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Local stage, foreign lyrics

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Sometimes, some local musicians make the unintentional admission that local music performances are a brunt knife that do not sparkle with life by opening their live-performance chapter on the stage with a message that has nothing to do with being Malawian.

They thus prefer performing foreign music to their own creations.

Locally, the act is generally described as playing ‘copyright music’ and there, too, lies the irony because local musicians who perform songs done by foreign artists do not bother to seek permission to play such songs.

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In an ideal world, irrespective of the fact that the foreign lyrics sound so believable that the audience believes they are a Malawian version of life, the local artists are supposed to seek permission to play such songs in public.

And on the dance floor stands a group of clueless dancers, dancing to the foreign beat as if the real artist was there.

Attend a show where Lambanie Dubie is performing and you are sure to be treated to a good dish of foreign reggae songs. The Black Missionaries sometimes also do it well, too— especially the curtain-raisers.

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Just recently, at Pajokala in Zomba, Zembani Band leader, Pat Smak, also did it well that one appreciated the fact that Malawian artists can do it like foreign musicians.

In short, local artists do foreign songs so well that it is a surprise local music fails to get up the international ladder.

But, somehow, an element of silent melancholy takes hold of the patrons as they realise that, perhaps, the best music has already been done and, perhaps, the best days are gone by. By extension, this means the artists also implicitly admit that, maybe, what we call modern Malawi music is nothing more serious than children’s play.

Does it make sense that an overrated local band should spend much of its time gloating over foreign olden music during a live performance? Surely, only a tactless performer should specialize in regurgitating lyrics done a long time ago, without seeking any permission.

Too much focus on foreign music is a typical example of brunt mindedness, tactlessness elements that sometimes conspire to rob Malawi of creativity in the music industry.

However, musician Lommie Mafunga dismisses such outright dismissal of the local music industry, saying some musicians start with foreign music— do not mind under what circumstances they get the go ahead to play such music— as a warm up.

He says, sometimes, a local artist may play a foreign song because the foreign artist is the idle of the musician.

“Otherwise, it is really important to abide by rules of the game. If permission has to be sought, I do not see any reason why that should not be done,” says Mafunga.

Mafunga, of ‘Baba Micca’ fame, adds that, sometimes, it is better to look at the positive side of things.

He observes that, sometimes, when Malawian musicians become victims of renowned world artists, the world does not bother. He cites the issue of Giddes Chalamanda, whose ‘Buffalo Soldier’ song became a ‘victim’ of a clever foreign artist. One famous artist did a song along the same lines and, despite Chalamanda’s prostrations, the world did not care.

In fact, the foreign artist continued to perform such a contentious song ill at ease, his mind racked by nothing more than pride.

However, Chalamanda is still happy that the lyrics in ‘Buffalo Soldier’ paid off for him.

When I was among a group of journalists who welcomed Chalamanda in July when he jetted into the country from the United States of America at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre, Chalamanda said:

“I would not have gone to [the United States of] America without Buffalo Soldier. So, I just thank God,” Chalamanda said.

Buffalo Soldier is an artist’s expression of the hope to see the land of America and a living example that, sometimes, artists sing about the world they know, and sometimes the worlds they want to get to.

New ‘boy’ in town

For the time being, however, artists such as Mafunga hope that, following the passing of the new ‘boy’ in town, namely the Copyright Bill of 2016, things will change positively for both the local and foreign artist.

“We can only hope for the best. But, then, our focus should not just be on fighting piracy, but issues such as public performances of local and foreign artists’ songs as well,” Mafunga says.

For those who are yet to go through the Bill, here are some highlights.

The last meeting of Parliament passed the Copyright Bill of 2016, which repealed the Copyright Act (Cap. 49:03) enacted in 1989. The new Act incorporates recent developments that have emerged since the Copyright Act came into force.

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs indicated, among other things, that, “At the time of enactment of the current Act, Malawi was a Party to the Berne Convention but there have been new developments since then. These developments include the adoption and entry into force of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips), the World Copyright Treaty and the WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organisation] Performances and Phonograms Treaty. These Conventions, particularly the Trips Agreement, set down new minimum standards for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights”.

Among other things, the Bill establishes the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma), which will oversee the implementation of the Bill.

It also has provisions on copyright matters which, among other things, offers an author of any work exclusive property rights in their work against all persons. It also provides that written laws and decisions of courts, news communicated to the public by any means and reports of commissions appointed by the government shall not be subject to copyright protection.

It provides for economic rights of authors which entail that an author of a work eligible for copyright shall have the exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute, display and communicate the work to the public.

In addition to economic rights, the bill provides for moral rights and it provides that an author of any work eligible for copyright shall have an exclusive right to claim authorship of his work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or modification of his work where such act would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation.

It also sets out permitted free uses of a work. For example, it stipulates that “works may be used without the consent of the author and without the obligation to pay remuneration for the use of such work in certain specified circumstances”.

In the same vein, copyright may be transferred by assignment, testamentary disposition or by the operation of the law. However, it stipulates that an assignment has to be in writing and signed by the owner, as well as that authorisation by the owner of copyright for the use of a work may be granted under a contract in writing.

Way forward on foreign songs’ performances

Cosoma Senior Licensing Officer, Rosario Kamanga, observes that Malawian artists should always seek permission before performing songs done by foreign acts.

“Even under the old [Copyright] Act [of 1989], local artists were obliged to seek permission before playing foreign songs during a public performance and this requirement has not changed following passing of the Copyright Bill of 2016,” Kamanga observes.

Kamanga adds that authors of work retain exclusive rights to their property, and, unless otherwise stated, it is important that artists should be the first ones to abide by and to respect such requirements.

“So, we expect those who want to play foreign songs on stage to respect copyright laws,” Kamanga adds.

However, it is widely acknowledged that Cosoma does not have prosecutorial powers. How will it enforce these provisions?

“Of course, we do not have powers of prosecution, but we have officers who monitor these issues and take appropriate action. We also work with other agencies to ensure that people who violate copyright laws are brought to book. That is why, in the past, we have been able to take pirates to court,” Kamanga observes.

Surely, it makes sense that short cut-takers should be prevented from plucking fruits of other artists’ creativity without following right precedures.

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