For years, Kenyan artistes have been singing the same song to the Music Copyright Society of Kenya: Pay Our Dues, Please. It has been a wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has seen the artistes attend meetings year after year and march in the streets to protest lack of payment of royalties. But that music has still not been heard. Those who have been paid have received measly and laughable amounts that they are even embarrassed to make public.
Last week, the group Elani were the latest to add their voice to the ongoing frustrations musicians have with the society, when they revealed they had received royalties worth only Sh31,000 for songs played on radio and television for a year. The three-member band was baffled by this amount, which seemed like peanuts, considering their songs Kookoo, Milele, Zuzu, Dunia ya Barua and Hapo Zamani were on heavy rotation. After raising their concerns with MCSK, they were later pacified with a “compensation” of Sh300,000.
Together with the statement they released, and a YouTube video detailing their woes, the group became a trending topic under the hashtag #ElaniSpeaks. Artistes and fans spoke up in support of Elani, voicing disgust at the society that is supposed to collect money on their behalf but instead frustrates them.
Thanks to Elani, who have revived the conversation, other artistes were prompted to reveal the meagre amounts that they had previously been paid for songs that were mega hits in the country. Gidi Gidi tweeted: “You guys are lucky you got a whopping Sh31,000; during our days we got Sh5,000 after two years for Unbwogable,”
Singer Avril also shared documents showing that she was paid slightly over Sh4,500 for a song she had previously done.
“Ndio nisikie the-know-it-alls saying I’m in bed with MCSK. I’m fighting because I see where the problem is and I want my money too, but I won’t fight the person fighting for me,” she said.
Lingala ya Yesu hit maker Pitson earned Sh5,000 for the song that catapulted him to massive fame.
An upset Boneye had to vent his frustrations on Facebook when he remembered that three years ago MCSK tried to pay P-Unit Sh250 for Kare, a song that was at the top of African charts at the time. After they declined the money, they also received Sh300,000 — just like Elani — and were touted as the highest earning artistes by MCSK.
“People should not rubbish Elani’s attempt at demanding transparency from MCSK because they are opening artistes’ eyes to what is going on. Copyright owners have a huge problem because broadcasters, too, are not paying royalties; this money is not getting into artistes’ pockets. Everyone wants to eat but no one wants to pay the artiste who has done all the work,” he says.
He says he is grateful that Elani spoke up because it always seems like artistes are always complaining; but now the public has seen exactly why.
“How do you determine what P-Unit has earned if the monitoring organisation has failed? MCSK should undergo a public audit. The society should stop holding artistes to ransom and stop stealing from us. If they try to “compensate” you with Sh100,000, then that means there might be Sh10,000,000 somewhere that they are not giving you,” said an emotional Boneye.
Although not too pleased by MCSK, Sauti Sol’s Bien was amused that people chose to get angry over the organisation’s unending controversies. He thought Elani were seeking attention, which they got.
“MCSK has always been corrupt; why are people shocked now? It’s been a demon to artistes for years. No one will get any money from them now because their accounts have been frozen,” says Bien, who thinks the struggle right now should be getting the said accounts unfrozen.
He says discrepancies have always been there. But like many other musicians, he has not been allowed to be vocal about it and recalls that at a past MCSK meeting, his microphone was switched off when he raised issues of nonpayment of royalties.
“MCSK shouldn’t be the reason why Elani have not released a song or why their career has stagnated. It should not be our bread and butter. Artistes should rely on downloads and shows. Although downloads is another issue, since the Safaricom Skiza Deal is in court and is being dragged out by content service providers,” said Bien, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if they released a song two days later.
Bien reveals that they (Sauti Sol) do not wait for royalties because it’s not an organisation that will get artistes out of money-related miseries.
“This is something that we are fighting for, for the next generation of artistes to come. But younger artistes need to work harder, write songs and have great PR because MCSK is not something you can rely on. The likes of Nonini and Nameless just started getting paid when they became fully grown adults,” said Bien.
Esther Keru from Globe Track International, a monitoring organisation, says artistes can look at the logs independently by contracting a different agency. This will help them compare logs from MCSK and see if they tally. That way, if there are inconsistencies, they’ll have something to challenge.
“It’s hard for artistes to know whether the logs are authentic unless they have someone else checking them. It’s not possible for an artiste to sit by the radio all day waiting to hear how many times their song has been played. If they came together and formed a kitty, they could contract a different agency on a daily basis, even if it’s just to try it out and compare the logs between MCSK and the counter agency,” she offers.
Although it sounds like a sensible solution, Boneye does not think it makes sense. “Why should we spend our own money when we have tasked another organisation to collect it?” he asks.
On their part, MCSK are trying to absolve themselves from any blame. The CEO Maurice Okoth showed us a letter the organisation sent to the regulatory board, Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) acting executive director Edward Sigei that explained that the log sheets generated were not in MCSK’s control because they had engaged an independent music monitoring service called Digital Linkage Monitoring (DLM) to supply the log sheets for purposes of computations for royalty distributions. This is because they have challenges acquiring log sheets from radio and television stations to whom they have written several times.
The letter pointed out that Elani’s music had received good airplay but in what they refer to as “mainstream broadcasters”. It, however, did not cut across vernacular radio stations.
On the allegations Elani made about inaccuracies between broadcasters logs and those of MCSK, they said they were not aware of this and that the musicians did not inform them. “If we had been made aware, then we would have taken action against the monitoring service DLM,”
Regarding the Sh300,000 compensation, MCSK states that they have been making payments to members who have raised and proven that there were delays in uploading music and / or in failure to upload music into the monitoring system.
“It is not true that Elani were simply “called “ after one week to be paid Sh300,000 but rather there was due process followed, leading up to and arriving at the amounts to be paid to Elani,” reads the letter.