… The entrance, remaining relevant, and taking on opportunities
Dubbed to be one of Namibia’s most successful artists and the master of conscious music, Big Ben needs no introduction to most Namibian as his music has etched his name in the memoirs of the Namibian music industry. We know him for his hit song ‘Moro-moro’ released over a decade ago but still hits the airwaves. But not only that, his footprint in the industry has inspired many young artists, showing what it really takes to be a natural artist.
Over the years, he has bagged a number of accolades in the industry, including the Namibia Annual Music Awards’ much vied-for Best Male Artist of the Year in 2016. Not only has he proved to be a lyrical master, but his love and voice for matters related to current affairs, especially those in the arts industry, makes him an artist with a voice off the stage.
Considering the hustles artists, creators and entertainers at large go through, The Lounge met with the musical legend who shows no sign of dropping the mic anytime soon. We talked to him about what it takes to enter the industry, survive, and remain relevant while hitting the juke boxes every year.
In these economic turbulences, while we worry about the survival and struggles of the Namibian musician, Big Ben says his worry is in general with the average person on the street. He is worried about the person who has nothing to trade for money.
“It is a jungle out here, and I am worried about the average man on the streets. Today it means if the little they had left after buying food and paying to buy my CD, this recession means that they now do not have money. And those who never have anything will still not have a thing. So talk about the struggle of the local musicians, we are the bottom feeders and at times like this, you can only imagine our struggle.”
Is the industry welcoming?
“Becoming a musician in this land of opportunities is easy, by what differentiates us is commitment. It is a basic thing in every industry. You can do a good song on your phone and be the big thing. The radios will play it. Consistency is the problem though. If you do not have the discipline to know that I have this number of hours a day, I need to contribute the energy, thoughts and activities to bring in money, then you will not stay around for long.
“So you have artists who fail to feed themselves because, firstly, the product they are selling is not marketable,and even if they have a good product, the amount of work they put into their production is not enough and they simply don’t do the right things.
“All this is true of Namibian music because we do not have mentorship, training and we do not have education and the support we need in order to support the activities.
“Go to Bank of Namibia now and ask for a loan to do music – they will laugh at you. The banks will not finance you. But they can finance a bakery that sells bread. So the banks will not finance you because your own government also does not take you seriously.
“It is sad because we employ dancers, people who pay rent and people with children that need bread and go to school the following day? Why is my contribution to GDP not worth it? But this is nothing new. Ask yourself, when last did the government build a performing centre or theatre, yet we promote Windhoek to be a cultural hub?
“It’s not fair for politicians to show off one day by donating a few hundred dollars and look like they understand and then be quiet for the whole year. How do you think this person who painted the President’s portrait has survived for the past ten years?
“The government needs to invest in the industry because there are people who add value to this nation. Soon they will ask us to pay tax.
Is the grass leveled?
“Put simply, the opportunities are there for those who identify the opportunity and employ strategies that turn those opportunities into revenues streams. In this industry, any opportunity is for the taking and it is always taken by those who go for it. Money goes to those who go to get it. Some musicians are very aggressive in how they run their business, but there are those who are not.
“I learned a lot from some of the young artists, their attitude towards their work it woke me up. They know what they want. I emulated their approach and I see it works. I’ve learned from people like The Dogg, Gazza, as well as the ladies like Sally and Oteya. We watch these people and you see the principles are there. So you ask if the playing field is levelled, it’s a jungle out there and only the strong survive.
Perform for exposure?
“This can be a problem as much as it can be an opportunity. It makes sense to perform for exposure to a certain extent – as long as you get the right audience. You need to convince the audience and get them into your product. And then when you feel they can now buy without being motivated, then you can stop. You have marketed yourself and people now know you.
“It is necessary to market yourself. When somebody says come and perform for exposure, you need to know your crowd, so ask yourself if your crowd is going to be there. There is nothing to promote if you do kwaito and perform at an Insurance company event because your fans are not going to be there.
Lessons on being relevant
“The real entertainment industry is about engaging people on a personal level. Namibians are still conservative people. You can look big there with hundred thousand followers on social media but you are just a ball in the air. Until you touch ground with the old man sitting out there who knows that they are going to listen to your CD in the car.
“Musicians still have to learn to keep their music in their backpacks and talk to the people. Walk in there, don’t be a star. Greet the people because that person buys the CD or gives money to the kid who buys your CD.
“I need to be relevant by exposing what’s in people’s minds and hearts. The content of my music needs to reflect their thoughts. I cannot be singing about driving Lamborghinis if I’ve never driven one and the people I’m singing to have never seen it.
The man I’m singing about is the man who has to pick up 25 liters of water to take home and I want to make sure he whistles to my music as he walks home. Not these lies.
“I want to touch people’s feelings. Ask another artist how they will remain relevant, they will tell you something else. I want to learn how to speak Damara so that I can sing a song to the people that they can relate. I want to be able to sing a song in Silozi. If there are people killing each other, I want to sing about it. I want to be part of the people. My relevance lies in reality.”
Being in the industry for 16 years today, the legend has shown no signs of dropping his mic and guitar. He is currently working on his 8th album.
Big Ben says he looks forward to working with local artists as there is still much the country needs to do together at home.