“Taking stock – Diamond’s Music Scorecard and What Artists can Learn”
As African music lovers absorb the crowning of Nasib Abdul Juma (Diamond Platinumz) as Africa’s top most live act after the seemingly very long road to this year’s MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs); one has to wonder what exactly happened to propel this otherwise very Tanzania-styled artist to the top most echelons of Africa’s biggest music awards show.
I met Diamond in person for the first time in 2009, ironically, at the MAMAs that were then held in Lagos Nigeria and his story read pretty much like most of the other bongo flava acts around at the time. A one hit wonder that has set the music scene on fire but will most likely die out in his own fuel not before too long.
Fortunately for me, I had a follow up encounter with him a couple of years later in 2011; this time for a richer and more engaging discussion that lasted three hours. It was during this encounter that I grew significantly in my appreciation of, not only, his art but also and more importantly, I believe, the artist behind the art.
In my decade-plus career as a consumer marketer in Tanzania, I have come to a conclusion that there are 2 E’s that are prerequisites for effective engagement of young people and that these 2 E’s technically mirror the behavioral preferences of young people at large: the first E is expression and the second E is enterprise.
If there is one thing that the digital era has infused onto our young people it is the power of personal expression; being YOU is not that bad an idea after all, at least not in the ever growing millennial universe. Apart from or as a result of this growing appetite to share more of YOUrself, more young people want to generate income through enterprise, irrespective. There is an idealistic assumption drawn by many young people that personal enterprise is the most potent way to avail them the material resources that will allow them to live in this share, if not, show-happy ‘universe’ they call home.
These two E’s, I can confidently can argue, have had an impact on the three core areas that make up music as an industry, not only in Tanzania, but across the world: (1) the art, (2) the artist and (3) the artistry. One thing is for sure; Diamond is now, not only a student of this school of thought but a much deserving teacher too. Taking stock of what I know, here is how I rate him on these core areas of music on what I call the Music Scorecard.
The art (RATING: 8/10)
Let me start with the art, which is the core of music. Contrary to the general belief, the rules governing the definition of art have not changed. In effect, the rules are becoming more evident as expression becomes more personalized. Simply put, art is what people appreciate and music is art for this very reason. Irrespective of the genre, a music artist has to be talented, at least in the eyes of the audience s/he is performing for. So choosing the right genre (style) of music is just as important as having the talent required to perform it in a way that appeals to ones audience. Diamond scores on this front clearly.
Diamond, by choosing to perform almost religiously a “mwambao” infused afro pop style, has guaranteed himself a wanting audience along the coast of East Africa, while employing a style of music that genuinely sits well with his mother tongue – Swahili. The “mwambao” style is characteristic of the coast’s strong Arab tradition and is lyrically driven, built on strong instrumentalism, is highly melodic yet subtly danceable. “Mwambao” is by far the most consistently infused style in music performed by all the notable titans of Afro Pop that Tanzania has produced over the last decade and a half to dominate the East African music scene. From Lady Jaydee to Mr Nice and Ali Kiba, all the way to the very unlikely Juma Nature, “mwambao” is clearly the gold standard for music appeal in the region. So as the adage saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, clearly from his latest chart toppers, Diamond isn’t about to ‘fix it’ any time soon.
The artist (RATING: 9/10)
This second point is always one of grave contention, but an unavoidable one still: the artist is just as important as the art. As a result of the insurgence of social media and reality TV programming formats, fans are demanding more of the artist, literary, and artists are being compelled to oblige. On this front Diamond also scores deafeningly high marks. Diamond is arguably one of Tanzania’s most self-aware entertainers. He is literary always in character as a result. His superior self-awareness is, arguably, a function of his alertness, receptiveness and military style discipline to do anything, if not everything that builds on this character he has to play out almost everyday called Diamond Platinumz. Diamond, at least, from his choice of first ladies and managers, is always batting above his weight and is not intimidated from engaging superior minds if it will help him build on his brand.
Diamond not only has a quick but careful finger for personal expression through social media and other tentacles, but also has acquired the tough skin it takes to deal with the love-hate relationship resulting from the intrusive and fragmented nature of today’s media. This gives him the much-needed ‘talkability’ required to help his name crack through the clutter and stay on top of the minds that matter most – his audience.
To top it of, he has masterfully adopted one of Micheal Jackson’s most lethal weapons in building a strong music artist brand – the power of visual media. We are living in the visual era where visual media trumps all other forms of media hands down. Music videos, digital presence and live performances have become a critical part of building a music artist’s ultra ego as a result. Diamond’s recent ‘Nana’ music video, by any measure, is a stellar take on the Diamond we want to keep on seeing again and again. Its no wonder then why we can’t stop ‘till we get enough and there never seems to be enough of Diamond these days..
The artistry (RATING: 7/10)
When the art and the artist come together, you get the artistry! For all purposes intended this is where most artists in Tanzania get it all wrong almost always and yet again Diamond scores astoundingly well by comparison. Music being business is always a sticky topic and can sour up any conversation even with the biggest acts in the game. In as much as there is significant growth in income streams, with more non-traditional players coming into the revenue equation, clearly it is not always the artists themselves who are smiling all the way to the bank.
I am not too conversant with Diamonds business dealings so I speak with extreme reservation, but one thing I am sure of is that he has freed himself from the class of artistry that eats alive almost all of our promising entertainers – I call it the ‘survival’ class; where the artist is forced by circumstance to focus more on the competition (the struggle) than the prize (the purpose). Artists who are on a hand to mouth budget that forces them to make artistic compromises just to keep their engines running characterize this class.
Clearly Diamond is far from financial retirement, but a deal he brokered a couple of years back, that demonstrated Coca Cola’s foresight and sincere commitment to build talent, assured him an income buffer that he has since used to fend through these often compromising income cycles and focus more on investing in the the art and the artist as opposed to just paying his bills.
Being an artist and in business myself, I know how important this type of income buffer is to ones enterprise psychology and how the lack of structure in the entertainment industry makes it difficult for entertainers to attract alternative funding like other sectors can so as to forge this buffer. So kudos to Coca-Cola for laying the foundation from which Africa’s top male act for 2015 was propelled. Diamond’s clever use of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinforce his artistry is truly commendable and credit has to be extended to him, his team and other players in the industry who have inspired this line of thinking.
This MAMAs win is not only a win for Diamond but also it is a win for everything that he stands for, sadly, good and bad. So by taking stock of what matters, I hope to have added to the quality of invaluable lessons that artists can learn from Nasib Abdul aka Diamond Platinumz - the art, the artist and the artistry.
That said, I also have advise for him going forward… Follow me on twitter @cmagavilla and keep posted so as to find out what that advise is.