The year 2013 was a year of less ‘hallos’ than ‘goodbyes’ as artists parted ways with their promoters, some even filling lawsuits against each other.
Record labels came with a promise of taking Malawian music afar but the past year witnessed things falling apart in the music management business. Urban musician Maskal might have opened a deluge in 2012 when he left Nde’feyo Entertainment opting for independence.
Fellow urban musician and former stablemate Piksy soon followed, quitting Nde’feyo too. The stable seemed to be sailing on murky water when another of their major artists Armstrong also called it a day, citing that he was now born again and had ceased to play secular music.
The resignation of the two Nde’feyo aces was followed by multi-million law suits by the record label.
The label sued Armstrong for K4 million (about $10 000) while Piksy had to cough a whopping K16 million (about $40 000) to reclaim rights for his songs, with each song pegged at K1 million (about $2 500). The issue is still in court.
This development begged a number of questions from music lovers. Do artists understand the implications of signing a contract? Do the artists understand the power of a contract? And what yardsticks do the recording companies use to value material?
Save for a handful, most musicians do not even own assets and they scramble into commuters with their fans. This picture suggests that the music business is not viable. But if it is not, then why do music labels continue signing artists? If our artists fail to own a house or buy a car, how does one rate one song at K1 million? If that is the case, then these musicians are making a fortune but it is either they are either too modest or too reckless.
Nyimbo Music Company was not spared from the chaotic trend as they lost one of their aces Fikisa which parted ways with the company before disbanding due to witchcraft claims.
The feuding between the artists and their management suggests two things: either the artists do not understand the implications of their signature to the contract or the record companies were trying to reap more than they sowed.
In an interview, lawyer and longtime music promoter Jai Banda expressed disappointment over artists and promoters who do not honour their contracts.
“The problem is that most Malawian artists do not understand contracts as most of them end up breaching them.
“A promoter or a label might sign an artist on agreement that he [the promoter] will take care of all the costs and the artists will be given a certain agreed percentage, but once the project becomes successful the artist starts wanting more forgetting the initial agreement,” said Jai.
But Jai noted that some promoters like to take advantage of artists.
On whether the Nde’feyo multimillion lawsuits are justifiable, Jai said urban artists do not earn that kind of money unless the record label can justify that they can make K1 million with one song.
“When one is suing for damages they have to justify why the other party should pay that much,” he said.