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High notes Uhuru hit artistes will always remember him for

Members of the Sauti Sol entertain during the 51st Jamuhuri day Celebration at Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi.

President Uhuru has arguably been a favourite among artistes thanks to his efforts in reforming the entertainment industry during his tenure. But, forget his charming nature – inviting artistes and dancers to the State House, or dancing to tunes with every chance he got – Uhuru has been hailed for ensuring artistes enjoy better royalties after years of receiving peanuts.

In April this year, Uhuru signed the 2021 Copyright Amendment Bill, promising higher revenues for artistes. The Bill, which was published by the National Assembly on October 6, 2021, and passed by Parliament in February, provides artistes with a more significant share of the revenue from their ringback tones.

The new law, part of the government’s efforts to safeguard the interests of musicians, dictated that artistes would get 52 per cent of the revenue collected on ringback tunes, while the remaining 43 per cent shared between telecommunication operators and premium rate service providers.

The law came after musicians’ lobby groups had fought for a fairer revenue-sharing formula, with artistes receiving an average of 16 per cent of earnings. At the same time, 25 per cent went to the taxman and 51 per cent to mobile phone operators.

Kenyan artistes, including Charles ‘Jaguar’ Njagua, Daddy Owen, Guardian Angel, Khaligraph Jones, and Maureen Kunga from the Elani band, welcomed the enactment of the law, calling it a step in the right direction.

Music Copyright Society of Kenya boss Ezekiel Mutua commended Uhuru for the move, saying the law would make Kenyan artistes rich while rewarding them for their efforts.

“The exploitation of musical works through technology has been largely tilted in favour of business people, including tech companies, telecommunications operators, and broadcasters, while the real owners of copyright get peanuts,” he said.

Mutua added that the lack of a structured revenue sharing formula that gave recognition to copyright owners had “long led to a situation where many artistes continue to languish in exploited and to poverty while users of the artistic works declare huge profits each year.”

In April 2020, at a time when the country was reeling from the effects of covid-19, Uhuru emboldened the entertainment industry with a directive to the Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Heritage to set aside Sh100 million to cushion local artistes from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

While addressing the nation on the state of the covid-19 outbreak, Uhuru said the Sh100 million fund would allow musicians, actors, and artistes, to continue entertaining the public.

“I direct the Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Heritage to avail Sh100 million from the Sports Fund to our artistes, actors, and musicians during the period of the covid-19 pandemic so they may continue to entertain their fellow brothers and sisters through TV, radio and the internet,” said Uhuru.

At the same time, Uhuru had announced that musicians would henceforth be earning Sh200 million per month in royalties, translating to at least Sh2 billion yearly. Uhuru said the move was aimed at fulfilling an earlier promise he had made to musicians.

In his address to the nation in January 2020, Uhuru stated he revamped the structure in which musicians would receive royalties through a new register channeled through a single centrally-managed account at the Kenya Copyrights Board.

“Starting this month, all our local artistes will be earning a total of Sh200 million per month that will be paid to musicians through the system and other platforms that we have developed. This shall translate this year to over Sh2 billion going into the pockets of our young artistes and young Kenyans,” said Uhuru.

The move was welcomed by musicians, including Ben Githae, and composers who, during a press conference, hailed Uhuru for weeding out the middlemen who had hindered them from fully gaining from their crafts. 

In 2015, after missing out on a film, The Journey is the Destination, about a young photojournalist Dan Eldon, an English-born Kenyan killed on an assignment in Somalia, Uhuru went on a mission to save Kenya from losing out on lucrative Hollywood film location deals to South Africa.

This was after The Standard highlighted a story on Kenya losing to South Africa as a film destination, where players urged the government to put in measures to stop the downfall of lucrative Hollywood Businesses to South Africa.

And in December 2019, Uhuru approved a plan aimed at enticing international filmmakers after giving the go-ahead to the implementation of the film incentives package, offering a tax rebate, credit, and cash contribution to filmmakers.