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WHY ISNT THE GAMBIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY GROWING? IFANG BONDI'S BADOU JOBE EXPLAINS

Gibou Bala-Gaye posted on his Facebook the question” [ https://www.facebook.com/gibou.balagaye/posts/10158356183530142 ]

"WHY ISNT THE GAMBIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY GROWING?

 

badou jobeI have been asked that same question countless times. Here my 2 bututs.

TINY HOME MARKET

The home market for Gambian urban-style artists consists mainly of the GBA and a young low-income audience.

 

Generally a self-employed artist will need at least 75 gigs per year to generate a viable income.

The number of (regularly paid) performance opportunities  - clubs/hotels/events - divided by 75 defines the number of full-time artists the market can cater for. 

The overseas diaspora with worlwide a few dozen one-off events per year is merely an extension of the home market, adding zero to international exposure.

 

DIGITAL <> LIVE REPERTOIRE

Studio recordings are digitally tweaked and autotuned to an extent that it’s impossible to reproduce the tracks live, forcing the featured artist to playback instead.

Consequently artists lack experience of playing with a live band. So backing bands tend to stick to a one-drone-suits-all, regardless of the original recordings. That’s OK with sympathetic fans but falls short of international standards.

Most artists have a limited repertoire and don’t do full-length (20-25 tracks) solo shows, which are essential for an artist to build up a distinctive image. 

No surprise that audiences favour and spend their money on top-notch shows of visiting artists. 

 

GOING GLOBAL 

Many artists hope to expand their career abroad, but often don’t know what it takes.

Gambian artists predominantly favour hip hop/dancehall/reggae/r&b styles, lacking originality and using lyrics in languages incomprehensible to audiences abroad.

Worldwide the market is saturated with urban styles, and only top acts with global appeal manage to make it internationally. 

As it is, an international career in urban music is a non-starter for Gambian artists due to the lack of appeal and relevant content. 

Authentic African styles - e.g. Afromanding as pioneered by Ifang Bondi - however are popular internationally as proved by the likes of Foday Musa Suso, Musa Mboob, Dawda Jobarteh, Sura Susso, Sona Jobarteh, Ayo Sonko, Juldeh Camara to name a few Gambian artists. 

To get international recognition takes major investments, long-term planning and often years of plying the club circuit. That’s how almost all successful acts started off! One-hit wonders are a fluke, a life-time career is serious hard work. 

Doing showcases at music trade show/expos and music contests, trying to support the bill of major acts is a useful way to earn credit.

For international touring booking agencies are crucial, because - contrary to what Gambian artists believe - promoters DO NOT book artists directly.  

 

Booking agencies seek and negotiate contracts on behalf of the artist, plan tours, take care of publicity, facilitate work permits and work visa - instead of tourist visa which explicitly forbid employment. (That’s why artists traveling on spec with a tourist visa get stuck in the informal club circuit and private events).

Getting on a booking agency’s roster requires a professional status as recording artist + outstanding performer and, most importantly, artistic originality. 

 

Agents, promoters, producers ALWAYS check artists’ LIVE performances, at live gigs and/or online on YouTube/Facebook. So NEVER upload crap stuff - messy shows/rehearsals etc. - it may badly backfire!

People often think of international tours as fun trips, but a very tight schedule of 30+ gigs at a 30,000+ road kilometres is like a military exercise. That’s why I choose my musicians not only for their musical qualities but also for discipline, endurance and positive disposition. True, touring often is an interesting experience - like meeting and collaborating with fellow musicians from all over the world - but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. 

BOTTOM LINE - "Why isn't the Gambian music industry growing"

- The Gambia is too small to provide a regular income for a large number of artists, not least due to the country’s bad economy.

 

- The level of professionalism of the average Gambian artist falls short of international standards, with recordings unsuitable to perform live, hence foreign artists take over the high end of the Gambian market.

- Without a unique and relevant artistic product combined with a professional status Gambian artists are impossible to sell internationally. 

- An international career needs considerable investments in time and money before paying off - if at all - which is a major hurdle. 

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE ARTIST COMMUNITY

Stop kindergarten squabbles on social media. Stop these absurd obsessions with who’s highest/lowest in the pecking order. Stop blaming promoters from hell, barmy presenters, sabotaging DJs, spiteful fellow artists, disloyal fans, invasion of alien artists etc. for the chronic underperformance of Gambian artists. Stop unrealistic expectations in terms of outrageous fees and glam lifestyle. Stop hyping oneself as a star expecting it to turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy - it will not! 

Instead concentrate on honing your professional skills and career ONLY, get yourself as much vocational training as possible, never quit learning.

Check how successful professional artists work, if possible attend their rehearsals and/or workshops or even sound checks.

 

Be different, think out of the box, develop a unique profile - the best way to eliminate competition, especially if you have international ambitions. 

Rather than Investing in yet another video in a hotel lobby cum dancers, invest in staging a truly professional and state-of-the art live entertainment show, suitable for a full length video recording which will  appeal to a wide audience.

 

Last but not least, when things don’t work out - artistically and/or business-wise - accept that entertaining simply isn’t the right trade for you. Instead stick to entertaining as an enjoyable leisure activity. 

After all it’s the informal sector that forms the cradle of creativity within our society! 

 

© 2017 Badou Jobe

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