Performing artists are now banking on the political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga to eliminate exploitative industry brokers.
They said their story is that of tears that ends with big names and empty pockets.
The artists met Mr Odinga on Tuesday at the Murang'a home of business magnate SK Macharia and presented a memorandum they want to be adopted before the end of Mr Kenyatta's second term.
Their spokesman James Kamau, whose stage name is Sir James, said they want a one-on-one meeting with the two handshake principals to articulate their case.
"We want to have a meeting and have every point we have presented in the memorandum well explained. We are in a do-or-die moment in this industry and the only hope is on you two," he told Mr Odinga.
The artists said they want the Collective Management Organisations that collect rates for their copyrights from users to be placed in their direct control, and maintained that they have individuals among them to competently run their affairs. They also want the Kenya Copyright Board disbanded.
“They use Sh80 to collect Sh100. We end up having royalty payouts that are 80 percent low. Last year, the highest-rated artist received Sh2,050 and the lowest-ranked got Sh700. And mind you, that is an annual rate," Mr Kamau said.
Another area they want addressed is access to government tenders, with Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria cited as the case study.
“Wa Iria has grouped his county musicians and helped them to be classified as contractors. He has only invoked the available legal window in public procurement to benefit his local artists. We want this to be national," Mr Kamau said.
Mr Odinga promised to work with the President to explore all opportunities that will turn artists into “respected talent investments”.
The former prime minister said legal reforms will be rolled out to dictate how copyright is handled, at what rate and what the gain for its creator will be.
He said the law will spell out how artists’ managers and event organisers will carry out their business.
Mr Odinga said the relationship between musicians and politicians during the political season will also be structured.
“We should have the morals of those engagements well spelt out. We should know the rates and the benchmarks to guide the dos and don’ts…we should not use musicians and their talents to divide the country along any line,” he said.
Talented Musicians and Composers Sacco chairman Epha Maina said Mr Kenyatta should not leave office without initiating far-reaching legal reforms that will cut off “thieves and conmen” from the industry.
“We have had good declarations from the President that the Information Communication and Technology ministry will track for us online consumption and block all accounts created to pirate our copyright,” he said.
“He has suggested that all licences in the media and entertainment sectors be renewed only once they have paid up for our copyright use.”
Mr Maina said those are the ideas that should be legislated, thanking Mr Macharia for being one of the major stakeholders in the media industry who has supported the drive.
Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa said all county governments have arts and culture departments and all will be called to a conference to come up with a uniform formula to uplift artists.
“We should have every county rolling out talent-nurturing centres and put in place recording studios. We should come up with programmes to empower our talents to make wise wealth management decisions once the money starts to trickle in,” he said.
Kisii Governor James Ongwae decried rampant cases of artists who are undone by attaining a breakthrough in the industry and becoming celebrities.
“Many walk the path of rags to riches and back to rags owing to very unwise decisions especially on the lifestyle front,” he said.
Mr Odinga promised that by the end of 2022, local artists will have noted a major difference.
“Once I sit down with the President and roll out the motions to deliver this industry to where it deserves, there will be no turning back,” he said.
“We have our foot soldiers in all assemblies and we have our policy implementers at our beck and call. This is a promise.”