Why local art careers do not set off

BY LANJI OUKO In a typical African fashion, being an artist is considered more of a “hobby” than a career. Aside from that retrogressive belief, one main reason the arts fail to flourish in Kenya is our lack of strong cultural roots. As Bernard Shaw states,”patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” Sadly, if we based our understanding of patriotism on this definition, Kenya would have an extremely low percentage of patriotic citizens. A Kenyan would rather read Danielle Steel literature than buy a Ngugi Wa Thiongo book title. Watch South Africa’s science fiction series District 9,rather than watch the locally produced Nairobi Diaries. The same goes for our music. Kenyans are deeply rooted into western culture and often proudly admit to “not knowing local artists.” Quite a shame! Even when Kenyans resort to listen to local artistes they often settle for the artists who sound western, and speak as they roll their “Rs” every now and then, and often boast about living abroad, to explain where they picked up their “tweng” Indeed, it must be difficult to prosper and grow the arts and culture in a society of monkey see, monkey do. A society ashamed of their cultural heritage and that jumps on the latest bandwagon by other countries but can never promote their local artists. A number of events have been lined up this year in order to promote the local artist, including the Different Strokes Exhibition at Karen Village. Most local artists at the exhibition expressed disappointment in the government in not actively promoting arts from an early stage in the 8-4-4 Curriculum. Despite arts being an examinable subject in the curriculum, it is often not taken too seriously and the teachers too pay very little attention to it, based on the fact it is an optional technical subject. Njeri Wakuria said, “It is high time local radio stations prioritised local music on all local stations, to not only give local artists more exposure and royalties but it could also promote local entrepreneurs and record labels.” Grey Mulandi, a sculptor at the exhibition says; “We have a rather backward mentality that anything local is inferior, so we try our best to avoid association with what is thought of as inferior. We lack national pride.” Local fashion designers expressed the same. Only recently have Kenyans embraced wearing Ankara or Kitenge fabrics. For years Kitenge was associated with burials or ‘Chamas’. The trend of Ankara only became popular in Kenya after it became the fashion trend by West Africans in the diaspora. The arts suffer from a form of apartheid, effectively controlled by the West and only by supporting the local industries can the artists stand a fighting chance. Despite all these external factors, artists too shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. Firstly, they do not book enough shows and when they do, they barely understand the basics of promotion and expect others to do it for them. By not understanding the basics of promotion, most artists spend very little time and effort promoting. Artists today solely rely on social media and have scrapped out the use of flyers, advertisements and many other forms of creative promotion. The artists unfortunately misuse social media and instead of actively promoting their gigs, they are said to spend more time complaining about venues and management, which is the fastest way for any artists to sign a career death warrant. Artists too have no proper or rather appropriate press kit, which makes them seem very unprofessional. Every artist should have an electric press kit and a hard copy press kit. A number of local artists are not focused on their end goal. Too much squandering of funds on alcohol, drugs or video games instead of investing into their careers and business packages. In order to be successful, it means spending money on your career and making tones of sacrifices. Kenya’s counterparts in Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa make a lot of money compared to our local artists. First attribute is obviously national pride however; there must be a list of strategies followed by the other artists that Kenyan artists overlook especially in terms of management. Once artists learn the art of diligent service to their job despite it not being an 8-5 job, it requires just as much input for a lucrative output. A number of professional companies lay off artists because of the difficulties that arise from promoting, selling packages or products. Art is a business and the artists should treat it as such and be professional at all times.

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