Elly Gitau, Alfayo Onyango and Jasmine Atieno
You reap what you sow is a common phrase that is supposed to motivate any individual that genuinely toils and hopes to yield a genuine product of their labour.
This seems to be a far-fetched idea in Kenya’s creative industry. Artistes are burdened with the reality of having to work so hard, but forced to settle for less as they strive to make a living through a craft considered a hobby by many.
Music Copyright Society of Kenya’s (MCSK), Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) and Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) are the only Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) mandated by law to collect royalties on behalf of artistes in the country. But it is the MCSK that has soaked in heavy criticism and backlash this week, after paying a standard amount of Sh2,530 as royalties across it’s membership. Artistes are up in arms following the ‘peanut’ payments.
Rapper Khaligraph Jones spared no time in blasting MCSK, saying he has given permission for his music to be pirated than receive “peanuts” from the royalties-collecting body. His sentiments reflected a wider opinion of angry musicians who felt integrity was absent at the music society.
“All we want is integrity at MCSK, otherwise this fight will never end,” said gospel singer Daddy Owen, who like others also received the paltry Sh2,530 from the CMO.
Singer Timmy T-Dat said it’s time for Kenyan musicians to form their own organisation to collect royalties on their behalf. “We have given MCSK a lot of time to clean up their act, but the more things change, the more they remain the same.
I believe it is time we artistes come up with our own organisation to collect these monies on our behalf. All we need to do is to ensure it is structured in a manner that transparency is observed to the letter,” he says.
“How can an experienced artiste such as King Kaka be earning the same amount of cash as a brand new upcoming artiste?” Kaka Empire music management and record label MD Dennis Njenga posed.
“It’s so unfortunate being a Kenyan artiste right now. Kenyan music is just reclaiming its glory from the chains and imprisonment of foreign culture, specifically Nigerian and Tanzanian sounds, but it’s so absurd that we’ve had to endure challenges that are absolutely from within our structures.
We’ve been fighting this battle for over a decade and it’s saddening to realise we’ve barely scratched the surface. The CMOs are milking and draining the artistes dry,” Mombasa-based contemporary music artiste and manager Holy Rahman tells Spice.
“The policies that govern the music industry are not clear. We see CMOs in the streets collecting royalties only to pay us blank cheques. I urge artistes to look for alternative means such as Skiza tunes (ringtone mobile money), YouTube commissions, gigs and endorsement deals to bolster their income generation,” says Njenga.
Responding to the accusations and in a bid to set the record clear, MCSK said that the distributed monies were just royalties collected for two months from Performance in Public Places (PPP).
“…this was a collection for two months ending June 30, 2019, as the joint royalty collection exercise went live in May 2019. We are not able to distribute broadcast royalties at the moment since no broadcaster had paid royalties as at June 30.
PPP royalties were distributed equally to all our members by virtual of being a member of the society… Let’s all wait for the scientific distribution, which will take into account each artistes’ play counts on the radio and TV broadcasts,” read a statement from MCSK.
On August 8, 2019, PRISK distributed royalties worth Sh19 million to its members. The society said the monies were accrued from license fees collected for the period of April to June this year.
Seasoned acts such as producer Eric Musyoka, through M-Pesa texts shared on social media, was allegedly paid Sh11,599, with rapper Wangechi receiving Sh4,076.74 and Jaaz Odongo pocketing Sh4,236.
“We sent out royalties to registered members only; 3,246 musicians, 244 actors and 92 members, who are both actors and musicians.
Another round of distribution will be done in December and next year we plan to do a scientific distribution (pay per play) as plans are underway to source for a reliable monitoring company.
Our biggest challenge is non-complaint users and yet we have a growing membership base, said PRISK chairman Ephantus Wahome.
The CMO’s also collect royalties from all Public Service Vehicles and TV and radio stations, who are required to pay a license in order to freely play local music.
The war for royalties doesn’t end there. Recently, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (Kahc) and Pubs Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak) instructed their members not to play Kenyan music in their premises.
