By the time you read this, Jeanne d’Arc Butera, commonly known as Knowless, will still be exhausted from months of performances around the country during the recently concluded edition of Primus Guma-Guma Super Star Season 5. The finale came to a climax last Saturday in a spectacular event complete with fireworks that saw Knowless walk home with a grand prize of Rwf24m, among other benefits.
Knowless is the fifth winner of this annual competition that has run since 2011 and has undergone many changes to become one of the biggest events on Rwanda’s social calendar. Past winners include Thomas Muyombo a.k.a Tom Close, James Ruhumuriza a.k.a King James, Emery Gatsinzi a.k.a Riderman, and Joshua Polly Tuyishime, a.k.a Jay Polly respectively.
The event has also seen so many musicians take part, millions of people attend live shows while in one way or another, businesses have also had a chance to make big sums of money. From inception, PGGSS branded its image as a competition that promotes local talent and upcoming artistes. It promised to play a role in being impactful in advancing the local entertainment industry.
Yet some people have argued that PGGSS is more of an avenue for the organisers to do business than it is to promote talent. On the other hand, there are some who believe that without this competition, our industry would still be lagging behind.
The entertainment industry has had a rather slow growth, almost always marred with inconsistencies. The issues plaguing the industry range from young, inexperienced players to lack of foresight. In mid-2000, the first mainstream artistes, KGB, Family Squad, Just Family, The Brothers, Miss Shanel, Miss Jojo and Miss Ally, among others, took the country by storm.
Their music saved the boring entertainment days through the years until 2008/09 when new talent started coming up. It wasn’t long before Tom Close, Meddy, The Ben and the like invaded the music scene and changed it completely. They started collaborating with East African artistes and they can be credited with putting Rwanda on the entertainment map.
It wasn’t long before Bralirwa spotted an opportunity to contribute to the local music industry through its Primus brand. In 2011, they kicked off the competition under the flagship name; Primus Guma-Guma Super Star and it immediately took the country by storm. For locals, this was an opportunity to eventually put faces to the names of their local musicians.
However, throughout the years, people have constantly questioned its intentions as it continuously enhanced popularity of musicians who were already established, hence creating confusion on who really should be described as an “upcoming musician”. On the other hand, the beer and soft drinks company has been applauded for giving little known artistes reason to work hard and, in the process, some can credit their popularity to the competition.
Impact on local talent
The debate about the impact of PGGSS competitions is one that can never come to an end. PGGSS participant Jules Sentore says that the competition has had both a positive and negative impact on the entertainment industry, especially with artistes.
“This competition has in some way raised the bar for artistes because most of them now put in more effort when it comes to the production of their songs. They are paying more attention to the quality of songs they release and their work ethic has improved,” he said.
On the other hand, he says that there are musicians who only produce songs when the competition is around the corner which is wrong because they forget that everyone participating in PGGSS is a winner.
“Some of them don’t even hold concerts but wait for Guma-Guma which is wrong because that doesn’t improve a musician because their quality standards decline but because their songs are hitting at the moment, they end up in the competition,” he added.
However, seasoned entertainment journalist Claude Kabengera doesn’t entirely agree with Sentore. In fact, he says that the competition contributes a smaller percentage to the artistes as compared to what Bralirwa benefits.
“When Guma-Guma first came, they promised to promote local talent and the music industry in general but if you look at how things have gone over the years, it has only been a marketing gimmick hidden behind the promotion of music. They have contributed 30 per cent to the artistes while they have benefitted 70 per cent, especially from the sale of their products,” he says.
He continues to say that spending eight months with these artistes on the road around the country to stage free shows reduces their public appeal.
“Who would want to go for a concert after watching Dream Boys play for free for five years? I understand that they benefit from the Rwf1m per month which doesn’t come regularly for the artiste but they could make it in one concert. So, Guma-Guma took advantage of their vulnerability to ride on their names,” he says.
Kabengera, however, recognises the fact that musicians have benefitted from being popular with the masses in villages which would have otherwise been so difficult.
Although Kabengera says that artistes don’t gain much, musician Queen Cha disagrees with him. She says that artistes have benefited a lot from Guma-Guma.
“The competition has raised the bar for musicians. They are constantly upgrading their songs, and live performances have improved. What I find disturbing is the fact that some musicians think that not being part of the competition is the end of their career and that is very wrong because we should not rely on Guma-Guma alone,” she said.
Her words were also echoed by Incredible Records Manager Khizz Kizito who said that Guma-Guma has helped Rwanda’s entertainment industry by promoting artistes and adding value to their work.
“Although the criterion for choosing who goes into the competition is complicated, the competition is healthy for our industry. For example, seven years ago, many artistes weren’t making the equivalent of Rwf1m they are making today,” he said.
