By Alex Roberts
The Nairobi creative scene is an incredible one, but there is one aspect of it that always bothered me: that there is a sub-set of top Nairobi artists and creatives who actively fuck over young and starting artists who are looking for there place in the sphere.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about the club owners who don’t pay performance fees (a story that will DEFINITELY by written on another day) or the publisher’s who won’t pay their employ (although if you still owe me money from that article I wrote for you in 2017, what’s been good?); nor am I talking about that casting couch culture, which again, shall be discussed more at a later date. No, I’m specifically talking about a small little niche of artists who seem to go out of their way to take advantage of the hustling creatives who are either just starting out, or more worryingly, get caught up in a cycle of being used.
It is the dead end of creativity in a lot of ways; hopes and dreams of working with those within the strata being shattered by lack of an ‘M-PESA Received’ message.
So, what gives with the people within that strata? Granted, it isn’t everyone, there are some outstanding cases of those giving all of themselves and then some to lift up young artists on the climb.
These ones aren’t them. They don’t seem to ever be called out for their assorted fuckery, rather, they are let pass and people continue to smile and nod at them due to their influence in the sphere. One shall not dare to rock the boat, lest you be cast out of the glow of the those at the top.
There are stories everywhere, they are damn near ubiquitous, and yet- the public shaming won’t go forth. Even here, in this article, names won’t be named (because the advantageous nature of some begets the affording of legal fees; and our delightful little start up surely doesn’t have that). Just because there is fear in the air surrounding the burning down of one’s status, doesn’t mean that such stories aren’t in fact, an ugly reality that hundreds of creatives in Nairobi have faced.
It is the story of a writer going unpaid for dozens of hours of work (pocket money for transport to cover the story little more than the dream of the naive), an artist who won’t get the fair slice of the showing’s proceeds from the gallery owner, the musicians who play at festivals for 10,000 Kenyan Shillings that goes missing while the organizer complains about ‘only clearing 2M because of the rain this year’. This statement is usually accompanied by an 800 KSh cocktail (paid for with a free drink ticket that isn’t given to the actual artists playing the show). It is the story of the photographer who has to overextend beyond the assignment specifications; only to be left chasing that money for the next six or seven months.
This isn’t uncommon bullshit, it is an every day occurrence. The events are being constructed more and more for expats who jet in for a year on an NGO contract, drop KSh 20,000 in a night and think nothing of it, as its on the tab of the UN entertainment allowance anyway.
Speaking of NGOs, that funding for creatives has a delightful way of going missing in the middle, doesn’t it? Those packages of 7-8 million, meant to sponsor a project or creative effort, seem to have been whittled down to a lean budget that can’t afford to ‘pay’ for the work of creatives. Don’t worry your little head though love, there’s always working for the ‘exposure’. I know well-known artists that have been approached about working for said exposure six or seven years into an esteemed career.
For the last several years, there’s been a cash cow ripe with milk, but there’s only a few suckling at the teats; the rest are being pushed aside as though they were runts.
The crux of the issue is this, that some of the very same people who complain about cartels in Kenya seem not to realize (or, perhaps more worryingly, have realized) that they have formed a cartel themselves. Anyone who doesn’t dance to the beat of their drum will be drowned out beneath it and see their career relevance swept aside. Is anyone else sick of the few dozen serial advantage takers?