FOR many years after becoming a registered music composer and a Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura) member, I have observed in shock the manner in which Zimura’s annual general meetings have degenerated into a forum for accusations, with musicians blaming the association for their own failures. Musicians have unbelievable expectations of the royalties they are supposed to get from Zimura, and how the said royalties should be able to sustain them.
By DANIEL NGWIRA
Musicians’ income worldwide is drawn from royalties, gate takings during live performances, endorsements and record sales. Of these major sources of income, musicians have very little control over royalties in that they depend on whether one’s material is played either on radio or television. With my experience in the music business spanning 20 years, I have learnt that a good piece will not necessarily get airplay.
Radio DJs in Zimbabwe are the most complicated part of the puzzle when it comes to marketing music. They are not only moved by quality of work in order to play someone’s music. This means that musicians cannot rely on this source of income. Besides, even after being played, the extent to which a musician earns depends on whether or not the DJs have correctly logged in the plays and on how much revenue the radio or television station has made in its financial year. At this point most logging is done manually and thus prone to errors and omissions. No individual musician has the capacity to monitor the logging. Zimura plays a key role in doing this job for musicians.
On the one hand, endorsements, are limited in our market largely because companies are struggling to make ends meet due to the harsh economic environment. In addition, this form of income stream tends to follow a musician’s popularity. The Zimbabwe music industry has not had over five very popular and viable musicians at a time in recent years. In the past, there was an era dominated by Thomas Mapfumo, another by Simon Chimbetu, Oliver Mtukudzi and now it is time for Jah Prayzah.
This simply means that endorsements cannot go to too many musicians in this small market. Due to piracy, record sales have been reduced to nothing these days. Zimbabweans no longer have a culture of buying music and now prefer to source software to download free music online. Local musicians bear the brunt as people steal their work.
Zimura royalties are paid every year in June and depend on whether collections from the public are meaningful. It is expensive for Zimura to collect from the retail sector, mainly bars and restaurants, because the work requires many foot soldiers. Yet it should be noted that, invariably, the extent to which a musician can be paid depends on whether or not the music is played on radio.
At a general meeting held on July 19 at Zimbabwe College of Music, some musicians wanted the general distribution to be shared equally. This was rejected as it would have amounted to robbing the popular musicians of the day to pay the unpopular.
Notable members like Charles Charamba and Mechanic Manyeruke were against this idea. The association’s lawyer, Witness Zhangazha, said worldwide the general distribution is linked to the airplay that one’s music enjoys. As a result of the well-founded, documented international best practice arguments, the demand for equal distribution was thrown out.
Yet it should be understood why musicians feel so pressured to demand equal distribution. Musicians, like everyone else in the economy, are not doing well and are, therefore, tempted to suggest ways which may violate industry norms. In the same vein, Manyeruke urged musicians to find alternative sources of income. My view is that musicians should be able to live off their talent without necessarily looking for alternative sources of income. Music is a full-time job and it is only through total commitment that one can be a viable musician.
I have not known or heard of a part-time musician who has done well in Zimbabwe. Each time there is a Zimura annual general meeting members come out with guns blazing to attack both management and the board of the association. Many times I have expressed to Zimura director Polisile Ncube, who is also a lawyer, and her staff that they have done a splendid job of keeping the association afloat in difficult times, while at the same time paying musicians royalties.
Readers may recall that Zimura took the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to court a few years back to press for payment of royalties. They even threatened to withdraw the works of their members if an agreement could not have reached. This demonstrates Zimura management and directors’ stamina in dealing with musicians’ issues. There is a chance that the Albert Nyathi-led board, most of whose members are musicians, may have been prejudiced of airplay during the fight yet they are thanked with suspicion by fellow musicians.
Regrettably, the association is never judged correctly by musicians who always want the association to play the role of the union. Zimura is there to protect the rights of its members who are composers. Musicians have not shown much interest in having a vibrant union, but want to take their issues to Zimura, which only covers the interests of the composers.
In the past, musicians have formed the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians (ZUM) which disbanded after it was rocked by scandals including the personalisation of union assets by some leaders. At one time, the patron of this union was Webster Shamu, who is famed for having provided housing to musicians in the Hopley area.
In the years that followed, after noticing a gap, we formed a successor union called the Zimbabwe Musicians Union (Zimu) which is headed by Edith Katiji. I happen to be the public relations secretary of this grouping.
At the general meeting, First Farai, sitting in front as a board member of the association, made an individual contribution where he lashed out at Zimu, suggesting it was a losing team. I was the most senior Zimu member at that moment, but was defenceless as Farai raised this matter during the time we were going through the minutes of the previous meeting.
As a learned citizen, I knew that we could not discuss this matter as it was not then time for any other business. It was obviously inappropriate for me to respond as it was not the right forum. In addition, my name was on the ballot box so I did not want to appear like I was campaigning.
Zimu made a decision some time ago to keep the organisation clear of any political influence or political figures because politicians have seasons yet the organisation should never be seasonal.
Farai suggested that ZUM was successful because of the involvement of Shamu as patron yet the assistance Shamu gave to musicians regarding housing provision is not directly linked to ZUM. It is mainly because Shamu had a passion for music, while at the same time he had political influence.
Without the work by the Zimura board and management, so many musicians, including popular ones, would have gone without a decent burial. The association entered into an arrangement with a local funeral assurance company that ensured that its members would be rested in a decent manner. Musicians are blind to this, but choose to accuse the Nyathi- led board and Ncube’s management team of not acting in their interest. Zimura has done its best under the difficult conditions.
What musicians should focus on is to strengthen Zimu so that it can advance their interests. A strong union is supported by a paying membership and attendance of meetings. If musicians in Zimbabwe are united, they can easily become one of the most powerful voices and even their general welfare could improve drastically. The way to unite is through the existing and registered union which is the Zimu.
Through this body, it will be easier to influence the radio stations to play local music. At the general meeting, concern was raised by veteran musician, Alex Goho, that Star FM was being dominated by Nigerian music and supporting very little of local music. It is possible that Star FM could argue that they put Zimdancehall music onto the limelight, but their role should not be limited to one genre. It should extend far and wide to include alternative music such as jazz which has been neglected.
l Daniel Ngwira is a music composer, guitarist, producer and spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Musicians Union. He can be contacted on +26773113161 or email@example.com