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:
After describing the success of Nashville, Tennessee, in dealing with similar phenomena in the previous century, the authors continue:
" ... 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".
"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.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.
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".