The curtain fell on Eastern African music summit ONGEA! on Sunday night after four spirited days of performances, recordings, discussions and business exchanges. The event, which was held in Nairobi, saw 11 736 visitors walk through its doors, a 50% increase from last year, the summit’s founder, Mike Strano, said.
ONGEA! drew artists, associations, booking agents, collective management organisations, digital distributors, educational institutions, media houses, record labels, regulators, technical suppliers and fans.
“This year we had more participation from countries that haven’t attended in the past, such as Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Australia, Poland and Ireland. Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda were, as usual, well represented,” Strano said.
Festival bookers present included Jess White of Mozambique’s AZGO festival and the IGODA festival circuit, Eric Karengera of Isaano, Kigali!Up and I am Kigali festivals, Tshepo Nzimande of Moshito in South Africa and Herman Kabubi of Bayimba and Doadoa festivals in Uganda.
Cameroonian band Macase took centre stage during the showcase performances, with their upbeat ‘Bantu groove’ getting fans on their feet. The 11-member ensemble was also shortlisted by the festival bookers alongside H_Art the Band, Nina Ogot and Winyo from Kenya.
Speaking to Music In Africa, Serge Maboma, Macase bass guitarist and founding member, said ONGEA! was a great platform for the band because there were no such business events in Central Africa, as the closest was the fledgling Atlantic Music Expo in Cape Verde. “Coming from a francophone country, this event has opened doors for us in anglophone Africa and we look forward to performing at Bayimba and Moshito later in the year,” he said.
Karengera termed Winyo as East Africa’s Youssou N’Dour and said it was unfortunate that the region had not celebrated the singer and guitarist, whose music is heavily influenced by old school benga from the western region of Kenya.
“Both he and his wife, Nina Ogot, are accomplished artists who can hold a crowd, whether performing solo or with a band,” Karengera said. “I would want them to perform in Rwanda as a couple because that’s what makes them unique.”
Now in its second year, ONGEA! was originally known as Kenya Music Week but after ten years it expanded in scope to include other East African countries.
This year the organisers intended to spark new innovations and content through discussions, networking and new funding deals. Panel discussions tackled relevant industry topics such as how to be booked for festivals, intellectual property rights, the financial viability of digital distribution, the gaps in sound engineering and the production of live performances as well as the impact of music on culture, development and advocacy.
The open mic sessions were quite popular with the young crowd, and for 24-year-old Marie Furaha they gave her a ticket into Sauti Academy on a one-year scholarship. The judges said the gospel singer had scored 100% of the points.
“I have learnt a lot from watching other artists perform and visiting the stands at the expo and I’m looking forward to starting my gospel music career at the academy,” she said.
While some aspects of the summit were successful, the event was not without hitches. The Mdundo Awards, though well attended by music fans, were snubbed by the shortlisted artists. Of the seven winners, only one – Timmy T Dat who took home the award for the most downloaded hip hop artist – turned up in person to receive the award.
Not even Kenyan gospel artist Mercy Masika, who was the star of the night with two awards, was present. In absentia, Masika scooped up the 2016 most downloaded gospel artist and the most downloaded single awards for her hit ‘Nikupendeze’. Willy Paul’s ‘Fanya’ was the most downloaded male single, while Kymo & Stigah and Sauti Sol were most downloaded group and Afro-pop artists respectively.
In his opening remarks, Strano, founding director of Phat! Music and Entertainment Limited, the company behind the summit, said ONGEA! was still a corporate social investment (CSI) and the company had invested 2 million Kenyan shillings ($19 300) to subsidise the event every year. The plan was to commercialise the event in future. Strano urged East African governments to support the creative industry.
“Our industry needs working capital. Right now, there’s a whole range of middle-level professionals such as managers and publishers missing in the music industry in the region because the industry cannot support specialisation,” he said.
Watch Wanny Angerer and Katalina Gonzalez of Cultural Stopovers Kenya perform at ONGEA! 2017: