Jidenna, Doen Moen, Mtukudzi, Bruce Melodie, Adekunle Gold, and most recently Nigeria’s Timaya are all stars who have graced the Kigali Jazz Junction, one of the biggest events on the country’s entertainment calendar. After a long break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, events are slowly coming back with revelers looking forward to concerts. The New Times’ Jade Natacha Iriza spoke with Remy Lubega, the founder of the Kigali Jazz Junction about a variety of topics including professionalizing the industry and what fans should expect this year. How do you introduce yourself? An entrepreneur and a creative. A man of many coats and jackets. Music business is a passion. I admire talent then promote and showcase that talent through events and concerts. Its been quite a journey of 25 years. How did you survive during the pandemic when concerts were banned? It wasnt easy. We had to think outside the box. We started selling onions and tomatoes. We launched an e-commerce platform called kimironkomarket.com. So how did you bounce back? When Covid-19 went down and then the market started to open. We thought, “how do we get back to what we do best? We said lets bring the biggest trending artist in Africa for now, which was Adekunle Gold at a time. That was the biggest risk that we took, but yeah, it was a success. People never expected to have an international act in a pandemic. How profitable is this industry? Events are profitable and very viable businesses depending on your strategy. Where do you see the potential in this industry? As far as Rwanda is concerned, this is just the beginning. We have not yet optimized to say that weve done it all. We are not as big on events as it is in South Africa or in Nigeria where you have an event on Monday and its crazy, we are not yet there, but we will get there. Remember Rwanda is coming from a position where people were attending events for free. Awilo Longomba performing at Kigali Jazz Junction at Kigali on October 25, 2019. Primus GumaGuma has always been almost free and it was the biggest event for almost 10 years. People were just paying Rwf500 which is less than a dollar, that alone had its detrimental aspects as far as events are concerned. Venues were a big challenge but now have the [Kigali] Arena, Canal Olympiad, Camp Kigali, and a few other places. Thirdly, we had a challenge of sponsors but now there is a new understanding that events carry mileage and that companies can use them to market their products and services. Also, now we have a wide scope of musicians, giving different varieties of music. Back then we had a narrow pool. So all these aspects work in synergy to determine where you want to be in the next two or three years or five years. Speaking of how far Rwanda still has to go…why do local concerts have such bad sounds? It depends on the producer of the show. Quality has to come from the owner of the event. If you do not optimize quality and you dont know how to protect your name, youre definitely going to compromise on most things. And when you compromise, quality definitely goes down. Weve been on that journey and we have challenged ourselves not to have such mistakes on our shows. There have been complaints that people buy VIP tickets but they end up taken. Concerns like overbooking were highlighted… is it a problem of greed or poor organization? This is a young growing industry. Sometimes you book a venue and then you are given numbers that do not actually equate to the numbers of tickets you’re selling. As an event organizer, you need to look through end-to-end on each of these aspects. It happened once on our end where we were given a venue and the numbers were not actually real. After youve put up the stage you would find that the numbers were shrinking. A person tells you that the venue has the capacity to host 5,000 people, and they don’t describe the details, that’s when they are standing. So if youre selling tables and you aim at selling almost 4,000 tickets for people sitting on tables. Definitely, the table will take much more space than people standing. So the calculation there will go messy in most cases This is a learning process. You take what youve not done right and make it right the next time. It is not about greed. What can be done to ensure better organization and service for ticket holders? We are training our human resources. Capacity building is very important for the people we employ to help us put up these events. Now with ticketing going online, it gives you great projections and knows when I have sold out. Before, people were just buying tickets at the gates. So you have a queue and you dont know whats happening. But now we can do a forecast and a little bit of planning and contingency measures. There also seems to be conflicts between event organizers and authorities. As an event organizer, how can we ensure better coordination by all stakeholders? Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) is working to bring all stakeholders together for each and every particular event that happens to make sure that quality is assured the regulations are respected. Usually what happens is miscommunication, especially in terms of acquiring permission. It is either your approval is given late and then one agency misses out on the detail of what was agreed by the other. RCB is now convening for each event you plan, have all the stakeholders meeting; the venue, the police, the event owner, and vendors that are going to be supplying at that event so that you can all harmonize. I think that is great. You have brought many popular artists. You have also put up some shows like ‘Live Rock Music to Town’, and others. Would you tell me three artists you would like to see performing in Kigali and why? In my lifetime, Phil Collins. My dream is to have Phil Collins, Rod Stewart…those are my two favorite ones for old schools sake. I look at an artist with his artistry, a complete package. Hes a guy who plays drums, he plays keys, he plays guitar, he can sing. Hes enormous. Hes a producer, hes a songwriter. Oh my God, hes accomplished, its a whole package. So I would want him to do what he does best. For the millennials, big artists are coming. I just dont want to spill it out there because you know, we are in a competitive game, so you never know who is listening right now, but we have very epic, trending millennial artists that are coming down in this town, just like, weve already surprised you before. What are you currently doing to bring them? We are already in touch. Negotiations are going on, looking at their calendars, their tours, and all that. Well be announcing our year calendar in May. In May we shall have at least 60% of confirmation of all the artists that we are doing all this year. Cause we are planning to do eight series of events this year. Let us come back home, what do you think about our local artists? Well, They have grown. I would say the market has grown or the industrys growing, but theres a lot to do. I don’t want to comment a lot because they may take it personally. But out of experience, I will tell you there is a big challenge in terms of understanding what show business is. Most of them misinterpret it for ego. South African singer Zahara known for the song ‘Loliwe’ performed at Kigali Jazz Junction in Kigali on Friday evening on May 31, 2019. / Sam Ngendahimana They think the more you have the ego, the more you are a celebrity. Also, they still have challenges with management. We dont have people who are really skilled in managing and nurturing talent. Who has been the best artist to work with and why? Both local and foreign It has always been Bruce Melodie for me. He is very humble and optimistic. I remember when we were thinking about doing the election song, I just got an idea in the middle of the night, picked up my phone, and told him “this song of yours of ‘twanyoye twasinze’, I’m thinking we need to tweak it to make this campaign even more fabulous. I said, what would you think of changing it to ‘twatoye twatsinze’ . He was like “Remy you are crazy” and I was like ``lets do that and he was like “okay, let me come meet you”. As for a foreign one, Oliver Mtukudzi. Ill give you a scenario. The time I got him here, the daughter had got into an accident. I had booked Oliver for three years and he was fully booked. So I just told them “guys, please, any day you would feel you would come to Kigali I’m game.” So one of those good days, God answered my prayer. After we confirmed the day he was flying, the daughter got into a serious accident. She was in an emergency. He still came to Kigali and the manager said, “we are only here because we committed” that for me was very humbling. Ringo Madlingozi from South Africa was also very cool. Jidena as well. Also Don Moen. Most of them are cool, especially since they pick the vibe from what you give them. Once you give them a very good vibe in terms of your professionality everyone is happy. Concluding, is there anything else you would want to add? I want to encourage everyone to come and support the industry. Feedback is very important for us to get where you want us to get.