

Picture source: Web

My additional 3 to 2017’s list of the 100 most influential Young Africans.

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2017 List of most influential young Africans (Image courtesy of africayouthawards.org)

The 2017 list of the 100 most influential Young Africans has officially been released, with 45 women on the list against 55 men, which is obviously something to be celebrated. The list is made up of people aged between 15 and 36, with Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya having the highest number of representatives on it.

Other African artists on the list include; Wizkid, Shatta Wale, Sarkodie, Nasty C, DJ Arafat, Diamond Platnumz, Davido, Cassper Nyovest, Alikiba and AKA. But because this is my blog and I make the rules, I decided to add 3 people onto the list that I think deserve to be acknowledged for their contribution to the music industry. Guess what?….They’re all women. Drum rolls please……….

 

Yemi Alade

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Yemi Alade (Image courtesy of houseofebonny.com)

No artist has embraced their being African as wholesomely and beautifully as Yemi Alade has. If at all I was to explain to someone that had no idea what African Music is all about, she would be whom I would point out to. Yemi is the best representation of modern Africa’s amazingly diverse culture and sells the continent to the world like no one else does.

 

Vanessa Mdee

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Vanessa Mdee (Image source: artsfon.com)

This girl has studied the art of branding like her life depends on it. Case in point; V.Money brilliantly blends her Swahili  roots with different contemporary influences to create progressive Bongo Flava– a sound that is uniquely hers. She is anything but boring with expressive signature looks that reveal her bigger than life personality, making her a gem in the entertainment industry.

 

Anyiko Owoko.

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Anyiko Owoko (Image source: http://media.meanwhileinkenya.com)

From TV personality and blogger, to being one of the most sought out publicists in Africa, Anyiko is a living example of just how far passion can take you. She is the girl to go to for some exclusive tea on what’s popping, the person to talk to if you need a hook up with the creme de la creme of Africa and the only one you should be talking to if you’re looking for good press that will take your career to a whole new level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel free to add on to the list of people that you think ought to have been mentioned on this list.

The non- existent mentoring system for young artists in Africa.

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Kenyan afropop band group- Sauti Sol

Kenya‘s Sauti Sol are among speakers at the 2017 TED Global Conference that is currently going down in Tanzania. Among others that will be speaking at the forum include one of the most influential South African artists, Thandiswa Mazwai  and East African retro- popsters Alsarah & the Nubatones.

I cannot emphasize enough just how a big an impact TED has had on my life and I’m sure many others. However, are four days of mentor-ship enough to provide skills that will last a lifetime?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the idea of having platforms such as these that empower young people. All I am saying is that we might need to challenge ourselves as a generation, to provide and get mentor-ship that is continuous as opposed to having it as one- off thing. Life changes, so do we and the direction our careers take.

God knows we have such amazing talent in Africa. However, most of it remains untapped or underutilized, only because people don’t know where to start or how to handle different aspects of their talent. Or even if they do know where to start off, they don’t last long in the game, simply because they lacked proper guidance at different stages of their careers.

I’m not saying that you should be stalking or constantly hanging out with your mentor and unnecessarily taking up their time, as you try to get schooled. It could just be a simple text or DM asking someone within your field of interest what to do in a particular situation or stage in your career. Or even  just sending an artist that has been in the game longer than you, a link to your song  (before wrapping up on production) asking them what they think about it and what you could do to make it even better. Or maybe how to run an successful social media campaign to promote the song. For the sake of it not being awkward, inform them before hand that you would like them to mentor you. That’s it. It’s not that complicated.

Sleep on it. I dare you (whoever you may be, mentor or mentee).

 

 

African Dance to the world: Triplets Ghetto Kids

They have performed at the 2017 BET Awards, graced Vibe Magazine’s cover alongside French Montana, been featured on BBC for their exceptional dance skills- it’s impossible to sum up in a single article what Uganda‘s Triplets Ghetto Kids have achieved with dance.

They will have you with your mouth wide open in amazement, wondering if any of them got hurt while doing certain moves, while at the same time entertain you and like no one else can.

Here are my top 3  best dance routines by the The Triplets Ghetto Kids. This is Africa to the world through dance.

 

 

 

Am I the only one that likes it when each of them is allowed to freestyle their own dance routine as opposed to having synced moves? Being untamed actually reveals more of their prowess.

Do check them out on https://tripletsghettokids.com/

What’s your favorite dance routine by the Triplets Ghetto Kids?

Leave me a comment below.

New Music Video Alert: Muthoni Drummer Queen Ft. Steph Kapela, Tunji, Shukid- Kenyan Message Remix

 

Y’all do not even understand what I mean when I say that Muthoni Drummer Queen (MDQ- for future reference) is one of the illest Hip Hop artists we have in Africa. She is articulate and understands the art of wordplay.  Did I mention brilliant and one of the very few lyricists that would be dropping bars and  have you  all G’d up looking at those around you like “Damn!Did you hear that?”

