Kigali’s hardy showbiz entrepreneurs merit applause

There was a time in its early days when the Kigali Jazz Junction (KJJ) was too small for the venue in which it is held, Serena hotel; now in its 7th edition, the monthly musical show appears to have become oversize for the site, at least going by the overwhelmed parking area on jazz nights.

There was a time in its early days when the Kigali Jazz Junction (KJJ) was too small for the venue in which it is held, Serena hotel; now in its 7th edition, the monthly musical show appears to have become oversize for the site, at least going by the overwhelmed parking area on jazz nights.

At Friday’s show, one could tell, KJJ is now a household brand that Serena hotel wants to keep at any cost, to continue benefiting from the steady cash-flow powered by jazz patrons most of whom are members of the corporate society enjoying tuneful nights, as they burn office stress.

Also, consider the fact that hotels are not earning as much revenue from room sales as they are, from events. A friend at one of the five-star facilities told me recently, that while they are often overbooked for events, their room sales are at just 40 percent uptake.

So, a gig such as the Jazz Junction, whose patrons include well paid professionals and sponsorships from attention craving corporate brands helps hotel accountants to fill the gaps left behind by empty rooms; yeah, until Kigali hosts the next big international conference.

But you can’t always rely on international guests for hotel room sales and that is why concepts such as RDB’s ‘Explore Rwanda’ or ‘Tembera U Rwanda’ aiming at promoting domestic tourism, are very important and will ultimately yield good results in the medium term.

At Kigali Marriott Hotel, they have a ‘stay-cation’ package, the opposite of ‘vacation’ targeting local tourists from Niboye, Kanombe, Gisozi or even Nyamirambo, wishing to spend a weekend at the five-star facility; it is a good strategy for domestic tourism marketing.

But behind KJJ’s apparent success, there is a story of entrepreneurial resilience by the young men and women in Kigali’s entertainment showbiz industry; these are people that deserve some applause for investing in the city’s night life that is gradually becoming commercially viable.

Remmy Lubega, the man behind the KJJ has cut his teeth on almost everything in showbiz and has weathered the depressing experience to a point today where he can look back and celebrate progress. Serena and Remmy needed each other and a platform like KJJ is the perfect project.

On one hand, you had Remmy whose Neptune’s band needed a major stage to attract a corporate audience and stay commercially viable; on the other was Serena whose reign as Kigali’s only five-star hotel had been ended by the opening of Marriott and Radisson Blu.

They went into a relationship of mutual need and their loyalty to each other is beginning to pay off, where, through his RG Consult, an events and experiential campaign management firm, Remmy identifies the artists to perform and markets the shows for Serena to play good host.

But Serena can become an even better host of the KJJ by addressing the parking problem. The current space is normally filled within minutes forcing patrons into insecure street parking.

From a business perspective, the limited parking is a good problem for Serena as it symbolizes growth. But it also represents an inconvenience for the patrons who include some quite influential figures in Kigali’s corporate and administrative circles.

As we celebrate KJJ’s success, Alpha Sounds, is another resilient brand in the Kigali event’s industry that shouldn’t be forgotten. I don’t know of a major event that Alpha hasn’t produced.

He has grown from just loud speakers to becoming the city’s go to firm for state of the art sound and visual production equipment for events. That digital stage background and the in-house image projections of the performances as well as the great sound, was Alpha at work.

There are other names. Remember Cadillac night club which was destroyed by fire three years ago? That was one of the coolest night spots in town then. Frustrated by insurance claim processes, the entrepreneur had decided to ditch Kigali for the Bujumbura market.

But the stability in Kigali can’t be found elsewhere so, apparently, the showbiz investor is back in form of Coco Bean, located behind the former Top Tower hotel.

The place is a teenagers’ hub mostly but the set-up is spot-on and points to the industry experience of whoever is behind it.

Not far from Coco Bean is People’s club formerly known as KBC. That is one place that to many foreign tourists, it is the official signature of Kigali’s night life. Many may hate it for its unpopular model of asking for entrance fees and banning caps but their survival after so many years says it all.

Sundowner is another member of this small society of resilient showbiz entrepreneurs; a restaurant during day, a bar at night and a discothèque over the weekend, a model that has delivered success to its owners over the years.

At Friday’s Kigali Jazz Junction, City Hall was well represented, a major endorsement for the KJJ organizers and showbiz entrepreneurs in general. If the industry is organized in some sort of leadership, the can lobby the current administration to push through favorable policies.

Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.