Veteran musician Billy Kaunda has resurfaced on stage after years in hibernation. His recent appearance was at the Chikale Beach Easter Festival in Nkhata Bay last week. Should his fans expect more of his stage performances? JOHN CHIRWA engaged the music dinosaur for insights on this and other issues.
: Malawi has experienced a rise in the number of festivals where the Lake of Stars, Sand Music Festival, Likoma Festival, Blantyre Arts Festival, and now we have the Chikale Beach Easter Festival. What do you make of such celebrations?
: It’s a good development, although I have never been part of those festivals. If any chance arises I am ready to perform. But I will not be performing as frequently as I used to do.
: Does that mean you are returning on stage permanently?
: That’s the question most of my fans have been asking me recently. I am performing in Church [Lilongwe Baptist Church] almost every Sunday.
That’s my decision. About public performances, I will be doing it once in a while.
: What is the main problem for you not to return completely and start releasing albums?
: I have made a decision not to release any album soon because of frustration. I am not ready to record any album because of piracy. As artists, we lose a lot because of piracy. I cannot say how much I lost, but what I can say is that you cannot compare what we were getting in the 1990s with what the artists are getting these days.
That explains why most artists have too many performances to make ends meet.
In our time, of course, we used to perform a lot. But we could balance up performances and album sales. We could make good money with both performances and sales. We could plan releasing an album and get what we expected. You cannot compare that with now when technology has taken centre stage.
Technology is good, but it has really killed artists. It is not benefiting the artist. It is the listener who benefits more because technology makes it easy for them to share music files.
: How do we deal with the problem?
: It’s not easy, but it has to do with changing the law; amending the Copyright Act and the Penal Code to give stiff penalties to offenders.
: You were once a parliamentarian and a deputy Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, why didn’t you push for the amendments to speed up?
: Changing the law is not a one-man show. It is a very cumbersome process because there are so many stakeholders to look at the proposed Act. If a motion is passed in Parliament, the proposed law has to be looked at by so many stakeholders.
The Law Commission has to polish the draft Act, a process which includes redrafting. That’s not a year or two. It takes a longer period for them to scrutinise it. Then it goes back to stakeholders like the Copyright Society of Malawi [Cosoma], Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Cabinet, Legal Affairs Committee and, then, Parliament.
That process started around 2005 or 2006 when Callista Mutharika was my Minister and I was her deputy. From that time to date, the process has not passed through Cabinet.
It is a long process because every stakeholder takes a lot of time to scrutinise the bill. It’s not a one man show. People think that you can stand in Parliament and say ‘penalties to be K50 million’ and if the majority agrees then it’s a law there and then.
But it’s not like that. When I was ignorant myself, I used to think like that as most people do. They criticise me, saying ‘why didn’t you change the law when you were in Parliament?’
When you are outside Parliament you talk too much because you don’t know what it takes to change the law.
: Does that mean it is not worthwhile for the creative sector to celebrate when one of them is elected into Parliament?
: They can celebrate because it’s an achievement. But if they think that the person is going to change the law then they are cheating themselves. It’s not him or her to change the law.
People used to say I was there for tea only. But I don’t blame them because I know the process. And I am happy that I am out of Parliament. There are other artists there, and if nothing happens, I don’t blame them because I know the process.
: The other outstanding issue for artists is on funding. Governments in other countries support the arts immensely which is not the case in Malawi. What do you think is the problem?
: That question can best be answered by Treasury. I was in Parliament and I know how things go.
People complain that the allocation to the arts is very small, and that government should consider increasing the allocation. But what is passed in Parliament are figures. MPs pass figures. The real money is not there. Government searches for the money to fulfil the budget.
The real issue is the Copyright Act. If funding is enough, what will it do without looking at the law itself? n