Arunga: It's time to value creatives and pay them for their work

Sauti Sol

Sauti Sol band members, from left, Polycarp Otieno, Willis Chimano, Savara Mudigi and Bien-Aimé Baraza. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The problem here is not that Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) has a controversial boss who has absolutely no moral standing to be talking about money. Nor is it that Kenyans have opinions as varied and as uninformed as your quintessential mob.

The real problem here is that people don’t respect artists or the artistic profession. People don’t see the problem with the Sauti Sol-Azimio controversy, because they don’t think it should be one.

We revere politicians to the point of deity worship, which then allows them to do whatever they want to do, and get away with it. We despise artists, and so even when they cry foul, we diminish those cries because what do you mean? You should be grateful that Baba wants to use your song! You can imagine what the feeling is when these singers now dare to sue the entire political party.

Kenya does not respect its artists (nor its athletes, but that’s a different article). To this day, when you ask a high school leaver what they want to be after KCSE, they’re still naming the same old four professions. We’ve been naming these professions in various formats since independence, with one or two changing as schooling became more accessible. This behaviour, of knowing that there are only four ways to make money, is learned. The accountant, the doctor, the lawyer, the architect (and of course, the venerated politician). Not that I have anything against these professions myself – just that we cannot ALL be doctors, because who will the nurses be? Who will teach our children? Who will make the music, who will build the houses?

And unfortunately, because we keep perpetuating this disdain, children continue in this learning, grow up, and then become the people who think it is okay to steal from artists, because they’re not making money anyway, and it isn’t a real, worthy, respected profession. We teach it in schools. We teach it at home. ‘You want to be a writer? What for? What are you going to do with that? Can’t you do it as a hobby? What will your real job be?’ To this day, I still get asked – ‘But what do you do for money?’ Writing. Writing is what I do for money.

It's across the board. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a writer, or a poet, or a painter, or a blogger, or a mural artist, or a sculptor – no one thinks that you can actually be making any money from documenting and expressing the soul of a culture, of a people (mostly because no one wants to pay for something that they think should be a hobby or something their nephew with three poems he wrote in high school can produce, and they then proceed to ascribe that mentality to it). And yet, we are the ones who will be looked to, for those stories, for that comprehensive forging of history, for that artistic interpretation of a snapshot of time that is indescribable – except through art. Through music. Through writing, through storytelling. Through what we do, every day.

The irony is, people want to consume and use music for campaign rallies, so they know that there is value in the music, they know its power - they just don’t want to pay for it. And every time this value discussion comes up – usually triggered by situations like this – I wonder how long we must keep reminding Kenyans of the importance of art – after Arts and Crafts and Music and Woodwork and Metalwork has long been scrapped from the syllabus, and copyright bodies with morally deluded thugs at the top continue to steal from artists.

If court is the only listening ear that artists have then, so be it. We will still keep doing what we do, until the tide – slow as it is – flows in our favour.


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