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Royalties: poets, theatre industry players’ needle in a haystack!

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ROYALTY BENEFICIARIES — Musicians

Creativity should, in an ideal setup, be exciting.

Under a conducive environment, it opens the floodgates of success and reduces poverty— for a long time the sub-theme to Malawi’s dominant theme of warm-heartedness— to ashes.

It must be borne in mind, however, that it is not enough to make a name in the arts: Those who join the industry must not only acquire a certain greatness, but become richer and happier than those who opened the way. This is the state of affairs that should be applicable to the ideal world of creativity.

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Not for Malawi, though.

Instead of the creative industry being exciting and well-paying, it is grisly. Maybe because Malawi just seems to be different.

Take, for instance, the case of poets- those unique human beings who are capable of compressing the world they know and the world they create into stanzas.

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One would think that the Felix Njonjonjo Katsokas, the Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwas, Hudson Chamasowas, Sylvester Kalizang’omas, Evelyn Maotchas, Joseph Madzedzes would be living the fruits of their creativity.

However, theirs is a vindication that, sometimes, justice is blind. Poets who have produced albums will tell you that they have fought tooth and nail to prompt the Copyright Society of Malawi to protect and safeguard their works, with little success.

Even when the Cosoma stickers were the in-thing for musicians, the poets were left at the mercy of their own devices.

Poets who produce albums are left to check piracy by themselves. When Cosoma pays musicians their royalties, poets— who have taken the radio airwaves by storm and are riding on a new wave of popularity— watch from a distance.

They wish they could be the ones showered with such monetary rewards because they deserve to lay their hands on the loot, too.

Ironically, standing in their way are not piracy perpetrators but authority figures who were supposed to protect them.

Instead of promoting justice, and recognising that poets, too, are covered by intellectual property instruments, the copyright authorities behave as if they were a mysterious adult who looms over a hapless child’s world— large and menacing and insensitive.

Add to the dish the problems of piracy and the picture changes from hopeless to ruthless.

This is the ironic situation artists such as poets find themselves in considering that the copyright authorities are armed to the tooth by the laws of the land. They also have a vast fund of experience in planning and carrying out anti-piracy programmes.

Why, despite these advantages, they have been up to their, sometimes, snap judgements nobody knows.

Only progressive thinking can put an end to this fruitless misunderstanding, more so because unity in purpose is the stuff of serious minds.

Of course, sometimes the poets put the copyright authorities in dilemma. For instance, when some clueless poets incorporate folktale and village songs in their act, they make their story commonplace, forcing the copyright authorities to face a Hobson’s Choice as they walk the thin line of distinguishing the poet’s original work from stuff owned by the entire nation (the case of folktales, for example).

Yet to us, as children, every work of art must have its just rewards.

Then, there is the local theatre industry. It is the self-made guardian of happiness and, sometimes, tears as industry players teach through entertainment. Despite their efforts aimed at making Malawians merry, royalties, like passing clouds, pass them by.

Maybe they suffer from the curse of poetry, long recognised as an art form in its own right but long overlooked when it comes to the paycheck.

Okay, maybe an argument could be made that storylines in local theatre read like a brunt-edged knife that fails to sparkle with wit; sometimes, the scripts are shallow and uninspiring.

This contradicts sharply to the sparkling, sharp-edged storylines of the 80s, time when dialogue was marred to wit, and the storylines were catchy that they could be macabre, cynical and wise, all at once.

That is how the Du Chisiza Jnr’s made their name. They did not attempt to do the impossible and force the audience to believe in it.

Radio plays, such as ‘Nzeru N’kupangwa’ on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), gave playwrights the opportunity to shine.

However, although MBC pays royalties to musicians, no theatre industry player and poet has ever laid their hands on royalties despite the State broadcaster faithfully paying up.

In those days, thanks to efforts of the Association for the Teaching of English in Malawi, plays would be peopled with a legion of familiar, talented actors. What is more? The stories were believable, too.

It is common knowledge that a make-believe play seems real when made of stuff common to daily manifestations.

One theatre guru, of course elsewhere, said an opulent play should isolate moments, and not a moment; mounting scenes, and not a scene; dissevering manifold situations, and not a situation, as they take place.

Contrast this with modern plays, with their one-line of hugger-mugger.

That is how brunt mindedness has machinated to rob Malawi of creativity that would compel Cosoma officials to think about rewarding theatre players with royalties.

Still, the question is: Why did the old generation, which has known better days, not benefitted from royalties?

Today, those who are still alive do not look back to the past with fond memories; there is nothing to celebrate about; no royalties to show for their sweat.

If they afford a smile, it is not because their pockets are heavy with cash; often, their minds are racked by nothing more enchanting than the old plays.

What is more? The few creative playwrights that exist operate in isolation, making it difficult for them to fight for a common cause such as benefitting from royalties.

Well, maybe poets and theatre industry players are not the only ones bearing the brunt of industry neglect.

For the Malawian artist, the completion of an art project – be it a mural, painting, portrait, or a poetry and music album – marks the onset of challenges – like a journey travelled half-way through.

This is because, in most cases, instead of jubilation, it is anger and longing for justice that follow, forming a gritty residue of frustration and helplessness. Not to mention a labyrinth of regrets, of course.

Royalties are, by their nature, given to individuals or rights holder associations whose works have been exploited and in their case their works need to be reproduced through photocopying, downloads or other forms of reproduction.

If this is the way to go, then all arts players should be entitled to royalties. Poets, theatre industry players, among others, seem to be the exception in Malawi.

To them, looking for their fair share of royalties at Cosoma is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.

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