Creative people usually come packaged with more than a sprinkling of self-doubt. I’ve never been too sure of its value in the creative process but it’s just there. I have rarely seen real creative genius exist without almost paralysing levels of it at various points in a career. I am always wary of the creative who is calm, collected and assertively in control – like my question is – is what they are doing really creative. The East African creative is no different except that even more of this goes on under the covers because it’s not as culturally accepted to have all those emotions showing on the surface.

There’s something in the air in NRB, in particular, which somehow adds to the weight on the shoulders of creatives – money – the talk of it, the smell of it, the want of it. Somehow, somewhere along the line, something got mixed up in NRB about what creativity/music/art is about – that somehow it’s not valid if it doesn’t bring in money or lead to money one way or another.

Since when?

Since when in history did any kind of art/creativity/music/performance get justification/validity from its ability to generate money. How many stories of how many creatives over the centuries though history, have shown creatives/great masters/genius talents dying poor or even unrecognised.

The true creative carries a burden in their DNA, to produce, to create, to disrupt, to innovate – REGARDLESS of what anyone else thinks. This is not a route to financial success and never has been! And there-in lies the problem for the EA creative – currently EA society mostly values achievement which comes with assets.

There are some subtle but real distinctions

  • A true creative might or might not work in the creative sector
  • People who are working the creative sector are not all creatives
  • If I am paid to work in the creative sector does that make me a creative?

In a way it doesn’t matter what we think but in East Africa these notions have become a bit mixed up and it leads to internal confusion – despair on one side and ego on the other – both not cool characteristics to have floating around in a fledgling industry with poor cash flow.

“Am I an artist, a musician, a performer, a writer” – well I am if it’s in my soul, whether it’s my job, whether it pays, whether it doesn’t.

“Do I stop because it doesn’t pay, do I stop because no-one appears to value what I do?”

These are often at the front of the EA creative mind – as if it’s only East African artists who suffer such questioning of mission – it’s not – it’s not a geographic burden it’s the burden of creative DNA.

There is no doubt that a flourishing creative and cultural sector are the beautiful symptoms of a healthy economy and society. However, history shows us that creatives, are both the disrupters of the status quo and the keepers/minders of the cultural history. EA creatives are quite vocal in lusting after the first, want to run to the bit where they get funding for offbeat installations, or new musical shows, but are somehow more timid about being the disrupters which make it happen, and sadly it’s rarely the local who’s doing the valuing and preserving of the creative heritage.

This is an observational generalisation, not a criticism, it’s easy to see where all this comes from – but all this is weighing on the creative consciousness of a generation of EA creatives, like a massive chip on the shoulder, easily visible in creatives who should be in their successful period after 10 or more years in it, while there’s a marked contrast in the new guys coming up who seem to have more of an attitude of “fuck it” lets just do it anyway.

The worry is that the want for money in the creative sector is stifling the very source of its energy, not because there is no money, but because the mindset is distracted to the wanting of it, instead of on producing things so great that money just becomes attached.

The status quo is there because it suits the people who it works for.

Creatives can’t expect the status quo to change because IT suits the people it works for.

The job of the creative is to disrupt, to challenge the status quo – then by their coolness, they drag everyone else kicking and screaming to new visions, changing the world as we know it.

The EA creative has something uniquely wonderful in their core, something which the rest of the world would love to tap into, generations of being African, a legacy, lifetimes of doing things differently, deep richness, uniqueness of expression, un-sameness.

East Africa needs the EA creative mind to stop looking at its own navel and worrying about survival and to stand up boldly and SHOUT:  Look at this! This is new! This is us! – while in the background deeply doubting if they did the right thing.

The creative mind is an entanglement of passions and emotions and unknowingness, where the world sees simplicity they see complexity and vice-versa. The EA creative mind has generations of cultural expectations to wrangle on top, and it’s hard to be a radical and ignore money if your mum really does live in a slum.

The EA creative sector has the talent does it have the balls too?

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Behavioural Scientist | Digital Alchemist | Producer of Digital Strategy workshops & resources for the creative sector in EA | Founder @