As one of the most respected musicians in Namibia, Simeon Kanima, better known as Percy Sledge, has tears in his eyes when he opens his heart on the topic of live music being suffocated by what he calls “modern day crap.”
“Modern technology is killing live music,” he says emphatically. “Music no longer has passion, neither soul, message, nor heart.”
“When did you last go to a gig? Even if you’re someone who loves to see your favourite local bands performing, it’s undeniable that many people are being deterred by high ticket costs,” he says.
He also points out that it’s no secret that promoters often push up prices to create further demand when concerts are selling well. This seems to highlight that it’s not about the music and more about the money.
Apart from annual big commercial shows like the NAMAs and Namrock, there are only the Warehouse and Boiler Room left in Windhoek where you can see live bands in action. But you have to pay the price and most of the time the bands performing are ones you don’t enjoy or really appreciate.
“They get rammed down your throat, whether you like it or not. Gone are the days of live bands singing their hearts out and playing their instruments with passion and depth with soulful lyrics to accompany that. We are experiencing a lost youth with little passion to support live music. It’s a disaster. That’s pretty sad,” laments the man with the powerful voice that can only be fully appreciated when you hear him perform live.
He says live music has become obsolete in the black community of Windhoek. Vocalist, guitarist and owner of Dylan’s club, Tony Fourie, agrees with Sledge.
“Live music is dead in the white community as well. I’m on a crusade to bring back live music but it’s an uphill battle,” says the man who wants to bring back the thrill of smaller live music gigs at affordable prices at his popular club.
But the big question is: is there a generational shift away from live music? The answer appears to be yes.
A New Era Weekend survey reveals that young fans don’t have disposable income, and once they’ve bought a ticket they still need money for merchandise and drinks. So they are happier having a drink at home. In Windhoek, space has become a huge problem. Every available square inch in the capital is being treated as if, and sold or leased for prices that suggest, it is the last cookie left in the jar. This makes life rather hard for promotors looking for suitable, safe and affordable buildings to stage live music at venues that can accommodate big numbers to warrant all the expenses to put up something of this magnitude and still pay the poor musicians.
But there are a few music bar and club owners in Windhoek who genuinely work to protect small-capacity venues of 100 people or less. They go to great lengths to keep the live music scene going. So, it’s not all doom and gloom after all.
But the overall music scene is actually more ‘alive’ than ever, thanks to technology. Its omnipresence is incredibly apparent and this is taking off all over the world, even in emerging markets. According to reports from international watchdogs, 46% of the music industry’s revenue actually comes from digital channels. Music streaming is especially popular and 34% of the revenue in 2015 was coming from them alone as reported by Time.
Music streaming is a way to listen to music through the internet. Users are usually offered a choice to either pay for such services or simply stream for free.
“Music streaming sites’ appeal comes from the fact that they’re highly accessible and cross-platform. They’re also more affordable than other options,” says Sledge.
The market leader, Spotify, reports that 60 million of their 75 million subscribers as of the end of 2015 opted for their completely free, slightly limited service.
With nifty fingers, Sledge gently removes an old-fashioned vinyl record from his impressive collection, sticks it onto his turntable and spins the record. The real Percy Sledge from the fifties and sixties voice fills the room with the powerful lyrics of “My Special Prayer.”
The song reminds him of the days when live music ruled. “I was a twelve-year-old boy that was very impressed by live musicians in Tsumeb where I grew up. I one day asked the old toppies in one of the bands if I could get on stage and sing that incredible song. That was one of the highlights of my life; to be able to perform on stage. What a moment.”
“Serious musicians just don’t perform live regularly anymore. There simply are no venues. Where must we go? In this age of a generation of technology junkies.”
“Who knows where the music industry will be in five years? It’s pretty clear that audiences all over the world are still interested in music, so all that the live gig industry has to do is find a way to adapt to the times. It can happen and we’ll certainly be sorry if it doesn’t,” Sledge remarks.
“The smallest venues are falling off the chart. What we’re left with are these mega-shows with very high ticket prices, which buoy the headline figure.”
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what sexual orientation you are, live music is a communicator. If there isn’t a creative offering nearby, why would anyone want to live in them?”
“Live music is dying. Several decades ago, a band could count on regular club dates. Unknown jazz bands could do the circuit and make at least some money. Not anymore. I am feared by the new generation because they just don’t get the message of performing live. They have too many entertainment options at home — the internet, iPods, cable TV, Netflix; there is less incentive to go out on the town. Fewer people are willing to take a chance on unknown music. As a consequence, many venues can’t afford to pay bands and expect you to play for tips — which is fine to get a career going, but how can you sustain that?”
Live music as viable entertainment hangs on in some ways, but it begs the question, how does one get a national reputation if you can’t perform live?
“It just seems so underappreciated now, what with the studio technological revolution. The whole pay-to-play bullshit certainly isn’t helping things either,” he says.