OP-ED: The Music Tour Culture in Kenya

Going on tour in Kenya is a concept that is yet to pick up and get traction. One wonders why considering doing shows is the main source of income for the Kenyan creative. While this might be easier said than done, weighing the risk vis-a-vis the reward makes it seem worthwhile. So why then isn’t going on tour a thing in Kenya yet?

The first thing we should understand is what a tour is and who is responsible for setting it up. A tour is basically a promotional run of shows in different cities or towns by an artist. They are usually conducted to promote the artist’s latest body of work be it an album, single, EP or mixtape. Tours are mostly set up by the artists’ record label and seeing as a lot of Kenyan artists are independent this is one of the main reasons tours aren’t as popular among Kenyan artists. Going on tour, however, isn’t an entirely foreign concept. Kenyan artists would much rather tour foreign lands than tour the country.

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Water is life

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For a very long time, Kenyan promoters had gained a very bad rep as some of the shadiest promoters around the world. Tales of their prowess reaching as far as the States where no one would even touch an event set to happen in Kenya. Now although the entertainment scene is in much better shape, the latter remains true. This means one has to have a team including a manager and booking agent who sets up shows and the venues and also ensure all parties sign a legally binding contract drawn up by a good lawyer all which do not come cheap consequentially discouraging the already independent artist.

Since we lack amphitheatres and most probably the crowds to occupy them, the most popular and realistic place to hold shows is in clubs. This was proven during the revolutionary Safari Tour by Victoria Kimani. The ‘Wonka’ hitmaker set out on a 4 city tour promoting her album ‘Safari’ stopping in Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisii and Nairobi. The most remarkable feat being she did it independently.

Safari tour poster by Victoria Kimani

The biggest artists in Kenya often set out on a tour outside the country performing for small crowds of Kenyans away from home yet perform for one night in different cities within Kenya. This is pretty counter-productive as they have an already established fan base in Kenya and can thus maximize on the benefits of their popularity. Being on tour means you are both the organizer and the entertainment. So while we continue to push for the Kenyan music narrative, we need to ask if our artists trust their consumers enough to push the envelope and revolutionize the Kenyan music scene by creating both demand and supply and eventually cutting off the middle man.

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