1 December 2017

Zimbabwe: Is Jah Prayzah the People's Pied Piper?

That Jah Prayzah is an official army ambassador is common knowledge . . . Wearing military fatigues is an offence in Zimbabwe. But it is apparently not an offence for Jah Prayzah, who is arguably the most popular musician in Zimbabwe at present.

State of the art with Admire Kudita

In the days following the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, everywhere I went, the music of Jah Prayzah was playing.

Jah Prayzah rehearsing at Coke Studio Africa

Kutonga Kwaro has probably been played thousands if not millions of times. It does seem that when you are hot in Zimbabwe, you are really hot. It also seems that Zimbabwe does not really have the stomach for more than one superstar at any given moment. Right now, Jah Prayzah is king.

While the music played

I do not know whether Jah Prayzah has profited financially from his current hot streak. I, however, do believe that unrighteous pirate CD vendors have milked their proverbial cow.

I saw several of these vendors touting their contraband in Harare's streets and quite possibly elsewhere all over the country. Herein is the paradox of Zimbabwean society. Their love for an artiste does not preclude them from supporting nefarious activities that sabotage an artiste's career. Piracy is a leech. Piracy is the very bane of an artiste's business. I marvel that Zimbabweans cannot see the correlation between their own actions of buying pirate copies and an artiste's financial woes.

The lot of artistes

I wonder how sungura musician Alick Macheso is doing financially. He had a good run as a hit maker. I also wonder how Tuku is doing. He had his "fat years" too.

These will be his lean years. It is the way of the business; careers dip . . . I was quite intrigued to learn that one of my all-time favourite groups, Boys II Men, released an album, Under The Street Lights. They have been quiet on the charts. The world of pop music is very dicey and fickle. The industry is ever trawling the seven seas for the next big catch. Music is a business that is largely powered by fads and, as I write, trap is the dominant music form globally. Locally, it is Jah Prayzah and dancehall music. But that, too, shall come to pass.

Where is the money?

The money for an artiste is really not in music sales per se. Live shows and publishing are the major revenue streams for musicians. Over the long term, the money is mainly in publishing which assumes different dimensions.

The royalties have categories.

The first one pertaining to actual sales of music are called mechanical roylties. An artiste is given a percentage per copy sold. The second is performance royalties. These royalties are collected on composers' behalf by collecting societies such as the Performing Rights Society in the United Kingdom, American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers in America and Zimbabwe Music Rights Association locally. Notice, I mentioned composers not artistes in general, for it follows that not every musician is a composer of his own music.

The likes of the late Whitney Houston were big names who did not write their own hit material. Clive Davis, who was her manager, was responsible for hunting for songs from music publishers. How Houston would have benefitted from performance royalties is if a writer agrees to cede a percentage of his or her publishing to the singer in exchange for the placement of the song with her. The other royalties are called syncronisation and these emanate from the use of an artiste's songs in motion picture and adverts, for example. That is a sneak peak into how the industry works.

Locally

The industry operates differently here. Most of the local artistes sing their own material. The money they make comes mainly from live shows. But there has to be demand out there. The demand is based on their having hit records as with Jah Prayzah and Winky D at present. But as to how long the two will last is a factor of many things. The next big thing is always simmering beneath the surface. As soon as he emerges, the crowds will switch allegiance.

So how many tricks does a musician have up his musical sleeve? How many lives do musical cats actually have?

Thomas Mapfumo

In the thicket of the euphoria of the recent political developments in Zimbabwe, there were social media reports of Thomas Mapfumo returning to Zimbabwe. It would have made sense for Zimbabwean music legend Mapfumo to return now. But perhaps not. When he left the country, there was a cloud hanging over his head of having been wanted by police in connection with the buying of stolen cars. According to reports, there is a docket still open even if Mapfumo were to return, would he reclaim a crown that once was his? That point is moot.

Critic or fugitive?

Mapfumo long sang that the country was in tatters in the song Mamvemve. Several other songs hit hard at government for mismanaging the country. Mapfumo has been holding gigs in places such as South Africa and the UK to largely Zimbabweans expatriates over the years. The question that comes to mind in the midst of all that is happening is how far should artistes take their protest?

Fela Kuti, the late Nigerian Afrobeat music don, had several run-ins with the military governments of Nigerian and suffered beatings and jail for his anti-government songs. His Kalakuta Republic compound was razed down by the heavy-handed authorities. His mother was also heavily assaulted by soldiers who had come to mete out punishment on the music guru for his outspoken critique of government. In songs such as I.T.T. (Internationl Thief), he slammed the looting of public funds by successive Nigerian regimes.

He was unrelenting and would not flee Nigeria. He was to die from HIV-related illness rather than from the beatings by the army. Maybe Mapfumo might want to try the courage route. As it is, he is in my view a lion in a zoo, whereas lions really belong in a proper African jungle roaring the night away!

Parting shot

Musicians will forever feel that they must use their music to mirror society's hopes and fears. Most will never really profit materially from their labours. Musicians will also likely either have a martyr complex or will take the hedonist's path and get the world partying mindlessly such as what happened on the Titanic as it sank. It would be nice if society showed a little more gratitude or if musicians made money from their troubles at least. The current situation is downright heartless.

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