They were disputing a “punitive” directive by the three CMOs requiring them to pay royalties for the usage of local music in their premises using a new joint collective tariff.
The chess move deals a blow to Kenyan entertainers who eke a living through such transactions.
“It is completely difficult and almost unbearable conducting business in Kenya. There are thugs in the name of CMOs that come with askaris holding guns to our premises to harass us to pay high unjustifiable tariffs.
We have written to the Competent Authority (CA) to address this issue as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we will no longer play local music in hotels or pubs because of such carelessness,” a vexed Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohammed Hersi told Spice.
Citing impunity, unfair exploitation, uneven taxation methods and corruption from the CMOs, Hersi, who is also a member of Kahc, accused the CMOs of defrauding businesses by charging high tariffs to fill bellies of corrupt individuals, while taking advantage of musicians.
“We issue notices to responsible businesses that use local and international musical works. In that case, if a business does not abide, we go to court to seek legal orders to collect our debts,” says MCSK chairman Daniel Muli.
MCSK, with a membership of 14,000 and 1,000 others waiting for approval, has always played hardball to keep other competitive royalties collecting parties such as Music Publishers Association of Kenya (Mpake) at bay.
“Music has value. Local content is suffering and has been for a while. Competent Authority under the Attorney General’s office is dedicated to looking at copyright issues and complaints such as those by Kahc members will be resolved in a month when a ruling is deliberated.
Meanwhile, as Kahc and Perak refuse to pay tariffs and play local music, the Competent Authority ordered that at least 50 per cent of the tariff be paid as the court finds an amicable solution,” says Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) executive director Edward Sigei.
Besides hotel and bar owners protesting the high tariffs, tourist service vehicle operators have not been left behind. They accuse the CMOs of using unethical methods such as raiding their vehicles to “force” them pay or produce licenses.
“We need the government to protect us from this undue harassment by the CMOs that has become so rampant to an extent that some of us have completely removed radios from our vehicles. This hurts the business,” says a tour and travel operator David Karanja.
Some clubs and hotels in Mtwapa in Kilifi county have shut down music from their premises because of the raids by the CMOs.
“They were here a few days ago; it has become such a tendency in Mtwapa, especially on Friday nights. They (CMO officers), accompanied by police officers, can come in and pack up the whole music booth, cart away all music equipment including the deejay’s station, leaving you in complete silence. You have to then pay some money (bribe) in order to get it back. It is so humiliating,” an attendant at Casaurina Hotel in Mtwapa told Spice on condition of anonymity.
“With the hotels resolving not to play local music is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. We already suffered a lot with the issues of airplay, so all stakeholders including the artistes need to meet and agree on a better way forward for all of us,” says Mombasa-based music star Susumila.
Producer TK2 feels the move for hotels and bars to cut off local music comes as a slap on the face of Kenyan musicians.
“If the clubs and hotels are going to make real their threat, then what is there left for us? This money CMOs take from clubs and hotels don’t even reach us. We make money when we get shows and gigs and this happens when the music gains popularity in the same clubs and hotels. So, we are urging the clubs not to do this. This can be really bad for us,” TK2 tells Spice.
Producer Totti labels CMOs as extortionists who need to be checked quickly before they “ruin” the Kenyan music industry.
“As a producer, I have never received any money from the CMOs for over five years. So, I don’t need them standing in the way of the source of our bread. I suggest all the aggrieved parties to quickly sit and talk, so that a clearer way forward can be found, says Totti.
According to MCSK chairman Japheth Kasanga, not playing local music does not exempt anyone exploiting foreign musical content from paying for the joint copyright license.
He says: “The MCSK has reciprocal agreements with other CMOs worldwide that makes it mandatory for Kenya to collect and pay royalties for both international and local musical works. This in effect means the CMOs have the mandate to license music users who play virtually all music —both local and foreign music— at various entertainment spots in Kenya.”
In March 2017, Kecobo declined to renew the operating licence for MCSK over its refusal to submit a list of its members and amounts collected in royalties. However, the board took a U-turn in January this year. Sigei said MCSK had met stringent conditions and went through a rigorous vetting process.