Hope for music artistes after years begging for hard-earned royalties

It was three years ago when the trio of Bryan Chweya, Maureen Kunga and Wambui Ngugi of the Elani music sensation came out to narrate how poorly the Music Cooperate Society of Kenya (MCSK) was paying artists in royalties.

The group had received a pittance of Sh31,000 for their work in 2014.

That year, Elani music had ruled the airwaves and discos with such hits as Kookoo and Milele, which quickly became sing alongs in matatus, market places, estates and even in children play games.

Just a year earlier, another music group had received Sh600,000 in royalties, raising hope for many artistes.

“For far too long, the country has been quiet, not speaking about the ills that cripple the musicindustry. Music is a job like any other. All artists need to be paid their dues. We should not have to cry, protest, and beg for monies owed to us,” Elani said in their protest video.

Their protest opened a Pandoras box. In no time, many other artistes rose in protest, with calls for MCSK officials to step down. Audit queries revealed a massive waste of artistes’ collection in salaries and unnecessary perks, leaving the people who deserved the money poor.

The 14,000 strong membership not only succeeded in having MCSKs licence revoked as a Content Management Organisation (CMO) but also had its officials resign en masse and a new office put in place. The Kenya Copyright Board has since licenced two more CMOs -- the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) and the Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) -- and restored MCSKs licence to collect royalties.

Whilst KAMP takes care of music producers, PRISK looks after the interests of performing artistes, stage actors and musicians. “We now have three CMOs and this is good not only for mobilisation, but also efficiency and accountability,” said KECOBO Executive Director Edward Sigei during an induction meeting with the CMOs at a Naivasha Hotel last week.

A rigorous monitoring and evaluation regime has been introduced to make sure the CMOs not only comply with set out standards, but also improve on their management systems, he said.

These include the fact that the CMOs have agreed to pay a minimum of 70 per cent of all collected monies to artistes.

“We have a binding commitment with the CMOs to pay 70 per cent of all they collect and only use 30 per cent for management and logistics,” he said.

Mr Sigei said the the CMOs will hand over monthly financial and progress reports. KAMP disclosed that by June, they will pay up to Sh14 million to its members countrywide.

“Today, we have more than 400 members and we have just acquired a new digital system which comprises field licencing digital gadgets,” said the new KAMP CEO Joseph Njagi.

Acting MCSK CEO Milka Kulati said the organisation has learnt from its past mistakes and assured the members that by Monday (April 8) they will roll out the payment exercise.

Kenya Film Classification Board CEO Ezekiel Mutua said his organisation is committed to helping artistes earn from the sweat of their brow.

PRISK Board Chairman Ephantus Kamau has reached out to hotel owners, public transport operators, online content distributors and other consumers of music to cooperate with the CMOs and give musicians their dues. Japheth Kassanga, the new MCSK chairman, termed the new office a new dawn for musicians. “We are ready to shed our past. From now on, things will be different,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government will no longer rate films and music that are pirated and those involved in piracy will face the full force of the law, Dr Mutua has warned.

The KFCB CEO said the board will protect the right of artistes to earn their dues in an operation that will involve the Kenya Copyright Board and the law enforcers.

“The narrative that content has to be dirty to sell is a fallacy. It’s misleading and entirely an agenda of perverts who want to ruin our moral fabric,” he said. He cited a survey by the Board that shows that 70 per cent of Kenyans want clean content. He cited Skiza tunes used on mobile phones and disclosed that out of the top 20 tunes, 18 are christian songs.

Mutua also encouraged Kenyans to buy original music. According to the Entertainment and media outlook 2017/21, an African perspective by PWC released in September 2017, the Kenyan entertainment and media market was worth Sh210 billion in 2016, up 13.6 per cent in 2015. Revenue is also expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8.5 per cent over the next five years, hitting the Sh300 billion mark in 2020, and totaling Sh320 billion in 2021.

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