Piracy a ‘disease’ killing music in Zimbabwe
By Blessing Vava
When I was growing up the festive season was a hive of activity as a majority of the people would be preparing for the Christmas Holiday. It was a time when those in the transport industry, clothing and grocery business would make a killing as business was rife.
As for local musicians it was the time they released their albums targeting the festive season when a majority of the working class would be receiving their thirteenth cheques. Every household would definitely be having the latest albums from local musicians.
During those years musicians like the late Leonard Dembo, Simon Chimbetu, Leonard Zhakata would all be competing for sales of their new recordings. Those years the albums would come in two formats namely the vinyl records and the audio cassettes and the music was sold mainly in licensed record bars.
Though the royalties were not that much during that time at least artistes were rewarded for their work. Live shows were mainly done to supplement income from the sale of their albums. In recent years almost all the popular musicians are working overtime holding shows from Thursday to Sunday because of the decline in the sales of CDs.
The decline in the sales of original CDs is mainly attributed to piracy which has ravaged the music industry market. In Zimbabwe the first cases of music piracy were recorded in the early 90s and it was mainly due to the economic meltdown that had taken its toll.
It was believed that pirated audio cassettes were being produced in neighbouring countries namely Zambia and Mozambique. The pirated cassettes were going for low prizes as compared to the original ones. The pirated ones were not that popular amongst many because of their poor sound quality and as such a majority still preferred to buy the original product from licensed dealers.
As the years were rolling and new technological advancement donning on our door steps vinyl records and cassettes were soon to be out done by the introduction of compact discs which slightly fetched a higher price mark despite their short lifespan.
Even the manufacturers of radios had to phase out those with a provision for audio cassettes but mainly concentrating with cd players. But because of their high price there was a proliferation of unscrupulous people who were now burning music CDs for a low price. This marked the beginning of the growth of music piracy in the country.
Nowadays every street corner in all most every part of the country you will see vendors selling pirated music for very low amounts in broad day light. Surprisingly we have heard cases of some unreleased stuff being sold in the street without the knowledge of the artistes.
The case of Oliver Mtukudzi’s Dairai album of 2008 which he had to shelve its release forcing him to change the name, tracks and beat of the original album. The superstar had to release a new version of the album giving it a title Rudaviro. Another example is Alick Macheso’s Zvinoda Kutendwa which found its way into the street market without his knowledge.
Such cases have led to huge losses being incurred by musicians, and record companies. Composing a song let alone a six track album takes a lot of work, time and determination. Thus musicians need to be rewarded for their work. Music piracy is not only affecting musicians but the government at large because the income from the selling of pirated music is not taxed.
Piracy is a disease that needs to be cured if our music industry is to succeed. I do believe that the government is not doing much to deal with cases of piracy. Of course we have read cases of offenders being arrested but i do not remember hearing of any conviction to date, maybe it skipped my ears?
We need pieces of legislation that are clear in how such cases should be dealt with. There is a need for the police and law enforcement agents to effectively deal with offenders and set a clear example to those involved in this fraudulent and scandalous enterprise. One thing for sure is that those involved in the production of pirated music are known but i wonder why there are not being brought to book.
We only hear cases of vendors being arrested and not those who are supplying them. Stiffer penalties or jail sentences should be imposed as a remedy to deal with piracy. I also suggest that spot fines be introduced to anyone found in possession of pirated music.
As for motorists they has been an increase in the usage of car modulators which allows one to play music through a USB stick. Police need to mann roadblocks and arrest those found playing music through such means.
I also noted that one of the reasons why music from popular musicians is being pirated is because of its unavailability on the formal markets. Musicians should ensure that before they launch an album the product should flood the markets to coincide with the launch.
People end up desperately buying pirated music because the new album would not be available in many record shops. Musicians should also make their albums available during live performances.
With the number of Zimbabweans living in the diaspora it is high time that those in the music industry introduce online purchasing of their music. This will be another easier way of selling music and creating less opportunities for piracy.
In conclusion i would say the most important aspect driving piracy is the cost of the music. After visiting , most record bars in the city I realised that prices for local CDs are ranging from $US4 to $US10 the latter being those of big guys like Tuku and Mapfumo.
In the streets the same album will be costing a $1 each and obviously one wouldn’t folk out $10 whilst you can get a cheaper one. Those in the industry need to revise their prices and sell them for at least $2 which is at least reasonable.
When Tongai Moyo released his debut album Toita Basa it was going for $2 and it sold like hot cakes the first week of its release. We should all unite against piracy, lets reward our musicians by buying the original stuff because piracy is killing musicians.
Blessing ‘Vuvuzela’ Vava is a music lover based in Chipinge. He can be contacted on [email protected]