1000 Shows of Mediocrity

I have been to a gazillion of music events in this country either as a member of the audience or as an artist and from both ends I can tell you it’s not hard to tell that our music shows have two things in common- they always start late and the sound usually suck.

The Oxymoron at Isaano Festival a couple of hours after the show was supposed to start. The venue was so empty that it became my son’s playground. That’s him. Way to go, boy.

Four out of the gazillion shows however have given a hint of how it’s done but I am afraid our current event organizers got the memo. One can even wonder if they were there. Here is my top 4 in no particular order.

The first show that wowed me was Shaggy’s performance at the MTN’s 10th anniversary in Petit Stade’s parking lot back in 2008. When my friends and I reminisce, we jump from our seats- Badass!

The 2nd show was Gael Faye’s Pili Pili Tour at the Rwanda Revenue auditorium in 2013. That evening I went home full of life feeling like “So this is is why it’s called a live concert!” Oh we even had a freestyle session on Papyrus rooftop. Unforgettable!

The 3rd show and I don’t need to go into details since it trended on Twitter for about two weeks after the event was Stromae’s Racine Carre tour that ended at ULK last year. There’s even a Mutzig billboard at Prince House today thanking the Maestro for that formidable concert.

The 4th show was local. The only local music concert that had me hats off, hands down! It was full house, the sound was on point, the acts were incredible, the set was beautiful and Mani gave 200% since he launched two albums at once. More power to you brother.

I have also been to a number of other “ok” shows that gave hope that it was possible, we were going to get there some day but still forgettable. If not then you’d remember individual’s performances and not the whole event.

Now if the number of flops I have witnessed! Ayayaya it’s not funny. Those one have inspired this post.


FB Late Show
As shared by some, starting shows late is a routine – an “African thing”

Last week I attended one of these shows. It was a festival happening in a small bar. I was sitting on the floor waiting… waiting some more… I asked the main artist why we weren’t starting, she smiled. I got it. So I engaged in a quick chat with one of my favorite rappers in the universe to kill time. He was on the evening lineup.

  • What’s good, bruv? Are you doing a live performance tonight?
  • Dude, I’ve had such a horrible experience in the past with guys around here that I can’t even think about going through that again. I’ll stick to instrumentals. And guess what?
  • What?
  • I was only told yesterday that I will perform tonight.
  • Your name had been on the poster for about a week, though?
  • What poster?

I rested my case and allowed myself to just let go and see what happens. Soon, he was on stage but the mic was so bad that I had to close my eyes and think about the track on youtube to get hints about when the hook would come in. The same mic issue had happened to me a week earlier, on the same festival, as I performed a couple of my spoken word pieces. The sound was so horrible that I had to stop and ask the sound technician, “I’m a spoken word artist, if the mic ain’t right, what’s the point?” But obviously he couldn’t hear me. The sound was bad, you know. It wasn’t his fault. Mind you that I was opening for a world music icon who happened to perform for an empty stadium and a handful of expats in front of the stage. To everyone’s surprise her sound was impeccable. Magic, huh?

A little background why I’m doing this. I used to just blog, write poems, record music and share online. These are things I can control from my phone. Now that I am in the universe of performances, I get hit by realities I wasn’t ready for. The worst part is that people are used to them. I am not and I don’t want to. It has reached a lever where after performing, artists don’t want to see the event organizers anymore unless they’re talking payments, which usually happens on the 67th of the same month.

That said, event organizers also have a world of their own. Challenges we don’t know about. They never tell us why we are starting late, why the only crowd is our friends, why we are not being paid… I find that disrespectful. But I’m not casting any stone since I live in a glass house now. I am just trying to understand who benefits from these substandard shows because in the end, everyone is frustrated- the artists, the musicians, the audience, even the organizers themselves. I bet the sponsors are not happy either, yet you need to go back to them either to cash cheques or get sponsorship for the next events. I know some of you who will say, “Creating an industry takes time” fine! I’m talking to you that has been in the game for over 10 years but had been repeating the same mistakes. So let’s have a chat and if you please, answer these questions.

  1. Why advertise for your show a couple of days before the D day? And on social media only? Like really? [Then you complain that only expats showed up.]
  2. What is so hard about starting a show on time?
  3. It is a music show. The least I expect is decent sound. Why is it never right? Old/poor equipment or unqualified technicians?
  4. The turnout is usually very low. How do you make revenues out of these events?
  5. Where do you get the money to pay the artists. I mean those that get paid. Sponsorship?
  6. Local artists don’t feel appreciated during festivals. From a personal experience I have had to pay the band out of my own pocket to perform where other artists were getting paid. Why?
  7. Are you satisfied with your media coverage (whenever there is any) before, during or after the event?
  8. What are the key challenges you do not share with the public? 
  9. Do you do this for the love or is it a job/career?
  10. Tell me if I’m wrong but “a mediocre event is better than no event.” Yes or No?

When I asked a fellow artist – frustrated for not only being asked to perform at the last minute at a major event that happened recently in Kigali but also for which they never got been paid – why they never talk about these issues, they said, “Something you have to know about our industry is that the moment an artist raises their voice, baramukanda!” Which means they [media, event organizers…] blacklist the artist i.e. no more air plays hence low chances to get in Guma Guma, no more interviews, no more mention in their gossip/entertainment websites… and I thought that was really pathetic. I remember this one time I tweeted a popular online entertainment magazine “Guys, your format and content hasn’t evolved since you launched your platform. Don’t you ever grow?” The response was “People like how we do what we do, even if you don’t.” Well that was a polite STFU and I respected that. It was none of my business I guess. But I’m not giving up so here is a quote that motivates me when I feel the need to speak up about these things.

“Do not accept or tolerate mediocrity in yourselves or in others. Defy the low expectations that some many have of you or that you may even have yourself. You simply do not have the luxury of getting tired or giving up.” ~ Paul Kagame

Now the ball just rolled in your court.

Meanwhile I’m about to launch the 1key Entre2 Expericment and I count on you, my friends and supporters, to start a new journey in the performing universe. Let’s raise our middle finger to mediocrity.



One thought on “1000 Shows of Mediocrity

  1. Well stated. I too have been drawn into pondering on where the love for deep artistic advocacy lays. What could an events organiser be saving from not advertising an event in time?!…
    What reputation are you guys leaving?
    watch the space…

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