Release music in a flash disk in 2023? Why not, says Reuben Kigame

Gospel artiste Reuben Kigame.

Gospel artiste Reuben Kigame.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

A musician releasing their music in a flash disk? Many artistes would baulk at the idea because it would be giving a nod to piracy.

But legendary gospel musician Reuben Kigame is likely to ask: “Why not?”

Kigame recently caused ripples when he announced the release of a collection of his songs in a flash disk.

“I am excited to announce the release of all of my recorded music in digital form in one portable disk, including songs I have not released to the public spanning 1982 to 2022,” his outfit Sifa Voices Kenya posted on Facebook on March 6. “This is currently only available in Kenya on order only.”

The artiste was not immediately available to explain why he made that decision, but his move does not bode well with Japheth Kassanga, one of the most established names in music distribution in Kenya.

“I don’t approve of it. It may not be the best move but I can say it’s the only option available as of now. We have totally succumbed to piracy and the old way of doing things is gone,” he told Nation.Africa.

However, Dr Ezekiel Mutua, the CEO of the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), thinks it is a bold and commendable move.

“It is an enterprising and creative way of marketing his works. Indeed, it would be important that the artiste ensures that the digital files are protected from infringement through encryption, watermarking, and digital rights management,” he said.

“Currently, there isn’t any system of distributing music in the world that is 100 percent tamper-proof from infringement or piracy. What is key is enforcing compliance of the law through organisations like MCSK that administer and manage reproduction of works for their members,” he added.

An online search shows that releasing music via a flash disk has been a method of packaging music elsewhere on the globe for years now. Some companies offer methods of branding the disk to make it unique. The weakness with packaging music in a flash disk is that it makes it extremely easy to copy files from one person to another. Essentially, one buyer can share the songs with anyone else who wants them using a computer.

“My issue with selling music through a flash disk is that you can’t control piracy or prove originality. And that’s why I don’t sell anyone’s music in my shops through this format. Anyone will buy, duplicate into a million other flash disks and sell with no proof that it comes from the original singer. There’s nowhere to sign. I wish we had an option,” said Kassanga.

Popular city deejay Caleb Munyao, better known as DJ Lebbz, told Nation.Africa that he supports Kigame’s move.

“Artistes have been doing it low-key but haven’t really gone public. Let’s agree that piracy is here to stay until measures are instituted that curb too much of it. I’ve seen artistes sending music to each other via Bluetooth – which is authorised piracy from the owner – because the first recipient now shares on WhatsApp groups and that’s the end of it,” he said.

“The biggest songs today in Kenya have not brought a coin to the originator through sales. They probably earn from gigs and endorsements because the moment a song goes big, the artiste actually reprimands you (the deejay) for not having it prior to his or her performance.”

Even as venturing into flash disk distribution is seen as a way of surrendering to piracy, it may be a risk some artistes are willing to take.

Kigame famously remarked in 2021 that he did not wish to have any government official or any representative of royalty collection organisations to speak at his funeral owing to the measly returns he was getting from his music.

“My songs are played on just about every public event including by police and military bands. Yet at the end of the month I can only look forward to about Sh18,000 in royalties,” he posted.

Kassanga says that piracy has won, forcing him to leave the business of selling music.

“I no longer sell music in my shop. I concentrate on selling music instruments and church items like Bibles, sacrament elements and so on,” said the entrepreneur behind the Kassangas Music Shop.

“Now that we have bowed to piracy and technology is going ahead of the law, we should start thinking of other options like streaming. I was in South Africa a week ago and they say this is the way to go. They are designing a system called ICRC which is a code that traces any streams of music back to the artiste’s collective management organisation or label and even bars any unauthorised copying. This way, the artistes earn fully from their music downloads and streams.”

After the magical vinyl disks, the revolutionary cassette tapes and the clear-sounding compact disks, the industry now appears to be warming up to flash disks.

It is because the USB port, a much preferred interface for playing music, has taken dominance. Besides computers, it is on most recent cars, music players, TV sets, and most electronics that can play music.

Artistes are now taking aim at the port, which was introduced in computers in 1996, seeking to take the war to the doorstep of pirates who get music from elsewhere and package it into flash disks.