What you need to know:
- Diamond has proven music industry critics wrong every year they predict the fall of Wasafi.
- Tanzania’s popular media personality, Millard Ayo, says it all begins with investing in music.
Ayo Lizer. Diamond Platnumz. Wasafi Records.
These three lines resonate well with any music lover in Africa.
Tune after tune – and scandal after scandal – Diamond and his Wasafi Classic Baby (WCB) record label have become the most successful music outfit in the region over the past 10 years. Diamond has proven music industry critics wrong every year they predict the fall of Wasafi – by releasing new hits and remaining one of the most sought-after musicians in Africa.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world from March last year, most of Diamond’s and Wasafi planned concerts, where he would have raked in millions in revenue, were cancelled. But he only got more creative and cemented his music presence by releasing Waah, a collaboration with Congolese music legend Koffi Olomide.
With close to five million subscribers on his YouTube channel and 11.5 million Instagram followers, the song ‘Waah’, released in early December last year, got over 25 million YouTube views in just one month.
King of Africa
The song hit 14 million views within the first week of its release, a first of many achievements. The bongo star cemented his place as the king of Africa when in June 2020 he made history by becoming the first artiste in sub-Saharan Africa to clock more than one billion views on his YouTube Channel.
They are topping charts with every new song, even as scandals follow them wherever they go as if it’s part of the package of being at Wasafi.
But how have they managed to dominate the East African music market for such a long time, without showing any signs of going under any time soon?
Tanzania’s popular media personality, Millard Ayo, says it all begins with investing in music.
“Unlike many other African artistes, or even artists in general, Wasafi have gone big in music investments,” says Millard, who owns and runs AYO TV.
“Diamond has heavily invested in his music and artists. They have a recording studio, video production company and even media outlets; Wasafi TV and Radio. If other stations don’t play their music, as has been the case in the past, they have their channel where they can play their music as much as they want. They have expensive and the latest video production equipment to shoot their videos. They no longer need to travel to South Africa to do the same.”
Diamond himself, in an exclusive interview with Nation.Africa, echoed Millard’s sentiments.
Almost went bankrupt
“A lot of musicians rush to buy flashy cars or plots to build their homes whenever they make some money from music,” says Diamond.
“I, instead, first invested in my music. I would pay whatever amount of money to make my music better. The rest of the things, like flashy cars and houses, come later as has been the case.”
Diamond narrates how he almost went bankrupt to produce his breakout song Number One, which featured Nigerian star Davido.
“Before doing the first video version of Number One at Ogopa DJs in Nairobi, my video costs used to be about US$3,000 per video,” says Diamond.
“With Number One, I went 10 times higher and spent US$30,000 or thereabouts, to fly Ogopa DJs video crew to Cape Town, South Africa and to shoot my video. The outcome was amazing, and that gave me the green light to approach Davido for a remix.”
Diamond says he was helped by his close friend and fellow Tanzanian musician AY to reach Davido.
“Before I went international, musicians like AY had done it, and he even connected me with Ogopa DJs and other great video producers like Mike Ogoke of Godfather Productions.” But he says the cost of doing a video with Davido almost left him bankrupt.
“I took loans from Tanzanian banks to finance my video and collaboration with Davido in Lagos because I had to travel there with my crew,” he says.
“I had a really tough time in Lagos while shooting the video, financially speaking. But after that, I have never regretted that move. It paid off almost immediately after. I have invested a lot of money on every artist under Wasafi label, even much more than what I initially invested in myself in the beginning.”
Diamond and Wasafi have dominated the music scene for the past decade or so and are expanding their empire, showing no sign of stopping. Born in 1989 as Naseeb Abdul in Tanzania’s Kigoma region, Diamond has always pushed himself beyond the limits to ensure that he stands out from the rest in the music industry.
The 2014 collabo with Davido in the song Number One propelled him to continental stardom. He has also worked with other top Nigerian artists, such as Mr Flavour in Nana in 2015, P Square on Kidogo in 2016, Tiwa Savage on Fire (2017) and Patoranking on Love You Die (2017).
He also pushes the limits in his bid to tap audiences. For instance, his 2019 collabo with soukous and R&B musician Fally Ipupa in the song Inama, gave him a major boost, especially in Europe, where the Congoloese musician is popular.
In 2017, he worked with the Jamaican reggae band Morgan Heritage in the song Halleluyah. This caused controversy in Tanzania on why, as a Muslim, he would use such a Christian word like Halleluyah, in a song.
He also worked with American artistes Rick Ross in Waka (2017), Ne-Yo on Marry You (2017), Omarion on African Beauty (2018), and was last year featured in Alicia Keys’s album.
According to AY, who featured Diamond in the remix of his 2016 hit song Zigo, the Wasafi star always runs away with new opportunities.
“I have played a major part in connecting him to the international market,” says AY.
"Late last year, I connected him with Koffi (Olomide). The idea came when Koffi reached out to me and wanted to do the remix of his song ‘Loi’ with Diamond. But when Koffi landed at the Wasafi studios in Dar, Diamond proposed a fresh song instead. That’s how daring he is, and you all saw how big their new song became within a very short time.”
That is how Waah was born. One of Diamond’s managers, Sallam Sharaff, says the Wasafi star treats collabos seriously because they open new markets.
“In 2015, we flew to Kenya to work with Ne-Yo. He had flown into the country for the Coke Studio recording session. The interesting thing is that at the time, Ali Kiba was the star artiste at Coke Studio and had issues with Diamond. Ali Kiba’s management could not believe it when I turned up at Coke Studio and took Ne-Yo to the late Bruce Odhiambo’s studio, Johari Cleff, to record the song with Diamond,” offers Sallam.
Needless to say, the collabos have made him more popular. He has filled stadiums in countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Burundi, while his Europe and American tours have always been sold out.
Besides having a melodious voice, Diamond is also a great dancer. Whenever he performs all over the world, the venues are always packed with fans singing along with beauties vying to get the slightest touch of the man’s skin or fabric -- before he peels off his T-shirt.
This influence is manifested by the response whenever he or WCB release a new song and there is a social media dance challenge. His hits have a formulaic feel that distinguishes his beat and he likes to add seemingly meaningless chants to his lyrics, while his videos have excellent choreography.
As a result, the diversity of people sending in videos from across the world trying out the moves is almost unmatched. That is not all. Diamond has perfected the art of image, only once associated with A-list stars in America.
Besides wearing designer outfits and driving top-of-the-range vehicles, the singer also serves up a ripped body much to the thrill of his female fans.
He is also a cunning survivor. He has on several occasions got himself in trouble with Tanzanian authorities but he knows when to apologise—then sing the praises of the government and President John Pombe Magufuli. This is a survival strategy he has borrowed from top African musicians of old in the mould of Franco vs Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now DRC).
Kenya’s radio host Willy Tuva partly attributes Diamond’s success to good management.
“You can have a manager as a musician, but do they know how to advance your music career?” quips Tuva, who has been promoting East African music on radio and TV for close to 15 years. “Most managers don’t even know how to write proposals, to begin with, or negotiate a deal. But Wasafi have excelled in that area.”
As a record label, Wasafi has three managers who handle Diamond alone. Sallam, Said Fela and Hamisi Taletale – the latter won the parliamentary seat for South East Morogoro – act as Diamond’s managers.
They are also directors of WCB. All other artists under Wasafi have their own managers, says Sallam, who acts as the label’s spokesman.
“We have different management roles in Wasafi,” he offers. “Diamond and Fela are good in scouting new talent. Taletale deals with all the East African business deals, while I deal with the international market.”
By making his managers directors of Wasafi, the move has ensured that they all deliver as far as business is concerned.
“We are not here to play and make some small-time money and go,” says Sallam. “We give it our all. This is business, if we make losses, we are all affected. We must ensure everything works.”
So, how much does it cost to book Diamond or his Wasafi artistes for a performance?
You need to cough up anything between US$10,000 and US$100,000, says Sallam.
