Columnists Features

The malaise of the Zambian entertainment industry Part II


IN CONTINUATION from part I of the article, the crux of this discourse is to understand the extent to which the entertainment industry can be a durable means of survival for our hard-working artistes. For arguments’ sake, of the current crop of musicians, apart from Macky II, Slap D, Mampi, Amayenge and JK, how many artists are earning a decent livelihood from their intellectual property? None! In comparison to Nigeria’s famed musicians whose net worth average earnings are in excess of one million dollars? Our artists are leap years behind. How much money does our acclaimed actor Owas Mwape earn from the films he works hard to produce? How much money do cultural dance troupes earn from their performances to sustain them? Or better still, how much is earned by those visual artistes who spend their day being sun-kissed curving all types of artwork? The truth is that they earn peanuts and this is so because the system disfavours the brains behind the works. In Zambia, entertainment artists are conferred fame and not the fortune.
As a nation, we should be guilty of stealing from these dead and living intellectuals. In fact, the guilt should stem from the fact that we pirate their music through free downloads from the internet. We should be guilty because we allow unscrupulous filches to download music, package it in those white paper-labelled CDs sold on the streets with impunity for cut-rate prices while the owners of the work famish in hunger and some in destitution. We should be guilty that we have not created an environment where these artists in film or music can access funds to start up their artistry. We should be guilty because we have allowed our musicians to perform for peanuts and yet we are so comfortable to pay foreign artists thousands of dollars. Where does that money suddenly come from? We should guilty because we have not readily availed them financial literacy to manage their fame and fortune. We should be guilty because we have not provided the correct infrastructure to enhance the quality of the recording and productions.
Apparently, word on the ground is that some DJs in some radio stations are now asking for money for an artist’s music to receive airplay? How corrupt can the system be? While the work of the DJs is totally appreciated, it is discriminatory and highly bigoted to expect a young budding musician to pay them money for airplay when they even struggled to just get studio time to record a song. From the net-worth of the South African music and the Nigerian movie and music industry, one can conclude that the entertainment industry is a business that can thrive in a virtuous environment. The questions that policy-makers should be asking themselves should range from: what is South Africa or even Nigeria doing right to attain such high levels of net worth? Pundits will hide in population numbers which this author does not subscribe to. What about Botswana? What about Equatorial Guinea and Benin that do not have the population numbers but have gone ahead to produce big earning artists? The panacea for this malaise of the entertainment industry needs well thought coordination at policy all the way to the recording studio, production and the marketplace. When artists in music or film industry are well remunerated, producers will be well paid just like DJS and eventually more revenue will be poured in the treasury.
Institutions like the National Arts Council (NAC) and Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) need to be operating at macro level in pushing for reformation of the entertainment industry and not just issuing numb reactive press statements. They should engage experts who understand how this industry works in developed countries and then make progressive propositions to the Government for consideration. On the other hand, the powers that be should create a forum for cross-pollination of ideas on how to restructure the entertainment industry for various forms of artistic work to benefit those from rural areas.
There is need to put in place policy measures that cascade to the ward level. For instance, the Government can dedicate three or four percent of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to arts at constituency level. This should be executed with a proper tracking system. This is a form of employment creation at ward level which when aggregated at national level would have an impact on citizen empowerment. High-tech music and film recording equipment should be bought and installed in all ZANIS offices throughout the country to enable the tapping of rural talent. There is no justification to continue keeping our artists whether in film, music, comedy, painting or cultural dance as second-rate performers when it is a common fact that authentic Zambian music and films can break boundaries and earn the country recognition and much-needed revenue. Once fundamentals are put in place, everything else will work out because the industry will be paying itself. Perhaps we will see a policy where all artists in whatever form will be required to register with Patents and Companies Registration Authority (PACRA) and Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to enable the Government determine the quantum of the industry. For musicians, music is an investment that they should be earning interest through royalties once their ‘five minutes’ of fame are over. Let us not deprive them of the fruits of their hard work.
The author is a Lusaka-based observer of local and African affairs.
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