The concept of music cooperatives - an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise - is not yet a common trend on the African continent, although they have been embraced by music stakeholders in Europe and parts of Latin America.
In Kenya, however, the new Kenya Music Cooperative (KEMCOOP) is hoping to use the concept to bring innovative management to the local sector, as well as creating and sharing collaborative solutions.
The Kenya Music Cooperative is an initiative that came into being after the East Africa Rise Up (EARU) collective, a ten-man band from Kenya and Tanzania, participated at the 2012 DOADOA Performing Arts Market in Jinja, Uganda, which brought to East Africa the UK’s Un-Convention, a network that celebrates music with the aim of providing a forum for artists who work at a grassroots level.
Since then, KEMCOOP has continued to grow in strength. To date the co-operative has over 1000 artists registered with it. In November 2015, KEMCO-OP marked a milestone when it was successfully registered under the Nairobi City County government's social and cultural department.
“The aim of the co-op is that our players will share the benefits and risks of the business," explains Don Gas Fyatu, a writer and an hip-hop artist who chairs KEMCOOP. "It is this equitable approach that allows us to offer an affordable programme of music events."
Among other things, KEMCOOP organizes regular live music events to showcase emerging talent, facilitates knowledge and information sharing by highlighting various artists through its 'artist of the month' programme, and also provides registered artists with access to venues and equipment at subsidized rates. “Besides hiring out equipment to members hosting their own events, the co-operative itself curates regular monthly events,” says Fyatu.
In April this year, KEMCOOP held its first concert, dubbed Unity in Diversity, at Sarakasi Dome in Nairobi. A second concert is slated for 25 June at the Pawa254, also in Nairobi. The concerts are set to be held after every three months.
KEMCOOP has been developed in consultation with local artists and professionals to directly address the specific challenges facing the Kenyan music industry. The co-operative has also borrowed heavily from Un-Convention, the Future Artists Live Creative Co-operative in the UK and the Fora Do Eixo network in Brazil to learn about what has worked in other nations where the concept of music co-operatives already exists.
Unlike organizations that are supported by well-wishers, to remain sustainable KEMCOOP charges membership fees and hires out musical equipment. It also encourages its members to support the events it hosts.
In the near future, KEMCOOP hopes to develop a network to facilitate music tours and allow performers from different towns or regions to connect and invite one another to perform together. "The co-operative will help to build a network connecting artists and collectives from across Kenya and East Africa," explains Fyatu. "This opens up an opportunity to develop a touring network, based on the Fora Do Eixo model in Brazil."
KEMCOOP also plans to develop a distribution network and a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) scheme.
For more details on upcoming KEMCOOP meetings and events, visit the KEMCOOP Facebook page.