Sauti Sol

Sauti Sol band members, from left, Polycarp Otieno, Willis Chimano, Savara Mudigi and Bien-Aimé Baraza. The group has been able to turn fame into business.

| File | Nation Media Group

Kenya's most successful artistes reveal how they escaped curse of celebrity

What you need to know:

  • Financial experts have blamed the changed fortunes of some artistes on living beyond their means.
  • Some artistes end up taking loans, assuming that they will be able to pay off the credit with concert cash.

Kamau Kinuthia, aka Omosh, is needs no introduction. And it is not because of his humorous stints as the janitor in the local TV show Tahidi High during his heyday.

This week, he has been trending for the wrong reasons after he asked Kenyans to fundraise to save him from the mountain of bills he has accrued. This was the second time he was asking for help despite having a successful career as an artiste.

Though he also admitted that he has been battling alcoholism, his financial state provoked discussions on whether artistes prepare and save for rainy days. 

Tanzanian celebrated singer Ali Kiba, in one of his famous songs MacMuga, explains how artistes can quickly blow their fortunes on expensive and flashy lifestyles.

Poor financial management by artistes is the powerful message Mr Kiba puts across in the song released years ago.

The disease seems to have set its roots deeper in the industry.

Saturday Nation talked to artistes on how they are avoiding the celebrity financial trap.

“It is simple: every artiste needs to treat their art just like a business. The only difference is that this business is in showbiz. Apart from the passion for creating content, at the back of your mind you also need to know how you are going to make money and sustain your life. In business transactions, there is cost and profit, what you do with the profit matters a lot,” said Savara Mudigi, a member of boy band Sauti Sol.

The mistakes, he said, that most artistes make, is wanting to live the high life when they are just starting out. Thinking about the future never occurs to them.

“You get your first pay cheque and your first instinct is to buy a car, instead of thinking of investing the money into something that will be an income generator in the future. I understand the cost of being an artiste is very high but go with the level you are at. This will help you climb the lifestyle ladder as you grow,” explained Savara.

In the quest to live large, some artistes end up taking loans, assuming that they will be able to pay off the credit with concert cash, which they are not even assured of.

Sauti Sol was formed in 2005 and is made up of four members — Bien-Aimé Baraza, Willis Chimano, Savara Mudigi and Polycarp Otieno.

Since then, they have grown to become top musicians in the country and on the continent. Apart from being one of the highest paid singers, they have also managed to increase their income by venturing into the music business.

One of their ventures is record label Sol Generation that manages and produces music for various artistes. They recently launched their own brand of ear pods.

Not business-savvy

“As Sauti Sol, it took us a while before we even started earning money. In the beginning, I am thankful that we were smart enough to invest a huge percentage of what we got back to the brand and went home with a small salary. When we were still young in the industry, I remember we used to reach out to people who have been in the game before us like Clemmo to be able to understand the industry,” remarked Savara.

“The reason we are seeing a number of celebrities asking for help from Kenyans after going broke is many of them are not business-savvy. They do not know how to convert fame into cash while they are still famous. And even if they later know how to do this, they have no idea of how to manage their finances,” added Savara.

Being popular does not necessarily translate into financial success.

As Sauti Sol, he said, they have had financial challenges, and with the group made up of four members, sometimes discussing money can be difficult.

“We are four in the band. We have had financial challenges, but the good thing is that this also translates to four brains, which can think of new ideas, of how to make money. The people who are around us are also a very important factor, because remember when you are an artiste, for every shilling you make, there are always people around you who want to spend it,” said Savara.

Paul Nunda, popularly known as Jua Cali, admitted there was lack of financial discipline among artistes. Many have failed to reinvent themselves and keep hoping that the fame they had five or 10 years ago will continue putting food on the table.

Paul Nunda, better known by the stage name as Jua Cali, performing at Milan Lounge, Mirage Towers Nairobi during the launch of East Africa hub & music-only radio by Trace TV on November 6, 2019. Jua Cali has lived off music for years.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“With popularity comes fame and fame is another beast in itself. Fame is something no one can teach you how to deal with. I cannot even advise someone how to deal with it. And fame is usually the downfall of most artistes. It is the number one thing that makes artistes lose wealth,” he said.

Jua Cali started his music career in 2000 and is one of the founding members of popular record label Calif Records. He is one of the few artistes who have been able to remain relevant in the industry throughout its changing phases, from Genge to Gengetone music.

“Things are worse now due to internet expectations. In early 2000 when some of us were starting in the music industry, there was a lot of patience. It took a while before we started earning decent pay cheques. It took me seven years before I started seeing the fruits of my labour. And when the money started coming, I had a sober group of people around me who ensured I made good decisions, because they knew showbiz money can vanish very quickly,” he added.

Centonomy CEO Waithaka Gatumi says artistes can get away from the trap of losing their wealth, only if they do a self-assessment on their financial expenditure.

“Artistes do not know how much their lifestyles cost. For example, if I did a self-assessment and realised for a month I spend Sh50,000, then when I get a cheque of Sh300,000, it should be able to sustain me for six months. But what a section of them will do is move to an apartment that charges Sh50,000 house rent. They need to understand that it is not the lifestyle that fans like, rather it is their performance as an artiste. Living according to other people’s expectations is where financial irresponsibility comes in,”  said Mr Gatumi.

The result, he said, is living in a fantasy world where they expect money to always come and when they do not have it, they feel entitled and ready to complain to the public.

“There is always a lifespan for everything, including fame. When all is said and done, where do you go back to when there are no more music shows or acting gigs? While at your prime, make investments that will shelter you later in life. There are so many opportunities. Understand the market you are in because just because people like something, it does not mean they are going to buy,” said Mr Gatumi.

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