Will 2020 sound a sweeter tune for our musicians?

Musician Japheth Kassanga, chair of Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).
After braving an arduous 2019 when their sweat was scorned with paltry amounts in royalties, musicians are looking to the year 2020 with hope and are anticipating better rewards.

An ongoing system amalgamation, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to broadcasters and greater push for musicians get involved, in a big way, in major decisions regarding royalties may just see them laughing all the way to the bank.

Musician Japheth Kassanga, the current chair of Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) says the confusion that arose in 2019 payments is a thing of the past. Musicians and broadcasters also say they are ready to play their part.

Explaining how the payments dwindled to amounts roundly mocked on social media platforms, Mr Kassanga said that regulators’ refusal to renew MCSK’s license denied the agency two year’s worth of collections. 

SEE ALSO :System for paying musicians to go digital

After pushing for it, they eventually got the license in March, with a condition that they - MCSK, Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) and Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) had to work under one license of collection, and all the money should go to one account.

“There were teething problems to amalgamate that new system. The tariffs we agreed on had to be gazetted before we started collecting. We could not collect from January, till towards the end of April. So we collected money in May, June and July,” Kassanga said.

A total of Sh43 million was collected and because there had been no monitoring of the music, the agency distributed the money - minus taxes and administration costs - equally to all its members, numbering about 14,000 musicians.  Out of the three month’s collection, 30 per cent, that is Sh12.9 million, had gone to administrative costs.

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The came the outcry: “So MCSK sends everyone Sh2,500; 15k members that’s 37M are you sure that is all you collected. Kukula jasho ya mtu ni laana na naskia kama hauna license wanakushika right there and then, wacheni ufala,” King Kaka tweeted.

Khaligraph Jones mocked the amount with an authorisation that his music be pirated: “Do not collect money on my behalf anymore….” he said as many others, Holy Dave, Fena, Wangechi, Nikita Kering’ and Antoneosoul added fuel to the fire.

That was 2019. Reflective on the events and looking into the future, musician Nonini blames the musicians themselves for playing a meek and nonchalant role in charting the collection system.

“MCSK has 15,000 members from all over the country. It is the members who write the rules of distribution. If urban musicians like us cannot make a quorum for an AGM and make those rules to suit our needs, we shall always be in problems,” he says.

Nonini was a director at one of the collective management organisations, PRISK, but once his term ended last year, he opted out. “I do not like general distribution but we cannot change it unless we go out in numbers. If we see we cannot make the numbers we should lobby the government to disband the society and start afresh because there are members who are not musicians but they are making rules for musicians.”

Despite the rocky start to reforming the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs), 2020 might be the year that things finally look up for musicians. The ministry of ICT is digitising the collection of money on behalf of musicians.

Kassanga says that President Kenyatta also ordered broadcasting houses to pay money owed to the CMOs, and a lump sum is expected from that.

Wachira Waruru, chairman of the Media Owners Association confirms that it is indeed the case. “Different media houses had different reasons for not paying. We appreciate the work done by musicians, so we recognise that we have an obligation to pay. We just need to pay under the right environment and with the proper structures,” he says.

Wachira says they have been talking to the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) and they are inching closer to an agreement on tariffs payable. MCSK, KAMP and PRISK have also been holding consultative meetings with KECOBO, working on the structures to improve the situation.

“We have been meeting with Hon Mucheru to go over the systems that can help us collect more and efficiently. So once everything is in place, being supervised by the ICT Ministry, I am sure things will be good and musicians will have something to smile about.

“There is a lot of streamlining and structuring going on at MCSK, that is why things are not yet quite clear, but within 2020 we will have made everything clear and money will be coming.” Kassanga says.  

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MCSKKenyan MusicPresident Uhuru KenyattaMusic Copyright Society of KenyaJapheth Kassanga