Artistes push for better pay

Musician Steve Mkawasi (right) presents a petition to the director of the Permanent Presidential Music Commission, Dr Donald Otoyo, at the Kenya Film Centre in Nairobi on Wednesday. Looking on is Dr Abbey Chokera. [George Orido, Standard]
Artistes representing various genres met on Wednesday to discuss what is ailing the creative industry and plot the way forward.

The musicians and comedians, among others, congregated at the Kenya Film Centre in Nairobi where they agreed on the contents of a petition to presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

There was good news for the more than 800 participants when the Permanent Presidential Music Commission Director Donald Otoyo disclosed that they had set minimum pay rates for artistes who performed during national day events.

“We will now pay not lower than Sh50,000 for individuals and Sh100,000 for groups during national events such as Jamhuri Day,” said Dr Otoyo.

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The Arts Society of Kenya chair Eliud Abuto asked the Government to ensure the Kenya Cultural Centre remained the hub of art and creativity in the country.

Mr Abuto also asked county governments to stop charging production houses for the works. “Film licensing should be centralised and fees reduced to encourage more players to join the industry.”

He further requested the Government to reduce or remove taxes levied on imported equipment for movie production purposes.

Music catalogue

Steve Mkawasi, who was representing producers, asked the Government to help push the development of a catalogue of all Kenyan music thus creating an easy tracking system for all players in the industry.

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Mr Mkawasi also pushed for the reintroduction of music and the art as examinable subjects in the school curriculum.

But what emerged as the most pressing topic was the fate of artistes who toiled for years, but in the end had little or nothing to show for their hard work.

Stories were shared of many musicians and comedians who had left a mark in the creative scene only to die in poverty and leave behind families that could hardly afford three square meals a day.

Some of the artistes mentioned included comedian Benson Wanjau, whose stage name was Mzee Ojwang’, and benga musician Gabriel Omollo who was famous for his Lunchtime hit.

Teddy Kalanda, one of the founding members of Them Mushrooms band, was also said to be blind and ailing at his coastal home.

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The thorny issue of payment of music royalties also featured prominently with the artistes pleading with the Government to establish a centralised digital collection system.

“We cannot depend on individuals who collect our monies and only pay us a paltry 20 per cent of what they have collected,” said one of the artistes.

Recently, the Kenya Copyright Board licensed three associations to collect royalties, a move that has irked many musicians given their past less-than-stellar experiences with the Music Copyright Society of Kenya.

Veteran emcee Thomas Kwaka, whose stage name is Big Ted, suggested that a new association of veteran artistes should be formed and members given State recognition and commendations.

Musician David Amunga, whose 1950s song Someni Vijana extolling the virtues of education was a hit for decades, asked the Government to establish centres where budding artistes could sharpen their skills.

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Mr Amunga tickled the more than 800 participants when he recalled how his father slapped him for his dalliance with music when he was still a school boy.

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