Kizito added that the only problem is with musicians who have won the competition but have failed to make a strong impact on the industry.
“With such a big reward, one would expect regional and international collaborations by these artistes but that’s not the case,” he added.
But, while Kizito finds the competition healthy for the industry, Kina Music label Manager Clement Ishimwe says that the competition is not about artistes as many people like to think.
“Bralirwa’s first target is promoting Primus beer and the artistes come second. Artistes benefit through meeting their fans in rural areas and that’s the end. On the other hand, Bralirwa benefits by taking top artistes on the road for six months, selling their beer and reducing the artistes’ brand image,” he said.
Ishimwe says that the Rwf1m the artistes receive every month is not enough considering how they are required to dress, hire backup dancers, among other things.
“During the competition, they are not allowed to do any other work. Bralirwa uses them even during the week. If you divide Rwf1m by four weeks, it comes to Rwf200,000. So, imagine that amount for an artiste,” he added.
Ishimwe said that because of free concerts anymore, people don’t attend artistes’ concerts because they can wait to watch them during the roadshows which are free. That, in a way, he says, makes even the person who would otherwise pay for a concert hold back and wait for the next roadshow.
“Bralirwa should find ways of making people pay at the roadshows otherwise our artistes are losing value. As for promotion of local or upcoming talent, there’s nothing like that,” he added.
In an interview with The New Times, Julius Kayoboke, Bralirwa’s Marketing Director, said that they are confident that they have so far played a positive role in changing the face of the music industry in Rwanda.
“We are confident that we have raised the bar as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. We have made a difference in advancing the music industry but we also look at it as a way of giving back to our people and music in general. We have also helped to expose musicians like Jay Polly and King James who are now comfortable to perform in other countries,” he said
He refuted rumours that the competition could have wrapped up this year and instead promised a better and more interesting competition ahead.
“We will be back next year but as always we endeavour to make it more interesting which means that there might be a few changes to make it livelier. This year, we graduated from playbacks to semi-live shows across the country, we will continue to make PGGSS an event to look forward to,” he said.
What music fans think
The excitement, fun and screams of the fans when they see these musicians can only be explained by someone who has attended a roadshow. For most of them, it’s the only chance to see these artistes live on stage.
“I never thought I would see most of these artistes on stage. I mean, where would I get money to watch Knowless live on stage or Bruce Melody? To the fans, it’s not about the cheap beer but getting to see these artistes and that’s why we don’t mind queuing up for long,” said Damascene Niyonkuru, a resident of Kabeza in Kigali and a fan of Bruce Melody.
Niyonkuru says that Guma-Guma came to give artistes opportunities as well as get them closer to their fans. For Patrick Rukundo, it was the first time to attend Guma-Guma and he says it was a good experience.
“I am rarely in the country but this time round, I was around for the Nyamirambo roadshow and it was exciting to watch these artistes perform on stage and their fans carrying placards bearing their favourite artistes’ name, all screaming, jumping and singing along. I think, other than the business aspect of the whole thing, it’s a good thing for music fans,” he said.
The debate on whether Guma-Guma is beneficial remains and obviously local artistes and their fans are still divided. The role of the PGGSS in promoting music in general can’t be ignored but the jury is still out.
YOUR VOICE: Do you think PGGSS has contributed to the local music industry?
Yes, real music is beginning to filter through
Alex Muyoboke, Talent Promoter
In terms of talent discovery and promotion, yes, the competition has played a role in developing the Rwandan music industry. This can clearly be seen in the promotion of live music; which eventually promotes creativity and innovation and, ultimately, their talents. However, financially, I think the money is still little but what’s important is that real music, which is live music, is finally getting its rightful place.
There is a lot to reap from PGGSS
Young Grace, Artist
What PGGSS is doing is to build the Rwandan music industry and there are many achievements to be proud of at the moment. For instance, artists get an opportunity to move around the country to meet and entertain their fans. Then there is the media publicity that comes with the competition, the benefits that come with learning how to sing live music and financially many artists’ lives are never the same after the competition.
PGGSS undervalues artistes
Peter Nshuti; Producer-Touch Records
From my point of view, PGGSS has not contributed to the development of music industry in Rwanda in any way.
In fact, it has undervalued it in a way. This competition does not only steal the artistes’ time which could be used to work on more lucrative projects but it’s organisers also don’t sufficiently reward these people for their tireless efforts. The money they get can’t sustain them. For instance, they have to pay producers who help them, there are outfits to think about and then they also have to cater for other essential expenses in their work. The way I see it, the competition benefits the promoters more than the artistes. Superstars deserve better.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba