Two years ago, Sanii Makhalima, the Ndipe Rudo hitmaker known for his smooth, crooning tenor vocals and spiritually-uplifting themes, gave me an assignment to find out why he was not being paid royalties for his music which was being used as cellphone ring tones by Econet subscribers. I was tasked to work out with Econet how Makhalima could benefit from it. Econet have this caller ring backtone service which they call Buddie Beats which allows its subscribers to purchase a song of their choice from a list of given songs for $1 per month.
in the groove with Fred Zindi
Upon enquiry, I was tossed from one office to another until one gentleman told me that they had obtained a licence from Gramma Records to use the music they chose to put into their ring tone library. I tried to get confirmation from Emmanuel Vhori of Gramma Records, but before I could speak to him, Makhalima’s music had been removed from the Econet ringtone library. I reported back to Makhalima and he told me to let the matter to rest as litigation would have been too costly.
Mobile phone use in Zimbabwe has exploded in recent years and ring back tunes — the few bars of music paid for by customers that play while a call is being connected — are hugely popular. As a result, Econet has made Buddie Beats one of its biggest sources of revenue.
But the copyright societies in Zimbabwe have accused mobile phone companies of not giving artists a fair cut from the sales of their music through ring tones. An Econet official I spoke to acknowledged that the company recently re-negotiated ringtone deals to better favour the artists. “We are expecting improvements in this area,” he said.
Recording artists are pressing mobile phone companies for more money when they use their songs. They are asking the government to put into effect a new push to protect intellectual property, and the national copyright commissions such as African Regional Industrial Property Organisation (Aripo) to create an institution which will train musicians and judges, about artists’ intellectual property rights and how to patent their creative works. However, without the musicians lobbying for this collectively through their unions and other organisations, this exercise becomes futile.
Music has always been part of the fabric of Zimbabwe. What is hard for most musicians is the ability to monetise it. A good example is that of Jah Prayzah/Diamond Platinumz’s hit, Watora Mari which has captured over a million views on YouTube. YouTube pays out thousands of dollars to any artist who achieves this goal if proper processes are followed. Former Beatles’s, Sir Paul McCartney, a multi-millionaire musician, received $65 000 in royalties after scoring over two million views from You Tube last year and he complained that it was too little. Information reaching me from Keen Mushapaidze, Jah Prayzah’s manager, suggests that they have not been able to capitalise on that opportunity.
“The music industry has been its own biggest enemy,” said one artist. “It’s descended to a point where people who use your material almost feel like you should celebrate them. They claim they are doing you a favour by playing your music. That is nonsense!.”
Plenty of musicians in Zimbabwe are still willing to sacrifice money to get noticed. Several musicians pay DJ’s to get airplay. It should not be like that. If one’s music is good enough, DJ’s do not need persuasion. They cannot resist playing it. But you get some youngsters who dream of stardom, sitting on a bed as they sing into a microphone. These are the same people who put their music on social media platforms for everyone to listen to free of charge or make free give-away CDs all in a bid to become famous.
The same thing goes with music pirates. Artists across the world battle illegal sales of their work. But Zimbabwe’s piracy problem is so ingrained that music thieves do not see the need to pay anyone for stealing their music. At a sewer-side market in Mbare, I witnessed, dozens of customers lined up with their smartphones and flash drives, eagerly handing over cash to pirates with laptops to load up on Jah Prayzah and Mafikizolo’s Sendekera song. The artists earned nothing from the sales of this tune and the authorities (There were about six police officers within the vicinity) did nothing about what was going on.
Zimbabwean pirated music is not only found in the country. In Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia and in the United States, Zimbabweans in particular are making business from illegal sales of stolen music.
For many artists, the more popular they become, the more their music is stolen. Bootlegged Zimbabwean music is stacked alongside the thousands of other counterfeit CDs at the Roodepoort Market in South Africa. I have personally seen pirated music of Charles Charamba, Oliver Mtukudzi, Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Alick Macheso, Comrade Chinx , Leonard Dembo, Simon Chimbetu and Winky D being flaunted at this market. The originators of this music get nothing in return. This could be stopped if the industry was more organised.
For many years, musicians have been complaining about this fraudulent act known as piracy. While every step has been taken to alert the authorities about this problem, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to it. It is the wish of every recording artist to have the authorities impose stiffer penalties against these vendors to stop such practices. Through music piracy, these vendors are killing the music industry.
Every law-abiding citizen should help get rid of this menace by not supporting these pirates and their street vendors. Stiffer penalties such as not only arresting those who sell, but also those who buy pirated music should be put in place.
Simple consumer education should tell us that people should not be playing host to illegal items that would normally be found on the black market.
Members of the country’s music industry should try to put a stop to all the pilfering, hoping they can finally turn the growing popularity of Zimbabwean music to their advantage.