Picture a scenario where you can neither count on Nonini’s ‘Furahiday’ to cue the start of the week or enjoy the tunes of your favourite Benga music at a relative’s wedding.
Well, if a section of Kenyan musicians have their way, this might just happen, sooner or later. Earlier this week a number of musicians held a demonstration to protest non-payment of the money owed to them by Safaricom.
“No Money, No Music”. This was the unambiguous statement delivered by a group of local entertainers as they went from one government office to another in a peaceful demonstration on Tuesday. The protestors, representing Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) members from across the country, were led by their national chairman, Bernard Mkaisi.
“All we are saying is that our music should stop being played until the money owed to our members from the Safaricom Skiza Tunes revenue share deal reached in July last year are paid,” said Mkaisi as he led the others into the Nairobi City centre.
They then proceeded to deliver their petitions to various offices, including that of the Attorney General and Chief Justice, whom they accuse of doing nothing about.
In a joint statement later released by MCSK, KAMP and PRISK, the artiste’s Collective Management Organisations (CMO’s) accused “middlemen” of working “against the artistes by paralysing activities that would lead to actualisation of the Safaricom Skiza deal.”
The protesting artistes singled out Premium Rate Service Providers, (PRSP’s) for making alleged attempts to sabotage the Skiza deal to maintain their status quo role as intermediaries between musicians and the giant telecommunications firm(s).
“We know there are dark forces that have colluded with people who are enjoying protection from the government to frustrate musicians through manipulation of the courts,” lamented the embattled MCSK Chairman, Mkaisi.
These latest accusations come at a time when the Communications Authority of Kenya has just announced a raft of tough new measures to govern the greater media industry. Among the contentious new laws is a directive requiring broadcasters to enforce a mandatory 40 per cent local content quota by mid 2016. The directive proposes to raise this to 60% in the next three years, fueling anticipation in the entertainment content sub-sector.
“This is welcome and necessary. It is the only way we can grow our creative industry and force out the cartels that have stifled the growth of our native talents,” argues veteran music producer, Robert ‘R Kay’ Kamanzi.
“Our hope is that this will eventually grow to 80 per cent over the next four years to help us realise the gains that have been made through similar moves in other countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.”
Naturally, the developments have piqued the interest of a cross-section of players in the hitherto close knit entertainment sector as stakeholders fight to ensure they are favourably positioned to reap from the wave of policy and structural changes sweeping across the industry.
The controversial Skiza deal, which raises the percentage due to artistes who offer their music on the Huawei run platform through CMOs, has generated mixed views from artistes across the mainstream vs Riverwood divides.
With over 3.9 million Skiza users out of Safaricom’s close to 20 million subscribers generating the contested Sh300 million in 2015 alone, the stakes are high.
The question of the artistes’ dues has recurred. While musicians are set to benefit from increased share revenue generated from the products of their creativity, there are still those that remain skeptical about the deal’s structure altogether.
“As it stands, we are set to receive only 15 per cent of Skiza revenue, yet we are the originators of the content generating the revenue in question,” observes Gospel sensation Willy Paul, who is among previous top Skiza earners. “Ideally, this should be revised upwards in consideration of the key role played by the artiste.”
While there are factors such as promotional marketing activities, system maintenance and operational costs that inform the prevailing revenue distribution model, some musicians have flagged lack of transparency as a stumbling block to the arrangement.
In a recent interview, gospel heavy hitter Daddy Owen noted that “artistes are not given the log sheets. So, we don’t know which songs were played and how many times they were played. We can’t prove if the number is true or not.” This has been repeatedly highlighted as one of the main factors that led to the souring of the relationship between musicians and PRSP’s.
“The marriage between artistes and CMO’s is purely about the music,” explains Riverwood sensation John Kuria Njuguna of the 'Wamwona Umwire' fame.
“Through the deeds of agreements we sign with them, we expect better administration of our rights by the collective body since we cannot do it on our own.”
Amid allegations of fiscal malpractices and organisational mismanagement at MCSK, the prerogative now rests on artistes to set aside the many differences that divide them and focus on issues affecting their craft before embarking on a self-consuming scramble that will almost certainly leave them clutching at mere leftovers of the proverbial cake.
According to Kenya National Union of Musicians’ Secretary General Phil Jay, “the people who initially went to court to stop the Skiza deal are not even musicians.
It is these individuals who went further to manipulate some of artistes to do the same.” As a priority, the gospel singer proposes that; “artistes should first be paid what is due to them after which all parties involved should come together to discuss a permanent solution.”
With such intricacies and multi-layered schemes surrounding what otherwise seems like a ripe season for an entire generation of entertainers to reap the fruits of many years’ toil, their fate now rests solely in the hands of the legal system.
“I hope the government will notice there is a problem here and address it comprehensively,” pleads R-Kay.