Long road to recovery as creatives are hit hard by coronavirus

Saturday March 28 2020

Artistes perform at the Bayimba International Festival in Kampala. The festival has been postponed indefinitely. PHOTO | COURTESY | BAYIMBA FESTIVAL


The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world's arts calendar upside down, as artistes and organisers around the world are either postponing or cancelling festivals, concerts, tours, theatre shows, movie premieres, and film and television productions, some in the middle of shooting.

But beyond this, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of two great African musicians — Manu Dibango and Aurlus Mabele—in the past week.

Dibango, the legendary Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader died on March 24 in Paris at the age of 86.

He was one of the pioneers of Afro-jazz, having developed a distinctive musical style fusing jazz, funk and traditional Cameroonian music. A resident of Paris, he was best known for his 1972 hit Soul Makossa. He recorded 45 albums.

Mabele, 67, also died in Paris, where he was based, on March 19. He was born in Congo-Brazzaville and his fans called him the king of soukous—a high energy Congolese dance.

He sold more than 10 million albums in his career and his greatest hits include Embargo, Waka Waka and Zebola. He helped co-start the band Loketo, which released hits such as Choc a Distance, Douce Isabelle and Extra Ball.


Musicians are facing their biggest challenge ever because many are self-employed. Those already established are supported by freelancers who depend on festivals, concerts, tours and exhibitions to earn a living.

Their fall-back position is earnings from royalties. However, in many African countries where collective management organisations are poorly managed or do not exist, it will take some time for the sector to recover from the cancellations.


As the pandemic continues to disrupt normal life, governments have banned mass gatherings—social, cultural, political and entertainment—to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

African music stars like Tanzania’s Diamond Platinumz and Nigeria’s Davido have cancelled or postponed their tours.

“Coronavirus, We have postponed my Europe Tour…New dates will be announced soon….#SafetyFirst,” Platnumz posted on Instagram. He was scheduled to perform in France, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Sweden in March.

Cancelling his North American tour that was scheduled for March, Davido announced in a tweet: “I’m saddened to halt what has been a fantastic sold-out tour so far, but postponing is the right thing to do. The health and safety of my fans and staff is paramount and nothing else matters. Be safe and see you all soon! God be with us all!”

The 13th edition of the Anoumabo Urban Music Festival (Femua) that was set for April 14 to 19, in Abidjan, has also been postponed.

Some 21 artistes were expected to attend Femua, including Koffi Olomide (DR Congo), Youssou N’Dour (Senegal), Joel Sebunjo (Uganda), Muthoni Drummer Queen (Kenya), Vegedream (France) and David Carreira (Portugal).

In South Africa, the Bushfire Festival, it has been pushed to May 28 to 30, while the organisers of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival have postponed this year’s edition.


Some of the events that have been cancelled or postponed in Uganda include Doadoa (the East African Performing Arts Market) and the Uganda-France Friendship Week 2020 scheduled for March 21-28.

A statement dated March 20 from the Bayimba Foundation reads in part; “At Bayimba we are looking after our friends and neighbours by following government advice and practicing social distancing and cutting down on non-essential travel. We are therefore postponing the ninth edition of Doadoa due to the fact that the majority of the participating artistes and delegates come from the region and around the world, and they cannot travel. The event was meant to take place in Kampala from May 6-9.”

The event is now scheduled for May 2021.

The Tugende Mukikadde show that was set for April 4, at Kampala Serena Hotel, has been rescheduled to June 6. The Uganda National Cultural Centre has also postponed all shows, rehearsals, classes, meetings and any public gathering at the National Theatre in Kampala for one month.

The much anticipated restaging of Alex Mukulu’s play 30 Years of Bananas at the National Theatre in Kampala from March 21 was cancelled.

South Africa

On March 15, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa declared coronavirus a national disaster and banned gatherings of more than 100 people at a time, live events and performances.

The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) has expressed fears for the livelihood of its members saying: “We are gravely concerned about what this ban on large gatherings will mean for our members’ financial well-being.”

The organisation is also responsible for collecting royalty fees and distributing it to its more than 16,000 authors, composers and publishers.

The majority of Samro members rely on royalties and income from events.

Samro requested members to contact their creditors, particularly financial institutions and landlords to negotiate payment terms. They also asked event owners not to cancel but postpone shows and events until the ban on large gatherings has been lifted.

Shot in the arm

Alexander Aheebwa of Bayimba Production Ltd says, “When the storm settles, the public and the economy will need the proverbial ‘shot in the arm’. Culture will be nowhere near the top of the list for bailouts as healthcare, tourism and Uganda Airlines get priority. Creatives have to be aware of this.”

On the impact of Covid-19 on the arts and culture in East Africa and Africa in general, Bayimba executive director Faisal Kiwewa said: “It would be difficult to quantify the impact because there are no benchmarks for East Africa or the continent to compare with. Whereas we are all aware of the arts industry still being informal in structure and operations, the pandemic will hit artistes who perform live weekly in bars, restaurants, and clubs.

“The entire value chain will crumble. People pay for art not as a necessity but a luxury—when they have some extra cash to spare.”

Philip Luswata, a playwright, actor and producer, said: “I think the question should be what measures should artistes take to compensate for such eventualities. We shouldn’t be the ones to cry ‘government where are you’. The government must first see the organisation on our end.”

He urged creatives to use the internet to explore money-making avenues like live-streaming.

Kenyan band Sauti Sol held a virtual performance over the weekend on their Instagram Live page. Elsewhere in the world, opera companies and orchestras, galleries, museums and musicians have shifted to the internet where anyone around the world can watch free of charge.

The Berlin Philharmonic and New York’s Met Opera are live-streaming their concerts. The Italian Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC are offering virtual tours.