A typical Kenyan childhood story would be incomplete without the special cupboard where hallowed, matching plates, cups, glasses were stored.
These were reserved for visitors. And not just any visitor but those that came from far away, who needed impressing.
It did not matter if the visitors came the same day, month or year. Everybody in the house was relegated to mismatched, chipped cups, plates and, if lucky, glasses as they waited for the visitors to use the hallowed ones.
The recent Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) royalties row with artistes is a painful reminder of this.
Kenyan artistes are given the chipped cups and plates to use while the “visitors” from Nigeria and Tanzania get to use the fine china.
Kenyan musician Nyashinski deftly addressed this in his hit song "Now You Know", where he questioned why Kenyans have to curtain-raise for Nigerian artistes in their own turf.
He also bashed the derision with which artistes are treated in the country.
He sang: It’s not that serious, rap ni hobby/ Bila mziki bado namanga/ Ingekua career si ningekua nalia kuskia ati Naija Night Nairobi (It’s not that serious, rap is a hobby/ I can still sustain myself without money from music/ If it was a career, it would have pained me to hear about Nigeria Night in Nairobi).
Now, MCSK must have missed the sarcasm in the lyrics, for they used this as a template to dish out the slaps in artistes’ faces masquerading as royalty payments.
The MCSK is one of the three Collective Management Organisations (CMOS) mandated with collecting royalties on behalf of artistes. All these are organisations of the willing.
They have in the past said they pay peanuts because they collect peanuts. If they know that there’s a hole in the royalties’ bucket, as Henry did in Harry Belafonte’s "There’s a Hole in the Bucket", why haven’t they fixed it? Or do these holes benefit them? There are definitely too many vested interests.
Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, who was in the front-line in 2016 when artistes accused MCSK of fraud, said during an interview with Daily Nation back then that part of the challenge is that CMOs are private entities, so it’s very difficult to enforce accountability as they would on a public entity.
He also said that artistes’ financial and legal illiteracy made them an easy target for exploitation.
He added that the role of the CMOs can be played by a government entity. But we know the Kenyan government has proved time and again that it can’t be trusted, so the artistes are left with the “For Us by Us” CMO model, which has also proved ineffective.
The belligerence with which MCSK have been responding to genuine concerns raised by hardworking artistes make it seem like they (MCSK) have something to hide. The tweets, which were later deleted, had cobra-like venom.
The MCSK need to give artistes a breakdown of the royalty collections made, along with the various groups and the parameters used for the same, as this is the bone of contention.
There was a tragic truth, however, in one of MCSK’s deleted tweets: Kenyan music receives little airplay. Remember the cupboard story?
This is a cycle only Kenyans can break as those in support of MCSK’s actions have cited this as our greatest undoing.
One question to the artistes is whether they are providing their music on CDs and other formats to Kenyans who are willing to pay for it, or are they waiting in vain for concerts and endorsement deals?
The other indisputable fact is that the CMOs are member-led and driven. These resolutions are passed at AGM meetings. Do the artistes attend these meetings in droves to help shape their destinies?
If so, let’s see them tweeting about the same. And if the organisation is not working for them, they have the power in their hands to disband it.
Still, MCSK owes the artistes a listening ear and an overdue explanation about the royalty collections. It’s the least they could do for subjecting them to chipped cups and plates for this long.
Faith Oneya is the editor, ‘Living’ magazine, [email protected]