Kampala's Startups And The City's Fledgling Live Band Scene Have More In Common Than You Might Think

It’s a Friday evening, a friend is sending endless Whatsapp texts. Dude says he has to arrive on time to watch his favorite band, new kids on the block, The Collective UG. I am elated, largely because I know someone there. The headline band — Lota House — a celebrated Zambian music outfit, would be headlining the show later, and I am really looking forward to it.

Here's The Collective UG in action.

Live bands are generally awesome. I think starting up a band is super thrilling, doubling up as a means to do what you love and learn some of life’s most important lessons. There are several reasons, but camaraderie sure ranks up there.

According to The Axis of Awesome, an Australian musical comedy act, any pop song from the last five decades can possibly be played by just 4 chords: G, D, Em (E minor), and C. That’s a few hours of guitar practice for a complete noob. In fact, in a TED talk by Josh Kaufman about the learning process, it took him 20 hours to learn how to play the ukulele.

The same can be said of startups, learn a programming language or two — C or D, F# (and mark you those are not guitar chords) — plus some dirt cheap cloud hosting package. Then booya, we’re good to go. Build an app. Ship. Test the waters.

Uganda has long been touted as the garden of Eden of entrepreneurship in the whole world time and time again. From the dismal days when she was teetering on the edge of an abyss, decades ago, right to when she walked down the road of recovery. People have been hustling, and it’s not like there is an incentive for that. Darwin was right — survival is for the clickiest.

The only difference between harping chords and harping codes is the former certainly almost has an immediate market to serve and the latter still has a long parade of things to figure, but either way, they survive.

Live bands are starting to dominate the urban entertainment scene, particularly among the young folk, probably fresh from university, and also at weddings, church events, bars and hangout spots.

For startups, especially those in tech, the market is far from operating at its full potential. There is progress though, and that is encouraging. They are tapping into the generous hose of grants and hackathon prize monies. While the sustainability of the hackathon as a business model is questionable, many are thriving in the space, and that’s a good thing.

Computers and the startup movement are both fairly recent phenomena. In comparison, live bands have had a long history in Uganda, from the golden days of Afrigo band in the 70s to the new bands popping up and looking to go mainstream. We’re still some ways away from the runaway success and international fame that a couple of acts have found, but at least the music is appreciated locally — it has that local touch and feel.

The same cannot be exactly said about startups, which are yet to get some TLC from home.

Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, about 50% of the population is below 15 years of age. This serves as an incentive for production and consumption. The kids are technologically savvy and they have rich and diverse tastes, mostly influenced by the pop culture from the wild West.

What’s dumbfounding is the ratio of producers to consumers. There are too few of the former, and some would say too many of the latter, to develop a solid product strategy. Many have been conditioned to consume whatever comes off the assembly line. What that results into is a void in local content, be it apps, movies, music, literature, etc. In the same vein, because of sophisticated tastes, the few local producers grunting away are subjected to criminally high standards of productions (well, except for Wakaliwood, which frankly to me, is all a big joke).

There is a gleam of hope when I see live bands beginning to take center stage in shaping a narrative. And when the audiences in return, show them some love — and money.

When Kenya’s Sauti Sol’s hit song Sura Yako crescendos back here, waists are gyrated, sweat oozes, and excitement fills the air. These same singing sensation played for Obama last year. They have earned the cred. The same can be said about Kenya’s startup scene, erm, devoid of the hype, it’s burgeoning at such rates pointing skyward.

South Africa which is the more mature environment here boasts of bands such as MiCasa, Freshlyground, Mafikizolo. In the same vein, it has a more mature environment for startups and doing business.

Without making sweeping generalisations, the correlation between growth and appreciation of live band music and the scale of startups in a particular domain is high. This is because both respects demand the same effort, exponential imagination and creativity. A computer or guitar, surely like Aladdin's lamp, when rubbed right, would do according to one’s bidding.

Comments