Monday, 24 November 2008


Time to follow the example of Nashville?

Writing in last Friday's Daily Times (Malawi), Alec van Gelder and Mark Schultz ("My Point of View -Unchain Africa’s melodies") return to the sad if perpetually recurrent theme of music piracy in Africa.

Right: Elvis -- a product of Nashville or a prototype for Africa?

But, having done so, they point out that there is an entire business dimension to the music industry, and that most African nations do not understand this:

" ... But piracy explains only part of the problem. Recording companies underpay musicians and renege on agreements; radio stations fail to pay licence fees for tunes they air; most royalties agencies are state-owned or politically influenced: musicians get the worst deal in music.

It should be no surprise, then, that most commercial African music is recorded and produced in London or Paris".

After describing the success of Nashville, Tennessee, in dealing with similar phenomena in the previous century, the authors continue:
"This success can be copied. After collapsing in the 1990s, Zambia’s music industry has turned itself around. First came the new copyright law. Then, in 1999, a new Zambian record label, Mondo Music Records, sparked the revival. Much like Ralph Peer in Nashville, Mondo’s founder Chisha Folotiya showed the way for other entrepreneurs and creators, unleashing what he calls “exponential growth in the amount of Zambian music being produced in the last seven years, and also in the consumption and the appreciation of it.” “We want Zambian music to contribute towards the economic development of our country,” he adds.

Encouragingly, Africa’s musicians are already one step ahead of Nashville’s folk-singers before their commercial success: African music is already hugely appreciated elsewhere. But without a legal environment that enforces copyrights and contracts, Africans’ creativity is not protected and cannot contribute to economic development.

For example, John Collins of the School of Performing Arts in Ghana estimates the Ghanaian music industry alone could generate US$53 million a year from foreign sales if local conditions supported creativity.

Nigeria's creative industries could generate about US$4 billion annually, information and communications minister John Odey said this month--but only if intellectual property rights are enforced, Copyright Commission chief Adebambo Adewopo added.

Only South Africa has a strong music business, with internationally-known musicians such as Hugh Masekela, the late Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ray Phiri, and the Soweto Gospel Choir--not least because they have sound intellectual property rights.

Any country can benefit from that potential by allowing it to flourish. Creators are also entrepreneurs, even if they are playing for tips in bars, and, like businesses everywhere else, these entrepreneurs need economic freedom.

Unless legal systems empower creative talents by protecting their intellectual property, Africa’s musicians will continue to head abroad, taking with them the sounds, the entertainment and their money too".

It's not clear whether the authors are offering a gleam of hope, a prophecy of doom, or possibly both. But this article is right to emphasise that piracy is only a symptom of the problems facing creative musical talent in Africa -- albeit a serious one -- rather than the problem itself.



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24 November 2008 at 08:52 delete

Zambia is cited as a bit of a success story here, and I would have to agree. I think this is due in part to one HUGE difference between Zambia and Nigeria (I don't know about other African countries on this one). Zambia has official dedicated music store (this would also be similar to the US/Nashville). Everyone knows they can go to Sounds and find real copies of all their favorite artists' albums. The albums are reasonably priced, too. In Nigeria, I couldn't find anything like that. Even asking the people at the NCC where I could go to buy non-pirated albums, they didn't know.
Distribution, marketing and the ability of wanting consumers to find legitimate products plays a huge role in the fight against piracy.
P.S. Mondo music also has a great website that offers downloads and mail orders as well as information on their artists.

24 November 2008 at 10:53 delete

As a co-author of this article and of the longer monograph where our arguments are explained in much more detail, our perspective is that creative industries represent a major potential for many African economies. But, given current conditions, that potential is not being realised. Those who have the potential - the entrepreneurs and artists - find it easier to take their talents and skills abroad. Improving the enforcement of copyright is critical, but so are other far more mundane things, such as allowing collecting societies to operate freely, to improve the independence of courts so that contracts can be (much more easily) enforced, and so on. Jeremy, I would be pleased to send you a copy of our report. Simply e-mail me: alec [at]

Alec van Gelder
Network Director
International Policy Network

17 February 2009 at 18:31 delete

There's no factual evidence that greater respect-for/enforcement-of so-called intellectual property rights correlates with faster growth in poor emerging economies. On the contrary, there's evidence of a correlation the other way around, both among poorer countries such as fast-growing much-copying China and India, and among already-rich countries with plenty to patent/copyright. Check it out yourselves using IPRI ratings and Worldbank growth rates, guys!