Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Monday, 3 November 2014

Holes in Airtel Music Competition

I am a little bit hesitant to be the one punching holes in the Airtel Malawi’s mobile music competition where the winner is set to cart home a whopping K14 million.

From the face of it, you really would think this is a perfect mobile music competition, especially when you throw in Trace Music Star and international music super star Akon partnering with Airtel for the success of the competition.

TRACE is a French international brand and media group active in urban music and sports celebrities. Since 2003, TRACE has launched 15 success pay-TV and digital platforms that are available in 160 countries to more than 80 million viewers.

Having written the story myself at the launch two weeks ago and having interviewed Airtel Malawi Managing Director Heiko Schlittke, who, of course, described the initiative called ‘Airtel Trace Music Star’ as ‘a combination of talent and technology’, I was left least convinced on some cobwebs that I observed.

Apart from K14 million take-home by the overall national winner he or she will also have an opportunity to compete with other African winners at a Pan African concert and there the overall continental winner has a cool US $50,000 waiting for him or her plus a recording deal with Kon Live, a distributed label through Universal Music Group and an intense mentorship programme with Akon in the US.

The devil is in the methodology used, according to me.

To join the competition, subscribers will have to call the Airtel Trace Stars number 59911 between October 7, 2014, and December 10, 2014, and sing through the phone while the machine at the other end will be recording.

Once done, voila! The winner emerges and takes home the opportunities as stated above.

I know I am a very bad vocal performer when it comes to singing. However, when I wake up on the right side of my bed I do surprise myself when taking a shower with a kind of singing that gives me false signals that singing just might be my calling when all and sundry know it is not.

What happens then if on this good day I make this phone call and just for once in this life I have done better than the rest? Will I indeed become a musician courtesy of the one-off 20 seconds performance?

Then there is also the open-ended entry method where artists like Lucius Banda, for example, can make this phone call and perform to the satisfaction of the machine at the other end.

Schlittke says this competition underlines Airtel’s obligation to unleash art, potential, creativity and talent. In the case of Lucius Banda entering such a competition, will this fit in the obligation?

Listening to the Airtel Malawi MD speak what I was getting was that the competition is going to identify the best singing talent of the territory and then they will be rewarded and put in competition with the best singing talents of other participating territories across African to run for the accolade of best African Music Talent.

May be, based on this explanation, it might just mean that those competing would do so to prove a point that since they have been in business long, it was not by fluke. It will be like another Kora Award ceremony.

Inversely, this is something that, perhaps, only makes business sense but nothing for the industry. Imagine if one who wins it only sang so well on the day and no amount of Akon mentoring can make a musician out of him or her, would we say the competition has achieved its purpose?

Perhaps I am wrongly thinking strongly about the musical aspect of the competition when this is only a promotion by Airtel to have people who have nothing to do with their airtime waste it on singing their lungs out to chance the overall prize for the national and continental competition.

I am just thinking...

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