This week on Monday my brother, Ephraim, called me from the grounds of Hyper Store in City Centre Lilongwe. Apparently, he was in his car at the parking lot waiting for my in-law, Clara, who had gone inside for some purchases, when vendors selling different wares approached him.
What attracted him were music CDs which had my face on them and he was taken aback thinking that I have ventured into music – meaning not writing and critiquing the performances of our artists as I do over here week in week out, but the actual singing that has culminated into an album.
On close inspection, he discovered that in fact the CD indicated that it was the work of the fallen musical great Ned Mapira whose album ‘Chosatha’, a traditional music album, sold over 63,000 copies posthumously.
The vendor demanded K1, 500 for the CD but using his negotiation skills my brother got it down to K500.
My brother called me instantly to meet him having bought the CD. I drove to City Centre where he gave me the CD and, indeed there I was, on the cover of Ned Mapira’s pirated work.
When I reached the parking space of the Hyper Store the vendors, including those selling the pirated music, swarmed around me. My heart bled when I discovered that the extent of producing and selling pirated work has gotten worse.
Well, the first feeling was that of anger, and questions started welling up within my psyche for I thought this was the prize those in the business of piracy have decided to give me, finally, for crying out loud!
When I had taken a Ned Mapira CD, then it dawned on the vendors who I was. I was Mapira’s ghost and they all vanished, and not before snatching the CD from my hand.
It’s a pity that for a mere K500 or K1000 one can buy a single CD with Lucius Banda’s all 17-lifetime-albums. The vendors are putting all the Kuimba albums, all the lifetime toils of The Black Missionaries, in just one CD for a K500.
People have argued before against the tendency. The artists have complained loudly that piracy is killing them but those that have the powers to control it have either failed or they just don’t care.
For argument’s sake, one might say people still love Ned Mapira and, since our music marketing and distributing system is mediocre – if not nonexistent – then those that need the music can do with the provisions created by those pirating. But what would you say about Lucius Banda or Mablacks’ music which has also been denigrated in the manner I have described above when it has well supplied distribution system?
There was a time when I asked the question on these same pages on how the dead musicians get their royalties where I looked at the 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, States Samangaya and the list goes on and on. Where are the royalties and how different is it when vendors are cashing on the work of the dead?
This might look as if it is the problem for the dead, but, as I faced it this week in Lilongwe, believe you me piracy is the cancer that will kill the living artist.