Comedians are B-grade celebrities in South Africa,” says Tumi Morake, a comedian famous for her brassy honesty, stand-up shows, Comedy Central Roasts and adverts with Vodacom.
“And yet I have a lot of disposable income. A lot,” she admits.
South Africa’s entertainment industry is fast growing, and bringing in vast amounts of money. Zinhle Jiyane, known as DJ Zinhle, says: “The South African entertainment industry has proven to be one of the most influential industries and its growth is something we can’t ignore.” And she’s right.
Musicians, actors, deejays and entertainers, as well as other creative industry performers, contribute 2.9% to the GDP, according to the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation (CCIFSA), and the creative economy contributes 3.6% to the total employment.
Jay Badza, a self-described brand architect and manager of some of South Africa’s biggest stars, including Bonang Matheba, predicts the industry will grow “in leaps and bounds” in the next five years.
“We’ve got a very healthy industry, and social media has tipped the scale to the entertainer,” says Badza.
Other experienced managers agree, such as Nomndeni Mdakhi, founder and managing director of Edits Communications, and DJ Zinhle’s manager. She predicts the industry will expand its footprint into the rest of the continent.
Morake admits that a ‘gig’, from stand-up to emceeing, to a mixture of the two, can earn a comedian of her calibre anything from R15,000 ($1,050) to R45,000 ($3,176) for an evening’s work.
Taffia Keight, a partner at Whacked Management, representing many of South Africa’s comedians, including Morake, says: “Depending on what other deals are done on an artiste’s behalf, [comedians] could earn between R12,000 ($850) and R250,000 ($17,000) a month.”
Comedy is a relatively new money-maker in the South African entertainment industry, and even in that sphere, it’s possible to earn a quarter of a million rand monthly – much of it through corporate gigs. Comedian Celeste Ntuli estimates she earns up to 40% of her monthly income through corporate emceeing and advertisements.
For a celebrity like Bonang Matheba, the numbers are much bigger. Nicknamed Queen B, Matheba is an A-lister through and through. She has over a million Instagram followers and is the first face of Revlon out of the United States – “A dream come true,” she says – and has her thumb in a lot of pies: she presents on Top Billing and Afternoon Express, hosts a radio show on Metro FM and has her own lingerie line at Woolworths. On top of this, she can earn anything from R30,000 ($2,120) to R100,000 ($7,060) for four hours’ work, depending on the client, hosting events like award shows and more.
Matheba’s flawless weave is a custom-made wig from Patrick Missile, and costs R15,000 ($1,050) – and that’s not including maintenance costs. For an event like the South African Style Awards, she says she can easily spend R55,000 ($3,882) for her look for that evening alone.
“My designer dress will probably cost around R50,000 ($3,530),” says Matheba, “And I’ll spend an additional R2,000 ($142) on my nails, and another R4,000 ($283) for hair and makeup for the evening – that includes having the makeup artiste at the event to touch me up.”
These are considered business expenses because, as Badza says, “An artiste is expected to be glitzy and glamorous.” Her luxury spends are holidays; 10-day trips to Mauritius, London, Paris and islands off the coast of Mozambique.
Other big earners are in the music industry. A DJ such as DJ Zinhle can earn up to R35,000 ($2,400) for an hour’s work, and can do up to five gigs between Friday and Sunday.
“You can just imagine how much she makes in a weekend,” says her manager Nomndeni Mdahki. And that’s just if she stays in the country – for international shows, also sold by the hour, the rate can easily go up to R50,000 ($3,530). Transport and accommodation are, naturally, included. Then there are celebrities expanding briskly into the international market, like DJ Black Coffee, who has been named several times by others in the industry as an example of a South African entertainer doing it right, with a growing international audience. He was not available for comment on this piece.
But even with these numbers, South Africa is lagging behind international entertainment industries. Nigeria is enormous, and South African celebs are clawing their way to Lagos, and not New York.
“The continent is opening up,” says Mdahki.
“Look at artiste collaborations, Channel O and the MTV Music Awards. In the end, it’s a numbers game. The more people you can bring in, the more money you can make. You want to develop a wide footprint out of South Africa.”
The trick for further growth is for celebrities to treat themselves like businesses, and use their social currency to expand their careers.
“Artistes don’t have to rely on the SABC anymore to become successful,” says Badza. With social media accounts, they communicate directly with their audience, and corporate and other clients look to those numbers to rate their popularity.
Mdahki agrees: “Social media is giving the power back to the talent.”
Morake, with over 55,000 Twitter followers, says celebrities need to remember that they are a brand. But perhaps most of all, the biggest key to growth, says Ntuli, is for South Africans to appreciate their own entertainers, like Nigerians appreciate theirs.
The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria
Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.
There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens.
Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.
Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.
“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.
Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.
“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”
Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.
Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.
“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”
Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.
“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”
This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.
“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”
She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.
As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.
“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.
And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.
One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.
“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”
Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown
Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.
During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.
“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.
He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.
He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.
“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”
Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.
“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.
During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.
‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’
A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.
Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).
In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.
Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”
How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?
“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”
A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.
“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.
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