Tusker All Stars. I don't know about you but this title sets the grey matter underneath my cranium alight with images of grim faced, red eyed, bestubbled men in their forties surrounded by crates of brown bottles. Maybe this is a bit extreme, but think about it, it does sound like the name of a drinking competition. But anyway, for the unschooled, it is the latest instalment of the yearly reality TV show sponsored by EABL (East African Breweries) that purports to unearth the brightest musical talent in the East Africa region.
This errant offspring of Tusker Project Fame thumbs its nose at the go-to-the-grassroots-to-do-auditions routine and instead rounds up the previous winners (and almost-winners) and seeks (I suppose) to find the fairest of them all. I must admit at this point that I am as much in the dark about the programme's objective as an Al Shabaab look-out chewing twigs of khat in Mogadishu.
Oh yes, back to the previous winners- curious how the winner (and almosts) of the original copy of the programme are conspicuously absent. Not enough star material to be salvaged? Search me, but it does bring me to the crux of my rant. I am essentially questioning the legitimacy of TPF in all its shapes and forms as a means of discovering and nurturing the latent musical talent in this region. Do TPF's unseen string-pullers really care about growing those hitherto unheard voices into real globe-conquering (or at least continental)artists?
I am well aware that there are no free lunches in today's world and that the chief reason behind this whole circus is to promote EABL and its various products. But wouldn't it be more to their credit if world class entertainers were actually spawned by their 'project' as opposed to a clutch of half-baked, overhyped 'stars' whose musical renown has spread no further than their front porches? I am careful to say 'musical' because many of them have indeed gained fame- as radio presenters, TV show hosts, reporters, actors etc. Forgive me for sounding a bit blonde but I thought the fame was to come from record sales and gigs, not telling us how clogged Museum Hill round-about is at rush hour.
Before you could say 'Project Fame' the show had swallowed Uganda and Tanzania. And before I could memorize the name of that edition's winner, a panel had docked at Juba and started auditions. I must say at this juncture that TPF's contribution to the EAC (East African Community for those who live in caves) is by no means insignificant. But my point is, apart from the growth in viewership, has there been an upward trajectory in the fortunes (musical- not just economic) of the winners of subsequent TPF editions from the first to the present? How is this for a trend; Valerie Kimani, winner of the first (Kenya only) TPF hopped to South Africa and came back with an album put together by Gallo Records. Judging from the airplay and publicity it got, I don't think she could've afforded a meal at the Sankara Hotel from its proceeds. She also had the good fortune of starring in Eric Wainaina's acclaimed musical drama Mo Faya (which clearly landed in her in more fire off-stage). Apparently she was the lucky one. The rest of the winners-rien. I keep hearing they've released albums, but all I've seen is Tanzanian weeping-boy-turned-model Hemedi's video to his single 'Ninachotaka'- and he wasn't even a winner! Ugandan songbird Esther Nabaasta who broke much-vaunted Kenyan David's heart on her way to bagging the Ksh. 5million cash prize for the second TPF seems to have moved to Mars (or Pluto for that matter). In an effort to find out what became of Rwandan winner Alpha I did a frantic Google search and landed on his MySpace page. It informed me that since his 2009 triumph, Alpha has released just 3 singles and a video. There was literally nothing under 'Shows & Events'. I don't know what David, the last TPF winner, is up to but if the fortunes of his predecessors are anything to go by, he has scant reason to be optimistic.
It can be argued that the show's sponsors and organizers have done their part- having blinded some obscure shower singers with the limelight and given the pick of the litter more money than they can stuff into their shower caps. And a number of these former TPF contestants now have well-paying jobs, majority of whom arrived at the auditions with only enough fare to take them back home. I agree, and faced with the leviathan of unemployment, we can't be too picky regarding swords.
Then there is our fickleness as 'fans'. How many of us render these budding artists our support after they have won (or been evicted from) TPF? Do we clamour for their songs to be played on radio? Do we attend their album launches? And how about this- do we buy (not burn) their music?
I don't pretend to know the answer to this apparent stuntedness in the musical growth of TPF winners but are success stories of the caliber of Ruben Studdard and Fantasia too lofty for East Africa?