Piracy, be it in musical, literary, dramatic and artistic, is prohibited anywhere in the world.
Under the copyright category in the Laws of Malawi Volume VII, piracy is proscribed. But to the contrary, music piracy in Malawi has grown roots and pirates trade peacefully and without blame.
Musicians have not kept it a secret on how piracy has bruised their careers. Veteran musician Lucius Banda has, for several years, threatened to quit music, saying he is making more losses today than at any time in his 30 year career.
In an earlier interview, Lucius revealed that he bought a car and a house using proceeds from his sophomore album Down Babylon in 1995, but he cannot achieve the same today, despite the growth in the number of customers.
Gospel giants Lloyd Phiri and Peter Uyu Mlangeni disclosed that their careers were almost over after their previous albums were badly hit by piracy. Phiri’s album Sachedwa Safumulira and Mlangeni’s Ndi Chisomo were released with the backing of loans.
Malume Bokosi, who anchored the music success story between 2002 and 2008 with his Alimi Tinalakwanji, Kukwamwa Kwangotiuma and Malaulo Samapemphedwa album, called it quit to piracy in 2010. He has just rescinded the decision, saying he has been pressured by his fans.
Like army worms in a maize field, piracy seems to have pushed the musicians out of business. The only reliable music distributor, OG Issa quit the business, succumbing to piracy. In an interview OG Issa chief executive officer Hanif Osman said he will not reopen the famed music shop anytime soon because of piracy. He also revealed that instead of the usual 90 000 tapes he used to sell, he only sold 8 000 tapes in 2013.
As if this is not enough, a new form of piracy supported by memory cards, which others have named, ‘a last nail on musicians’ coffins’ weaved its way last year, twisting the focus away from CD burning. There is still no solution, as CD protection and ripping have failed to be a lasting solution. Unfortunately, the only studio that protects CDs in Malawi, Rhythm of Life, can only protect DVDs.
Early this week, Chill visited Blantyre to appreciate the business and observed that most people are preferring memory cards to CDs. In random interviews, some buyers said they like the variety of songs uploaded in the memory cards.
“A CD costs K1 000 and seldom are all songs good. So, it is better to buy a loaded memory card and listen to a variety of songs, which is usually a selection of best hits,” said one of the customers.
Two years ago, some musicians led by Kendal Kamwendo and Symon Kamlaga, formed Music Development Institute in a bid to fight piracy. It is now dormant and leaders cite a lack of a support from government, the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) and Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) as some of the reasons that have let them down.
Does this mean Malawi has lost the fight against piracy?
Some musicians say the situation is too bad to reverse. Bokosi is one of them, and has advised musicians to rely on live shows. Like-minded is Lucius, who strongly says his wish to return to Parliament is because of frustrations in the music industry.
“I love music and that is the career that I chose, but I am no longer attracted to it because I am not protected. Musicians don’t wish to be in Parliament, neither do we want to be farmers nor academicians. We are contented with music, but because we are not protected from piracy that’s why we are turning to politics,” said Lucius.
Skeffa Chimoto, Dan Lu and Mlaka Maliro have challenged musicians to compose songs for live shows and concentrate on live performances.
MAM president Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango believes it is too early to resign.
“We could have done better, but the problem is that all players work in isolation. We have hope with the Cosoma board because it will help us to form a musicians union, which will assist us to have full time employers and employees working for musicians’ interest. The union will promote unity and team work,” he said.
Mhango said this year’s approach engages Cosoma, government, police and the public and they will start campaigns in a few weeks’ time.
Cosoma senior licensing officer Rosario Kamanga said Malawi has not lost the piracy battle. He said Cosoma has consulted Inspector General of Police because piracy is theft. He said they have asked the IG to consider selecting some officers to work with Cosoma.
“In other countries, police officers are deployed to work with copyright bodies and they play crucial roles in offering licenses and check on abuse of those licenses. We do not have the same in Malawi and if all goes well we will have it this year. We are also pushing for the passing of the Copyright law where we have stiff punishments. We are engaging all concerned parties and I am hoping that we will reduce the level of piracy,” said Kamanga.