On November 9th last year, I watched Benezeri Wanjala Chibita perform. His song was fairly new and not many people knew it or him for that matter. About a handful of people were singing along while the rest quietly watched or chatted with a friend.
After his performance, he walked up to me and said “Thank you for the opportunity to perform here.” I do not know if he could see the shock on my face. Whereas it wasn’t the first time 40 days over 40 smiles had been in contact with artists at our events, it was rare that they would be the ones to show gratitude and not the other way around.
He later added that he was so impressed with the work we did, he wanted to have a concert and have proceeds dedicated to the cause on May 8th 2014.
The Champion Concert was indeed held on May 8th 2014 and Benezeri Wanjala Chibita fulfilled his promise.
How does a 20 year old choose to have a concert on a Thursday at the MTN arena and expect people to come? There is work/school the next day and this is not the most convenient location. Also, it is Hip hop for crying out loud, it isn’t even that popular. What? You want people to donate books too, and carry them to a concert? I knew you were crazy, but that is plain insane.
There were over 500 people who came out that night, they sang, danced and screamed. They watched artists who have been around for a while and then got a taste of some ‘newbies’. They were the first audience to listen to Benezeri’s maiden album and they were given exactly that.
Books? Oh yes, people carried books to a ‘Hip Hap’ concert, about 120 of them to be exact, in boxes even.
There are several Ugandan artists who are comfortable with having a few hits that they are known for, which they shall perform at ‘grand events’, but the best position they can take is that of a ‘curtain raiser’. They have no album to their name and that isn’t such a big deal because they still make money off the hits and remain popular. Other have made great videos. You look at them and can’t remember what the song was about, but you know that this person invested in his product. Others shall have album launches every other day, it doesn’t matter if there are 8 songs including remixes of songs from the one before.
A couple of days ago, Benezeri decided to put his entire album online for free. That is right, all of it.
I caught up with him to find out why he decided to make such a bold move and also picked his brain a bit on music and life.
A little over one week later, how do you feel about the show – the support the hip hop fraternity gave you and the fans that showed up for the Champion concert?
The night of May 8th seems like a dream. A recent dream. It was such a glorious night. So many people to thank. Every musician that came through and spared a few hours to be, and perform, at the concert, I’m really grateful. I can’t remember any time I saw all those people in one place, especially just out of love and support. It was deep. I’m forever grateful to the people that came through to attend the show. It was such a humbling and satisfying feeling to see each and everyone of them. The support I received after too, was special. It’s like everybody was genuinely happy for me . It’s been a rewarding experience.
What were some of your biggest challenges as you planned this concert?
I think the biggest challenge was finding the resources to pay for the venue, the events company and many other costs.
I learnt so many lessons. But one of them was that if you believe and trust in God, and you back that up with persistence and a good team, nothing is impossible.
You have decided to put your album up for free download, this isn’t something you hear every day. What drove you to make this decision? What has the reaction been so far?
As expected, I have received a lot of condemnation and criticism, but mostly from “industry” people. I have got tonnes of calls, whatsapps and messages asking me whether I’m in my normal mind frame. The consumers though, are very happy and are listening. They like the songs which is such a huge reward for me.
I put up the album for free download for many reasons. The main reason being, I really wanted people to listen to the album and share it. When I made this album, I wasn’t thinking about how much money I wanted to make. I was thinking about how much I wanted people to hear it.
Secondly, if Kanye West or Chris Brown or even Ice Prince releases an album, I will be able to access and download it the next day. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s the artiste that puts it up for download. What matters is that it is accessible and it indirectly benefits the artiste because people are able to listen and that is every musician’s greatest reward.
Next, the people that buy CD’s don’t do so because they can’t find the song somewhere else. An avid fan will first download the songs and then if they have the money, they will purchase the CD. The 2 are not mutually exclusive. Actually, people that buy CD’s in this day and age consider the CD a souvenir or something they can look at and be proud of and keep. That’s why the “Champion” CD can also be bought at Soundcup (Garden city) for UGX 20,000.
Finally, ‘it’s not about the money, we just wanna make the world dance.’ Of course not literally, I’m not a dancehall artiste. But, I definitely will not let money cloud my judgement and decisions. As somebody said in one of the online debates that ensued after my announcement, “Open your eyes, money is not the only reward in life”
What is next for Benezeri?
The next thing I’m working on is a few very nice videos for the songs I have recorded. Look out for those.
Slowly by slowly, I shall also be working on my next album for 2016. I’m also hoping to graduate in early 2016.
What message do you have for young dreamers?
My message to young dreamers is, no one else will ever see your vision as clearly as you, so stop wasting time debating it with people and seeking their approval. Instead, get started. Also, people are fond of “advising” and discouraging. One of my favorite quotes from Kanye West is “How are you going to convince me that I will not succeed in something, by giving me an example of how you failed in another?” There’s always a first time for everything.
There you have it, follow the links for Benezeri’s free music and purchase a copy of the CD ‘for free’ at only 20,000 Ugx from Sound Cup (Third floor, Garden City Mall)
Writer’s Note: If we look close enough, we shall realise that all the role models we are looking for are right here, at home-doing extraordinary things with the least resources. If we support them, their limitless potential shall have limitless results.
This interview was originally published on the authors blog.