The video that was directed by Skinny Film Maker and Greg Escoffey is creativity at it’s best- really. But here is the thing that I love most about this particular song; the fact that MDQ gave upcoming artists that probably both you and I have never heard of before, a platform. And not just any type of artists, these are some sick A-list artists that are about to shake things up in the world of Hip Hop.  (So please do not disappoint me, if ever you get to read this. My money’s on you *fingers crossed*)

Also, I love me a good party or love song. I really do. But a track addressing the real issues that affect us as a society every once in a while (like this one) wouldn’t hurt. Just Saying. (Seriously though….as a Kenyan, I really am at the edge already) *deep breathe* But I digress. All I’m saying is that if you are an artist, use your platform to create social awareness and start a conversation that will lead to positive change.

What do you think of the song? Also, let me know who killed it for you on the song…(I’m here for STEPH KAPELA) .

Of Dancehall music in Africa; Imposters or Risk Takers?

 

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Picture source: http://www.ghanaclass.com

 

According to pioneering Ghanian Dancehall artist Root Eye, Ghanian artists claiming to be doing pure Dancehall music are in fact doing Afro- Dancehall (basically Urban African Music inspired by Dancehall Music) .

Root Eye said that there have to be certain crucial elements present in a song,  for it to qualify to be labelled as Dancehall, which Ghanaian artists aren’t keen on as they even speak fake patois. He however commended Ghanian Dancehall artist Shatta Wale for his work, but advised him to work on his sound as he had greater potential.

Whether what Root Eye says is true or not is debatable. And honestly,  this is a subject that I wouldn’t be in a position to argue on, considering I do not have an in depth understanding of Dancehall music, and the aspects that contribute it to be labeled as such. However, I do know of a few Dancehall artists from Ghana and beyond (of course within Africa- refer to my blog name :-)) – including Stonebwoy, Samini, Patoranking, Cynthia Morgan, Redsan and Wyre.

My question is this; what’s wrong with music that is inspired from something that is foreign? Different artists have different inspirations. Those that understand the music business even better use such inspirations to guide their creations into something that is uniquely theirs. If it gives you an edge over what everyone else is doing, then why not? A perfect example is Ole Themba by Tanzania’s Linah, that was inspired by Contemporary South African Music and creatively fused with Bongo Flava.

Just don’t forget who you are and what makes you unique while being inspired (in whatever it is that you do).

 

Behind Uganda’s Creative Music Director- Hassan Bahemuka’s Camera

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Hassan Bahemuka  (right), (Image courtesy of Joni Musi)

Hassan Kintu Bahemuka  is a Ugandan Creative Music Video Director and an entrepreneur running Hasz Media. Not only is he the name behind top Ugandan Music Videos, but boasts of several nominations and awards including the prestigious MTV Africa and  Nigeria’s Soundcity Awards.  I got the rare chance of interviewing him (something he admittedly avoids, and this is how it all went down)

How did you get into music video directing?

It started during one of my Form 6 school breaks. I was editing footage  from my brother’s video library;  events and weddings to be specific. A friend realized my talent and had me join Uganda’s WBS TV. I worked at WBS for 5 years, making my way up to be the head of production, before calling it quits to go do my own thing. Video director Don Mugisha (Deddac) played an important role in my journey by providing mentor-ship.

From weddings and events to TV and then finally settling for music videos, why so?

Besides directing music videos being a passion, I love the creativity that it allows room for. Being a creative music video director also provides great exposure for one’s brand and is financially rewarding.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Being nominated for Nigeria’s Soundcity Awards for the best pop video in Africa Category for Toniks’ Nzewuwo. For a low budget video to be competing against videos that had a budget of up to 20 thousand US dollars and shot by Africa’s best video directors was and will remain to be such a memorable and humbling experience.

Sometime back, you were alleged to be wanted by cops for having conned an upcoming Ugandan artist. Tell us your side of the story..

An employee of mine under my company- Hasz Media had taken money from an artist without my knowledge. Once I found out, I tried to resolve the issue by talking to the artist in question, but things took a different turn. Because my employee had taken money under my company’s name, I had to take the heat for it. The issue was however finally resolved.

Which creative video directors do you look up to?

In Africa, Nigeria’s Sesan, while internationally, I look up to Canadian Music Video Director, Director X  .I am always watching out for their work.

What challenges do you face as a video director?

Budgeting. Every artist has a different budget for their music videos, depending on their individual financial ability. I however have to deliver and to ensure quality and consistency in the standard of my work, irrespective of an artist’s budget.

If you weren’t in the entertainment business, what would you be doing?

Farming,  which is something that I actually do on the side. I own a 14 acre piece of land that I use purely for farming.

Final words for any aspiring video director out there?

Work on building your brand and don’t be fooled by the hype.

 

Check out the latest video that Hassan has worked on;

 

You can also check out other music videos directed by Hassan on his YouTube Channel,

https://www.youtube.com/user/Haszmedia/featured