KENYAN MUSIC FANS TAP INTO THE POWER OF THE NET

Digital Content

The scene is a familiar one all over Nairobi radio stations at around 10am - an artiste walks into the station, waits patiently in line before dropping his album at the reception. "Make sure it gets airplay, Shaffie," begs the musician. Then, he or she leaves, praying and hoping that the song gets some airtime. Some songs make it on air, some don't; a few get a little airplay while others end up in the bin. Yet artistes never seem to give up. Radio is the one place every musician would love to make it - the video can come later. Having people call up and request your song is every artiste's dream but that doesn't happen very often, does it?

Unbeknown to some is the great potential of the worldwide web. In 2001, 20-year-old Richard Njau aka Aster, a Kenyan student in South Africa, decided to start a site with friends that would showcase the Kenyan party scenes. The site grew to include pictures posted from young Kenyans from all over the world, as well as downloadable Kenyan music. Now a born-again gospel musician/producer Aster says that at the time it was just some fun. "I wanted to bring Kenyan music to the fans" he says, adding that CMB Prezzo began making his presence felt for the first time online "He would give me music to put on my site, it wasn't all pirated. Other musicians like Vinnie Banton, Mr Googz and Michelle also gave me music to upload on my site." Surprisingly, it wasn't the artistes who complained about online pirating but the fans.

"I did put up a lot of music without permission until the fans abroad started complaining, saying we all need to support our Kenyan artistes". Aster and friends came to Kenya and bought a couple of CDs including Ogopa 1, E-Sir debut album, Nimefika, and Necessary Noize's first album, NNI.

"At the time, Ogopa was the in-thing but we were going at a loss, and the demand was too much." They later shut down after missing their site renewal date and someone else bought the name.

"A lot of artistes fear piracy and cost when it comes to marketing themselves online, costs range from Sh2,000 to even Sh1,000,000 depending on what you want to have, it doesn't have to be too expensive," says web designer and CEO of web development company I-nnovative Limited, George Ikua.

"What makes a website is not the actual structure but the content," he adds.

Ikua says the reason many artistes are afraid to follow this avenue is because there are very few Internet users in Kenya and this means the market is quite limited.

All is not lost though, artistes are now realising the potential of having an online presence. Didge says that currently, e-commerce is where record sales happen.

"Internet is accessible in all countries and this gives you more exposure internationally."

He adds that his manager, Buddha Blaze, is currently working on his profile on myspace.com.

Big Pin also sees the advantages of having music online and looks forward to launching his website that is currently under construction. "It will be a way for me to communicate with my fans, let them know about shows and my music and goals," he says.

Websites have in essence helped bring the artistes closer to fans all over the world.

Singer Alicia Keys has an online diary that enables her to tell her fans about what she is doing and where she is. It is also not unheard of for artistes to go online and chat to fans on their sites. Whether or not local artistes will catch on is a test in itself. "Local artistes don't look further than Nairobi; they lack the vision to think beyond the local market," says Astar.

"Having your music online is like having another outlet selling your music. Like instead of just selling only at Nakumatt, your product can also be found in Uchumi," he adds.

For the Kleptomaniax, the Internet is yet another tool to reach their audience. "Having a website has helped create awareness of our music abroad," says Collo of Kleptomaniax. "We don't just sell our music online, but also videos and merchandise". The group sells their music though mymusic.co.ke and the Ogopa website that offers a link to their site.

"The awareness created by having our music online has had a great impact on our fans abroad, such that we are able to sell our CDs when we go there. I wouldn't cry over sales here since there's really no clientele compared to fans abroad. In the UK, we sell our albums for £15 (Sh1,080) at shows and people buy them, in Kenya we have to lower the price," he says.

As for the fear of piracy, Collo has a few words of wisdom " It happens! You just have to take it like a man (or woman!)" There are certain advantages to having a website though.

"There are over one billion people online per day in the world, and you are not restricted by location. It's just too big a market to ignore, " says Collo adding that artistes should definitely try marketing themselves online, as it would bring a level of seriousness to what they do. "You can form fan clubs and get feedback from your fans, and it makes it a business which is what entertainment is."

Some international artistes have taken advantage of this and released their music online to high acclaim before releasing to radio stations. This, in essence, takes away the power of radio over artistes, bringing them closer to the consumer and letting the consumer decide whether or not they like a song.

Myspace.com is an Internet service that lets the user create a page that lets you network, meet friends or create blogs for free. My space/music is a space where up-and-coming or famous musicians can display their music and videos and create blogs as well as tell people about upcoming shows. This idea is popular with Kenyans artists with Necessary Noize, Jua Cali, Redsan, Bamboo, Mercy Myra, Maleek and Attitude, among others, having user profiles on myspace.com/music.

As they are all catering for an international market it is interesting to note how they present themselves. Bamboo calls himself the African rap king, while the Jua Cali profile reads like a charming school composition.

The site, which is currently the fourth most popular English language website, does not interfere with the ownership rights of the users and it is up to the individual to use the site as they wish. The artiste decides whether or not their tunes will be downloaded.

Myspace.com has also helped create celebrities overnight. Through myspace.com, people are able to let others in on their activities, album releases and events. English band Arctic Monkeys owe some of their success to the publicity they garnered through myspace.com. The band was not even aware of the site saying that the site was originally created by fans. Another English singer, Lilly Allen, can attribute part of her popularity to placing her unreleased music on myspace.com where thousands of would be fans accessed the songs. She currently has 115,347 "friends" on her profile.

A popular site that allows users to post videos and visitors to view the videos. The videos range from those of famous musicians such as Beyonce, Erykah Badu to amature videos such as Zimbabwean girl Violet Moyo's remix of Gnarls Berkeley Crazy. Youtube gained fast popularity due to myspace.com users who placed "youtube" videos in their space profiles. Myspace.com spotted this as rivalry and quickly moved to ban youtube.com videos from its user profiles, a ban that was later lifted after its own users protested. Youtube.com is now one of the fastest growing websites in the world even overtaking myspace.com. However, no Kenyan artiste has posted their videos on this site.

The East African Standard