By Ibrahim Sorious Samura
2019 was a relatively fairly year for Sierra Leone’s entertainment industry. At least we saw more sold-out gigs than the previous years, much as the country is yet to break through the online or digital markets for major deals. Here is an assessment of how the industry flared in 2019.
The creative industry has been a vital sector that contributes to job creation and boosts economic growth. Comparatively, it is mind-blowing to see the strides other nations have made in entertainment, some even exchanging pay slips and medals with Western stars and corporate institutions, while the Sierra Leone entertainment industry is stuck in a quagmire, unyielding and chaotic. Governments in and out have watched the creative industry crumbled. The importance of this sector has not been realized by any government in Sierra Leone, save for political campaign periods when they would use their social influence to canvass supports from electorates. The Bio led-government announced plans to promote the entertainment and tourism industries during the State Opening of Parliament in 2018. Hopes were high, owing to the fact that his wife, graduated from the creative industry as an actress. Down the line, it has been pronouncements from either the Tourism Minister or another state functionary, with little or no effect.
In 2019, the Government through the Tourism Ministry held several consultative meetings with various sectors in the industry to participate in the formulation of an entertainment foundation named ‘Foundation for Arts, Culture and Entertainment’ (FACE). This proposed foundation is meant to serve an important role in regulating the industry, drive investment and engage government and the private sector for the growth of entertainment in Sierra Leone. The industry is largely self-funded; no government loans or supports towards persons or companies investing in it, not to mention the corporate houses who are virtually not ready to give a facelift to it except for the pittance they give to celebrities in the name of sponsorship or brand ambassadors.
While a Nigerian artiste can make up to a million dollar from endorsements, Sierra Leonean artistes are struggling to attract endorsements worth $5,000 per year. Seldom, few of the nation’s top stars make a little over $5,000 from endorsements. The mobile companies and lately, the banks have been playing that role.
Comedy & Film
This is a sector that has recorded the biggest success in the Sierra Leone entertainment industry. This is especially so with stand-up comedy, all thanks to Mastamind SL Ltd which helped in giving life to stand-up comedy in the past years. Fast forward, stand-up comedians were the most sought after in 2019 due to the professional manner they carried out their crafts. Their services were in high demand, week in week out.
Themovie industry, on the other hand, has been the most deprived and unyielding sector in the entire entertainment industry and 2019 was no exception for it. Piracy has paralyzed filmmakers, who end up getting no returns from investments and are yet to attract Netflix and other online boxes. One major boost for the movie industry in 2019 was the Ebola documentary film ‘Survivors,’ which got an Emmy Award nomination. But the sector remained a challenging one with poor capacity and lack of quality equipment. In all of these, piracy is eating deep into the movie sector.
Since the 2011 Copyright Act was passed into law, the practice has got some legality it would appear. More pirates popped up, establishing and registering businesses that engage in the act. It became devastating, excruciatingly annoying for the helpless entertainers who watched their intellectual property been exploited by criminals. There is no means of enforcing the Copyright Act, to the point that piracy has become a normal thing. Now, it is the inverse, musicians are now paying for their works to be pirated to at least gain popularity.
Return of Big Sister
Social media went abuzz with jubilations when Zedzee Multimedia announced the Big Sister Season 2, a women empowerment reality TV show. The surprises in the announcement were the inclusion of other African countries into the show, the international coverage/audience/broadcast, and the $50,000 star prize up for grab. Zainab Sheriff was once again celebrated, after many had thought the show won’t come up since she broke up with her partners over a year ago. At the launch of the most anticipated show at Bintumani Conference Centre, it was made clear that the show will commence in 2020 and not in 2019, in order to allow applications and branding to be done.
The Oscars of the year was the 3rd edition of ECOFEST, which sold out to over 70,000 at the Siaka Stevens Stadium on the 29th November 2019. The show was headlined with the East African giant, Diamond Platnumz and Nigerian comedian Basket Mouth. It was, without doubt, the biggest entertainment event in Africa, which doubled the O2 Arena in London in terms of attendance.
Idris Elba in Salone
Sierra Leone received the Hollywood actor, musician and writer, Idris Elba in December 2019. Many expected his visit to be entertainment-led, but the focus was on tourism. Elba and the Government of Sierra Leone are working on plans to transform Bonthe Island into a touristic city. Elba’s father was born in Sierra Leone before he travelled to the UK where Idris was born and grew up. On his return to Sierra Leone for the first time, he was honored with a Diplomatic Passport by President Bio.
Few award ceremonies were held in 2019. Notably, the All Walks of Life (AWOL), the diaspora based Sierra Leone Entertainment Awards (SLEA), Faces of the North Entertainment Awards (FaNEA) and the National Entertainment Awards (NEA) were all held in 2019. In absence were the usual New Skool Awards and the SLeDU National Music Awards. The 2019 NEA was marred by backlashes and criticisms on the grounds that many unpopular actors were announced as winners, many calling the process flawed and compromised. But the organizers (Lake Productions) insisted that the winners were chosen through public votes.
Digital Markets and Social Media
Digital marketing and social media platforms have become the real deal for contemporary entertainment across the world. Musicians the world over make huge cash from their online activities like sales, streams and downloads. CDs are gradually becoming obsolete, and with piracy on the increase, having products commercialized on digital markets and building big social media followings is one of several ways to earn returns; platforms like YouTube, Netflix and more are paying huge sums for streaming, sales and downloads.
One important place stars fail to pay attention is social media. It is very important for celebrities to build big online presence to market their brand and build networks across. These platforms have not been well utilized in Sierra Leone, with no Sierra Leonean based celebrity with over one million followers on social media, when their counterparts are amassing tens of millions of followers and getting hundreds of millions of online streaming from their products. Failing to properly harness digital marketing and social media presence has continued to render local stars in poverty. The fate was no difference in 2019, when stars remained very unpopular on social media and are not attracting endorsement deals or contracts to perform abroad.
The industry woke up to a new year with high hopes. New event dates have been advertised for the early months of the year. Boss LAJ has just had a successful event at the Siaka Stevens Stadium on the 10th of January. The most anticipated reality TV show- Big Sister Salone has already conducted its auditions and the show is expected to start between March and April. However, there is no idea about policies and reforms that will promote this vital industry. This should be a wonderful beginning for the New Year and form part of a lasting resolution.