The Copyright Amendment Bill 2021 by Homa Bay Women Representative Gladys Wanga is one of the more progressive Bills towards the enhancement of artist welfare in Kenya.
The Bill that is awaiting its final reading pushes up Skiza royalties to 52 per cent from the 40 per cent in the royalty sharing arrangement with telecommunication companies among other proposals. Skiza royalties have been a lifeline for several artistes. However, the sharing arrangement has been a bone of contention beginning way back in 2019 when the royalties were just 7.5 per cent.
For a long time, while we celebrated the good financial performance of the firms offering the Skiza service, some artistes were wallowing in poverty. Now, they will be sharing an average of Sh4 billion generated from their work. That includes an additional nine per cent tax benefits that was previously deducted as excise tax benefit. Impressive.
Kenyan artists have always had very few options for their survival in the current digital generation. At first, they sold their tapes, then CDs and performed a little to survive. However, all that was swept away by the digital revolution. Their other hope has been Music Copyright Society of Kenya royalties. That too, has been a disappointment. On several instances, there has been an uproar over meagre earnings, sometimes in the hundreds.
In most countries, art pays, but in Kenya, it pains. Any government that wants to create jobs must think in this direction. We need more policies that protect their welfare and cushions them from the vagaries of life. Most artistes are being sustained by well-wishers and fans. They have their pay bill numbers all over their pages. Yet, they should not be begging us for their livelihood while we entertain ourselves with their creativity.
Now that we are in a political season, it is a pity that no one is speaking about them. Artistes are no different from the Mama Mbogas and boda boda operators that are now a constant feature in the campaign messages. We should also hear what their shares is in the billions being promised for various groups.
I personally suggest county governments should have a list of all performing artists within the county and give them as much airtime as possible. They should strive to have a good number of them on medical insurance schemes too. Artistes themselves must be involved in all bodies that exist for their welfare.
There should never be anything for them, without them. They can also organise themselves and exploit digital distribution opportunities. The welfare of artistes is the welfare of all. Their creativity nourishes us.
The writer is an anchor at Radio Maisha