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How resemblance to Nigeria’s Davido costs Bongo flava’s A.T.M Jeff

For a music artist, image and brand are critical components of their overall success and identity. An artiste’s image – comprising their style, personality and public persona – creates a lasting impression that differentiates them in a highly competitive industry.

A strong, consistent brand helps to build a loyal fan base, connect with audiences and enhance marketability. Their image influences how their music is perceived and how effectively they can communicate their artistic vision. This is greatly enhanced by a strong offline and online presence, which elevates their careers and opens doors for collaborations, brand partnerships and global recognition.

For Burundi-born Bongo Flava music star A.T.M Jeff, born Etinne Baheza, his image plays a big role in who he is and in the advancement of his music career. Nairobi News caught up with his manager, Mr Eddie Khalikawe, to get the inside scoop on what his appearance and overall brand mean to his music career.

“When it comes to managing his image, the decision-making is not a one person thing. So when it comes to that, I have to make sure that the team is on board. I would present to them what I think should go in the media, what we should do, and we would go through the topic to see if it would damage his brand – and if it is not good, we stay away from it. Financially, we work as a group on a budget and we allocate it to projects and decide how we are going to use it. There is a process we have to go through. It is a team effort,” Mr Khalikawe began.

Burundi-born Bongo Flava music star A.T.M Jeff
Burundi-born Bongo Flava music star A.T.M Jeff, born Etinne Baheza with his manager, Eddie Khalikawe. PHOTO| POOL

But what makes A.T.M Jeff different from the rest of the industry?

“If we were to take out fame, I think Jeff would tick the box as the East African artist who can potentially carry the whole of East Africa. That’s my honest opinion. But also his appearance.

We have heard a lot of comments – you look like Davido. So the Davido thing, every time we release it works but then it creates a negative (situation) because they (critics) say we are trying to make it by piggybacking on Davido. I look like this guy so you should support me. He doesn’t like it. I don’t like it. It puts him in a bad light. The spotlight would be that he is trying to grow by using someone else’s name just because he looks like him, instead of trying to work on his own growth.

There was a time when Davido was in the same city (as Jeff) in Perth, Australia. Jeff said he didn’t want to go or do it because it would look like he was trying to seek publicity. Davido did a tour here recently and there were promoters asking Jeff to come but we didn’t want to go. The approach they took was really bad. They wanted him to perform so that Davido could feel like he was big there. Instead of actually putting together a plan like what they wanted Jeff to do, how they wanted people to be, but not trying to make him promote Davido. They wanted Jeff to have influence. We just said no. They also paid a lot of money (to Davido) but they wanted Jeff to do these things just so he could meet Davido,” Mr Khalikawe revealed.

Apart from the constant challenge of having an uncanny physical resemblance to Nigeria’s Davido at a glance, A.T.M Jeff has also had to overcome other challenges, including producing music for Tanzania from Australia, where he is based, as well as breaking into the Burundian music industry.

“Another produces music that represents Burundi, but it’s a small country with low internet use and it’s been a challenge to connect with the right audience that understands the kind of music he does. This is because they don’t have access to the internet, or smartphones or know how to use social media platforms. The majority of Burundians – they have this sound that they like to listen to and… Wasafi Records put up a post saying that Burundians have rejected this artist because he sings Bongo Flava – you see, a lot of people say it’s because he grew up in Tanzania, so he’s Tanzanian. So they say because he has the influence of Bongo Flava and in Burundi, they said they don’t want him, so that’s the biggest challenge he faces.

But he’s still pushing. He says ‘look, I’m Burundian, I only make music for Burundi and I probably want to be the first Burundian to break out in East Africa and go global’. He speaks Kirundi, but it is not the same as the natives. When he goes there and speaks it, you can tell it’s not the same intonation, whereas when we’re in Tanzania, it’s very hard for them to tell if we’re from there. He speaks Swahili and you can’t tell he’s not from there. Burundians don’t want to know about your struggles, they only want to hear about your success, so my plan is to promote A.T.M. Jeff as an international Burundian artist because he can sing in three languages – Swahili, Kirundi and English,” concluded Mr Khalikawe.

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