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Azziad vs Femi One: Who owes the other?

Monday May 25 2020
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Azziad Nasenya is a 19-year-old-actress and content creator. She shot to fame because of Femi One's song. Who owes the other? PHOTO | COURTESY

By BERNARD MURUNGA

A recent debate by Kenyans on Twitter about the payment or lack of exchange thereof between two artistes – actress and TikTok star Azziad Nassenya and hip hop and rap artiste Femi One posed questions about the ever changing face of the music industry.

Gone are the days of long play vinyl records and the latter day cassettes. The respected Billboard charts adopted top the modern trends and started releasing digital song sales records as iTunes and other music downloads took over.

Social media is now on the scene and popular apps like TikTok are now creating even more avenues for the spread of music. TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service that is owned by ByteDance and has proved popular with Kenyan youth and was even more evident during the stay-at-home period of Covid-19.

GENESIS OF#UTAWEZANACHALLENGE

Femi One released the hit song Utawezana featuring Mejja and the official video of the same was uploaded on YouTube on April 1, 2020. I first heard the song when NRG radio presenter Natalie Githinji sampled a portion of the same and shared it on her Instagram page on  April 2, 2020, in what came to later be known as the#UtawezanaChallenge.  

Azziad subsequently posted her version of the challenge on April 4, 2020 on her TikTok account. This version proved the most popular of the Challenge and was shared widely on the WhatsApp forum and also received rave comments on Twitter and Instagram (in what pop culture terms as trending).

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Song challenges have been part of music culture from the Western world with many artistes using the same to their advantage. When Drake released the song In My Feelings, comedian Shiggy went ahead to promptly release a dance challenge of the same that proved so popular that it attracted participation from celebrities such as Ciara and even Will Smith.

Trending challenges help push up the visibility of songs and it seems the same happened to Utawezana that recently reached five million views on YouTube. Indeed, it is this achievement that Femi One celebrated by posting on Instagram a screenshot of the video of the song on YouTube that displayed the high number of views it had received.

PAYMENT FOR INFLUENCING

A fan pondered if Azziad had received some payment for influencing the song to this height of views and it seems the rapper downplayed the role played by Azziad in pushing its visibility. To be fair to Femi One, her Instagram page had been awash with promotion of the song from wide and far including clips of the song being played in a club in Burundi. It is therefore quite difficult to say with certainty the percentage of the views on YouTube that can be directly ascribed to Azziad.

Yet, in the comments section on YouTube are many fans who have openly declared they had visited the page after seeing the Azziad lip synch and dance.

During the KOT debate, some tweeps noted that Azziad had actually benefitted from the Utawezana release and indeed gained more followers. Her TikTok video had reached two million views though those who viewed the actual recording are more as noted above that the video circulated on other platforms such as WhatsApp.

Several copyright questions arise from this interaction. Femi One as the artiste owns the copyright to the song. She actually flexed her muscle when she blocked its parody song by Mr Bloom Kenya who had posted the same on YouTube before he changed tact and released a version in the Kisii language titled Ndakoa Nonyare.

TikTok has been accused of copyright infringement international starts who claim that the company does not have adequate licences for more than 50 per cent of the songs that are used in TikTok videos.  David Israelite, the CEO of National Music Publishers Association was quoted recently as stating that a lawsuit was a “likely future step” against TikTok.

NO DISPUTE

To avert such litigation, there are interventions adopted by TikTok including a robust take-down procedure and shifting of the copyright and trade mark responsibility to the users. In addition, the App also notes that it is not in a position to adjudicate resultant disputes between third parties and recommends contacting the user or owner of the account to resolve copyright issues directly. 

There was no dispute between Azziad and Femi One. Fans were more concerned about the benefits derived by each. Indeed, if there is a benefit derived by the sharing of the music on TikTok, artistes are more likely to embrace the same and utilise the challenges to their advantage. Drake actually went ahead to feature Shiggy in the music video of In Her Feelings just as musician Blanco Brown went ahead to feature student Harvey Bass in the video of the song The Git Up after he ‘won’ the Git Up Challenge. It is expected that for these collaborations, there was exchange of money.

Other than just new songs, TikTok has also helped revive interest in old songs which must be welcome news to the artistes. The fact that TikTok allows only few seconds sampling of the songs creates interest in listeners who go out to look for the full and original version of the song.

There are certainly instances where the wrong usage of the song can have negative impact on the song – for instance a challenge that endangers life or is contrary to public interest may make the song to be associated with the challenge and kill its popularity.

It is upon artistes to find ways in which they can make the best use of these modern inventions and apps and maximize their visibility. Drake’s recent song Tootsie Slide seems to have been made with a TikTok challenge in mind.

As for the arguments between fans of Azziad and Femi One, it is seemingly apparent that this was an “everybody wins” situation.

Both Femi One and Azziad have had increased visibility – such that the social media trending and even being the subject of this analysis create more interest in them! That may be more than any payment that one thinks of.

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Benard Murunga is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. He has been ranked consistently in the World Trade Mark Review 1000 listing for top trademark professionals.

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