The sweat that goes into the making of music, from composing, training sessions, recording in studios before the final product reaches the market, speaks volumes about the efforts musicians in Malawi put up to come up with a complete production.
But while we call them celebrities and use many adjectives to describe how good or bad their works are, the real story of musicians and the music industry as a whole in Malawi is yet to be told.
For example, like local tobacco farmers who year in, year out cry because of the low prices buyers offer on the market, Malawian musicians too say they are exploited, particularly by music distributors and vendors.
When you meet the people you call music gurus, the same artists that have made you dance with their beautiful productions, you will be shocked to learn about their welfare.
Most of them are poor despite being in the industry for many years. But why is the situation like this when music plays a major role in many spheres of human life?
An investigation Society conducted during the week revealed that local musicians do not benefit much from their sweat. According to the investigation, an artist gets only less than 10 percent from the sale of an album. The whole 90 percent is shared by other players in the music industry.
Interviews Society conducted with some musicians revealed that for an artist to have a complete album, he needs about K30 000 for studio work. Another K40 000 is needed for promotion, duplicating of covers, pictures, transport and communication, among other things.
According to figures obtained at OG Issah and the newly formed musicians Music Development Institute (Mudi), local distributors buy 5 000 copies of any new release from an artist as a starting point. They buy each copy at K30. This means for a start, an artist who has released a good album gets K150 000 cash from a distributor. This also means on average, the artist remains with about K80 000 as take-home cash after subtracting initial expenses.
But the distributor sells each copy at K500 (K500 multiply by 5 000 copies) to the public and gets K2.5 million. After subtracting taxes and all types of services needed to be done before the album reaches the consumers, the distributor remains with over K1.5 million as profit.
Vendors buy music on wholesale from distributors at K420 per CD or tape. They sell the tape/CD at the official price of K500 and their profit is K80 per tape/CD. If they buy 5 000 copies, their net profit is (K80 multiply by 5000 copies) K400 000.
Looking at the profits each of these three groups make shows why most musicians are still poor despite their beautiful releases.
Evance Mereka and Peter Uyu Mlangeni feel music distributors and vendors are reaping where they never sowed and wonder why government is not taking action on this.
â€œIt is great that the media is able to see practices like these. Thank you for taking this up for the public to judge. The situation is not good and we cannot dream of soaring high in our career when the sweet of our sweat is being enjoyed by other people.
â€œWe donâ€™t think the laws of business in the country allow one to make a 100 percent profit, but this is happening and we donâ€™t know what the authorities are doing about it. It is sad that government is not concerned with our welfare. This is serious and something really needs to be done,â€ says Meleka.
Mudi interim executive director Kendal Kamwendo, wonders if authorities are concerned about the welfare of artists and whether distributors and vendors are in the industry to help or exploit musicians.
â€œWhen I joined the music industry in 2002, distributors were buying music CDs or tapes at K25 each while today they are paying K30 for a copy. But go to the studios today and see the new rates for recording music. Not only that, even at the music distributors shops, the cost of tapes and CDs on retail have been increasing, but why not increasing the price of tapes bought directly from the musicians? Isnâ€™t this stealing?â€ wonders Kamwendo.
He then asked government, Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM), Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) and other players in the industry to do something about the present situation. Kamwendo says he wants government to push the cost price for each copy of music to above K70.
He further says the sad thing in Malawi is that buyers have powers to decide prices of commodities, a development he says is also affecting tobacco farmers in the country.
â€œA Malawian musician is affected by piracy, poor prices by buyers and insufficient royalties from Cosoma. All doors are closed and there is nowhere to escape. This is why we formed Mudi as the first musiciansâ€™ non-governmental organisation to voice out the concerns of artists. We hope we will achieve this if government and MAM support us,â€ says Kamwendo.
MAM president Chimwemwe Mhango says it has been a long time since he sold his music through distributors because he feels the system in Malawi is not friendly to musicians.
â€œThis is a topical issue because Malawian artists are being exploited. The playing field is not favourable to musicians. They are on the losing end and there is need for something to be done.
â€œI feel it is high time government took music as a serious industry. It is my appeal to the government that with these exposed facts, it should come in and help us remove all barriers that are affecting the success of musicians,â€ he says.
Mhango says his association will discuss this issue during a MAM Annual General Meeting (AGM) scheduled for this July.