And they have previously received more than that for just one performance.
“Oh yes, we have received more,” says Sallam. “But I would rather not disclose details on that for the sole purpose of respecting different promoters. However, at WCB, we don’t have fixed charges for every artiste like a supermarket. We are open to negotiations, depending on the venue, country, crowd size and sponsors, among other factors. You definitely don’t expect us to charge a corporate show the same amount as a wedding unless they can afford it.”
On scandals, Wasafi have had their fair share. When one of their first signees, Harmonize and Rich Mavoko left the record label, everyone thought the move would shake the label to the ground. But that is yet to be felt.
“When Harmonize left, we saw it as an opportunity to bring in new talent to the stable,” says Sallam. “There’s an exit clause in every artiste’s contract, they can leave whenever they feel ready to do so. We were not shocked. We became better and got more artistes into the stable.”
Millard says scandals have helped the growth of Wasafi in a big way.
“I feel that Wasafi has two groups of fans,” explains Millard. “There are those who are there for the music. The others are there for the gossip, wanting to know more about artistes’ lifestyles.”
With the digital revenue era with us, Millard, who also rakes in a good share from his AYO TV digital platform, says the ‘gossip fans’ have contributed heavily to the growth of Wasafi digital space.
“Diamond can say that he is going to donate funds at a children’s orphanage, and get just one hundred likes,” observes Millard.
“But when he says that he has just learned that the man he believed was his biological father turned out not to be, he will get hundreds of thousands of likes and shares. The gossip lovers have made Wasafi big too and they know how to use such opportunities.”
Sallam agrees: “One thing we have to face every day as management is one scandal after the other.”
He adds: “We look at them as challenges, but we don’t let them affect our business goals. Diamond will have all the drama with his baby mamas, but you will not hear that he has refused to go on stage on time. If he does that, just know that the promoter has not paid him. That’s the only reason. At times, promoters complain that he has stayed on stage for two hours, while he was allocated to perform for only an hour. He loves his art, the rest is just part of being a human being, like all of us.”
On being a human being, Tuva says that has helped him grow his label too. “To get on top, Diamond was helped by fellow musicians like AY,” he explains.
Hard nut to crack
“Diamond has helped nurture new talent too. Harmonize, even though he left Wasafi to form Konde Gang, is Diamond’s product. He is doing good because he was mentored by the best. Diamond is doing the same for the rest of his artistes.”
How much has Wasafi lost since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic?
“We really can’t say we have lost,” explains Sallam. “Losing means we had invested money and not gotten any returns. Yes, we were paid for shows and tours last year, which never happened. But a lot of countries have started to open up, while others have simply postponed the shows. We have so far performed in Guinea and South Sudan and more countries will soon open up especially our much anticipated Europe tour.”
But even as they conquer East Africa, one country remains a hard nut to crack – Uganda. Out of all the East African countries, Wasafi have not performed much in the Pearl of Africa.
When Diamond was dating socialite Zari Hassan, he made attempts to endear himself to the Ugandan music fans, but that seems not to have worked well.
Ugandan musician Ambasada confirms that Wasafi are still attempting to crack the Ugandan market.
“Just last week, I made a connection between Mbosso and Uganda’s Spice Diana to do a collabo,” says Ambasada. “Let’s see how it goes. There have been attempts for Chameleone to do a song with Diamond, but that’s yet to materialise. They have done songs with artistes like Eddy Kenzo, but they are yet to make a move here in Uganda.”
Ambasada says that Diamond had a ‘real chance’ when he was still with Zari.
“But when they broke up, I think Ugandans lost interest in Diamond. But generally, Ugandans only support their own music. A Naija wave will come, but as you have observed, it’s just for a very short time and then it goes away.”
On January 4, 2021, Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority suspended Wasafi TV for six months for an alleged violation of broadcasting regulations during the Tumewasha festival but Sallam says that not a setback.
Other than being a director and manager at WCB, Sallam is also the proprietor of the newly launched TV channel in Tanzania, Dizzim TV. And so, Wasafi music plays on.