How do the Dead Musicians Get their Royalties


There is a big difference between doing something in Malawi and doing similar thing in the West.
There was a time that I wondered on this very page why Michael Jackson’s riches are increasingly making him posthumously richer when there is no penny to show for Malawi’s fallen reggae hero Evison Matafale.
Without bothering to look at a well-coordinated system where musicians outside can release just a mere single and hit gold and continue making more money even after they die, I want us to look at what happens to music of our dead musicians.
We still hear songs on our radios that were done by the late Robert and Arnold Fumulani, Alan Namoko, Daniel and MacDonald Kachamba, Samangaya and the list goes on and on…
Well, do you remember when in 2002 or 2003 there about, Phungu Joseph Nkasa received royalties from Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) in excess of millions.
Musicians I talked to explained to me how the system works. For every copy that an artist will sell, there is a royalty of K1.50t or something within this range, while every time a song by an artist is played on radio, that particular radio has to give COSOMA K0.60t for the song each time it is played.
Now in the absence of proper and transparent communication channel where you would expect COSOMA to clearly explain how this works, you cannot help it but wonder who get this money for the dead musicians.
In an attempt to avoid re-living the ordeal that talented Stonard Lungu underwent including performing while he was in an excruciating cancerous pain, just to raise resources for medical care and treatment, one wonders if there is a proper mechanism to ensure that musicians benefit from their intellectual property.
Honestly, if the system were well laid, you would not expect Alan Namoko’s grave for example, to wait until such a time when broadcaster Gospel Kadzako would establish a successful media business to construct him a tomb. At least Kadzako ensured that where Alan Namoko was interred, should look honourable.
Recently there was an announcement in the media that Andrew Matrauza was topping the list of those musicians that who got most of the royalties. Well, looking at the songs that are said to have helped him achieve this feat, it is – I do not want to call it disappointment – but rather a surprise that they were in fact done years ago.
Among many questions arising as a result of this is that when I sell my music today, when am I expected to get the royalty money?
Again, looking at a figure like K240, 000 that Matrauza got, what does it explain if this is cumulative over a period of five years? Is musical profession in Malawi worthwhile?
Then, why should the list be of only those that are still alive, when – like when Matafale passed away – his music dominated the airplay not to mention record sales, which overshot, making distributors fail to satisfy the demand.
Even under the guidance of the antiquated Copyright Act nothing tangible, seem to be taking shape to either protect or benefit both the dead and living musicians.
How ironic! Why should people that are gifted with musical art, entertaining us throughout all their lives, which are strewn, with all struggles due to poverty, indeed suffer a life of penury? Worse still, why should their poor financial status not only continue haunting them in their graves but make their bereaved family members laughing stock as well?
Imagine, you are brother or sister to one super fallen artist and you are, say, in a bus, where they are playing his music. Everyone is talking about how great Ned Mapira, Samangaya or Ada Manda were; is it not a mockery when you are struggling to construct them a proper tomb, not to mention failing to raise and school their orphans?
Remember the fate of our all time great Michael Sauka, brains behind the National Anthem?
If we had a vibrant musical body, for lack of a suitable institution let me mention COSOMA for example, the best would have to create a special fund for artists. This could be taking up part of their royalties if they are still alive while managing all of the dead musician royalties and then trickle it to their families based on each one’s percentage contribution.
The same fund could become handy as well in situations like one that Stonard Lungu wanted to go to a Tanzanian hospital for cancer treatment.
Musicians Association of Malawi knowing that there is a day when its members would also found themselves in this position should at times organise musical shows or other activities to generate money for the fund.
Whoever could also be the in charge of such fund might as well use the money to buy shares to ensure a steady financial position. The living artists could buy life insurance policies; even policies that can carter for education of their children using the same money.
In this way, maybe we can be rest assured that our dead musicians are ‘Resting in Peace’ as they lay in their unkempt graves.

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About Gregory Gondwe - Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Gregory Gondwe is a Malawian journalist who started practising journalism in 1993. Until March 31, 2012 he was regional editor and bureau chief for Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS). Gregory is also a media consultant assisting several international journalists pursuing assignments in Malawi. He holds a Diploma of Journalism and an Intermediate Certificate in Journalism among other media-related certificates. He is also columnist for Malawi's first and oldest weekly, Malawi News. He can be contacted on gregorygondwe@gmail.com.
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