Popular gospel singer Reuben Kigame has gone ham on a presidential award he was given and how it has been watered down to mead, jack-sh*t.
Read his open letter below.
MASHUJAA DAY 2019: WHAT IT FEELS TO HOLD A STATE COMMENDATION THAT IS OWNED BY THIEVES!
By Reuben Kigame
Happy Mashujaa Day to each of you, countrymen! May this day be truly given back to those who really deserve it: The freedom fighters who died to bequeath us the independence we now so take for granted! May God bless their families and posterity, and forgive us for what we have made their sacrifices to be!
I thought to speak on a day I should be celebrating my “Order of the Grand Warrior” (OGW) state commendation awarded to me in 2010 by Hon. Mwai Kibaki on a day like this one. With humility and pleasant surprise I stood at the Permanent Presidential Music Commission compound as the medal was put on me. Little did I know that it would be this shameful to think about what was happening to me. No sooner had I received the award than my eyes were drawn to the monster in Kenya’s music room: piracy and daylight robbery of everything a musician got. You would be happier to be a musician elsewhere – indeed anywhere in the world – not my own beloved country Kenya. It is better to be unmedalled than to be in this country of thieves.
My story is that of many a musician in Kenya, medalled and otherwise. What is sad is not just the discovery of systematic plunder and theft of my earnings from music, but just how organized and officialized the syndicate is. So on this day, I do not want to celebrate my Order of the Grand Warrior. I want to tell Kenyans to our shame what is going on in an industry that should be alleviating poverty and creating employment for many more Kenyans.
MUSIC COPYRIGHT SOCIETY OF KENYA (MCSK)
In the Society, I am member number 3964. My wife is member number 3965. We have been members for nearly ten years Never mind that I have been recording my music in this country for 32 years and I will be launching my 26th album on 1st December, undeterred by what is happening to me and other musicians. I, like many of the great musicians in this country, do it for the vocation that God has put on our lives and for the love of music. By the end of every day, I put millions in the hands of a few thieves who call themselves defenders, collectors and promoters of my music. Just like many a representative society, be it of tea or coffee growers, those who pupport to work for the group are the greatest beneficiaries.
MCSK is a group of thieves that should be disbanded and completely denied operations in this country. It sadly, it is protected under the law by boards and officials who fully know they are thieves but do nothing or just keep renewing their license to keep stealing from musicians. When any case comes up against them, they quickly organize to steal the remaining millions and then disband the board, reminding me of that line in the book “In God’s Name” that said, “The best way to steal from a bank is to own one.” The MCSK syndicate is mafia-like. They steal directly by not remitting to musicians what they collect on their behalf and then shamelessly conduct distributions to sanitize their guilt, always known as “general distribution.” Neve r mind that of, say 100 million collected on behalf of musicians, 70 million will be spent on MCSK administration and the looting and then 30 million on meetings where sitting allowances are shared and the remaining little equally distributed among musicians. MCSK will then as soon as one becomes an official of MCSK, the first thing you will notice is their life change. They buy a big car and their status changes and all of a sudden they are handling six digits in their accounts.
So here is my story. As soon as I was registered ten years ago I discovered that MCSK had already been trading with my music for years even though I was not a member. They had given my music to Safaricom Skiza platform, not to mention other international music companies. So I became a member and I was supposed to earn royalties. I went for years without a cent and when I finally began to get something, the figures are not worth posting here because some of you might have a heart attack. Allow me to mention that, for instance, in the much-publicized “general distribution” that was done recently where musicians came up to speak of getting 2000 and 4000 shillings (a general equal distribution indeed),let it be known today that neither me nor my wife who are members got anything. Someone is still holding that money and several other musicians. When I mentioned it to an official, he told me it is up to the individual musicians who did not get to contact MCSK. So how many others are in my shoes? To my shame I ask, why should I, with a state commendation to my name, be camping at an MCSK office to collect 2000 shillings? How much does it cost for me to travel on public transport from Eldoret to Nairobi and back to claim this money? Much more.
Every time any of my songs plays on radio or television, MCSK and other bodies collect money from the media houses, and they are very ruthless. They have been collecting this money for years, but every time I talk to them asking for this money, they constantly answer that the media houses don’t pay. When you check with media houses, they say they have paid. Who is fooling who?
Let us talk about Safaricom and Skiza, which operate with the blessing of MCSK and KECOBO. About 70 per cent of Skiza payments are consumed by Safaricom itself. Never mind that they trade with our music. Of this, the middlemen collect the 30 percent and give you what is 70 per cent of the 30 per cent. The musician goes walking home and the two entities buy a second car or house.
But here is the shock of my life. Online distribution. As soon as I began to put my videos online two years ago, I learned that MCSK had licensed my music to international companies for distribution. For instance, when I uploaded my video, Sweet Bunyore – my very first official video online in the Fall of 2017, YouTube immediately informed me that I was infringing on copyright because the song was not mine. Indeed, it showed that the video had been licensed to a group called the Orchard. I got a shock of my life to discover that not only this song but nearly all the albums I had presented to MCSK were being sold online on nearly all the music platforms including Amazon. I have no space to explain here that many other companies have come up and freely traded internationally with my music, courtesy of societies and groups that should be protecting me. I have sat in meetings with MCSK and realized that I was chasing the wind.
When MCSK was denied license by KECOBO a couple of years ago, every musician was being urged to sign up with another thief called “MPAKE that emerged from nowhere to collect royalties on behalf of musicians. Without bringing MCSK to book, every musician was being urged to join MPAKE. When I went to what was supposed to be their office, I was told they do not have an office there and that I should email them. How much they collected from musicians before they vanished, nobody knows. It was back to MCSK, almost like nothing happened. After stealing, just dissolve the leadership and life starts again.
PRISK AND KAMP
The story is the same. Money is collected, you never see it. AGM’s are called and postponed every year for flimsy reasons. Registration is hard and you have to pay to be a member. The last time I asked to join KAMP as a music producer I was told I should pay kshs10,000. These, too, almost annually, do a “general distribution.”
This article can go on and on, but let me conclude by asking KECOBO and every other government agency concerned with royalty distribution, what is so hard about bringing these thieves to book? Mr. Haji, why hasn’t your office stormed the homes and offices of these officials, past and present? D.C.I., how long will musicians complain without any action from your good office? Media houses, why haven’t we exposed these thieves more? KECOBO, why do you keep renewing licenses for thieves to keep stealing? Mr. President, you came out breathing fire, where did this fire go?
So, yes, it is Mashujaa Day 2019, but I am ashamed to be here in a country where I get between ten and twenty thousand shillings from Skiza royalties when hundreds of thousands are shared by Safaricom and middlemen. I am ashamed to be here looking at ten years of chasing royalties at MCSK, PRISK and KAMP with no results in sight and when you ask, you are given 3000 or 4000 shillings via MPESA without any accountability.
Thank God it is he who gives the music and the blessing of ministry. We will go on and minister to God’s people, award or no award, commendation or none.
HAPPY MASHUJAA DAY TO EVERYONE OF YOU, but not because of the music and media, for which I once was commended for!