Lamentations of music producers who are missing out on royalties of Kenyan oldies for lack of contracts

Music producer Clement Rapudo, popularly known as Clemo

Music producer Clement Rapudo, popularly known as Clemo, during an interview on May 24, 2017.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In the 90s, these music producers were household names, working behind the scenes for rising Kenyan artists whose songs ruled the airwaves.

But now, although the golden oldies are still being played on air, the producers are paying a price for their failure to seal legal agreements on sharing the proceeds from the music.

Edmond Josiah, popularly known as Tedd Josiah, Clement Rapudo Sijenyi aka Clemmo and Eric Musyoka are among music producers behind the success of many Kenyan artistes but who now lament that they have got the short end of the stick in music royalty payments.

Back then, they say, producers and musicians only had “gentleman’s agreements” based on trust, but given the exponential growth of the local music scene today due to enforcement of tough copyright laws, they are missing out due to lack of enforceable contracts.

Tedd laments that despite being behind some of the major hits that shaped the local music industry during its formative years, he has nothing substantial to show for the more than 30 years he was a music producer.

He says he has never received any royalty payment so he sees no point in making more hits.

Tedd says it’s disheartening that Collective Management Organisations (CMO) like the Kenya Copyright Music Society (MCSK) haven’t made artistes millionaires, and that external parties are ripping from the musicians’ sweat.

Tedd’s revelation isn’t surprising, given a previous public spat between rapper Nonini (Hubert Nakitare) and his long-time friend and former producer Clemmo.

Clemmo vented publicly about not getting any financial compensation following Nonini’s win on a copyright infringement case over the use of his hit song, We Kamu. Clemmo protested he should have received some monetary compensation as he produced the song.

But because no paper work was signed at the time it is now difficult to establish who owns what percentage of proceeds.

“Someone comes and tells you that there is no contract between the two of us, but does that mean that the work is his? I can’t go for that cash. I am above that…the thing is, I am trying to think about these other producers, how much are they suffering?” Clemmo said at the time.

The confrontation opened a Pandora’s box highlighting the problems in the industry and the plight of music producers of the early 90s who are behind some of the classic songs yet are reaping nothing from them.

“In the 90s what artistes and producers had was a gentleman’s agreement. Where we made our money was not actually from songs produced but from radio commercials and engagements with corporates. This is the money we would use to upgrade the studio and sustain ourselves. Back then when it came to music, the person who paid for the song to be actualised, in other words they paid for the studio time and any other thing involved in the production of the song, assumed ownership of the song.

“As a producer I would have no ownership of the song unless I funded the production. For example, Suzanne Owiyo was once funded by someone, the person funding her then became the executive producer of her songs, so they have ownership of the songs and I don’t although I was the producer,” Tedd Josiah explains.

Then, matters concerning royalties or Intellectual Property (IP) rights were not a big concern as all that mattered was money being paid to either the producer or the owner of the music studio for a job to be done.

“For instance, for the group Necessary Noize, I personally invested in their music. It was not just studio time, but it also included creation of CDs. I remember back in the 80s there was a big case between British singer Phil Collins and one of the people who played a trumpet in one of his songs. The trumpet player said that he and his colleagues hadn’t been paid and wanted to get royalties. They won the case yet they were just trumpet players in a song,” Tedd Josiah recalls.

He goes on: “I was the producer of the song Unbwoggable by Gidi Gidi Maji Maji that was used for campaigns by the Narc political party, which the party paid and I had an agreement with the artistes that the money would be split three ways, and that agreement still stands till now. With Nameless I did the song Megarider with him and I remember when a corporate company wanted to use the song, Nameless was gracious enough to let me know. Rapper Darling P also did the same. It was a gentleman’s agreement because at the time no one really thought about putting things down on pen and paper.”

Those days, it was not clear whether a producer gave up all their rights to a song when an artiste paid them for the music production.

Tedd is credited with identifying and producing music for huge talents of yester years such as Nazizi Harji, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Kalamashaka, Hardstone, Nameless (David Mathenge), Wicky Mosh and Didge.

Unbwogable, Bless ma Room, Kenyan Boy Kenyan Girl, Tafsri Hii, Tension, Uhiki, Kisumu 100, Megarider, Atoti, 4 in 1, Msichana Mwafrika are some of the big, timeless hits that Tedd produced.

In his 30 years in the business, Tedd created over 100 hit songs showcasing his versatility. He produced songs in all kinds of genres from Kikuyu folk songs, benga, hip hop, RnB, urban soul and pop.

Musyoka, owner of Decimal Records and another music producer who has worked with some of the greatest musicians in the county, affirms Tedd’s claims.  His first stint as a producer was when he was employed at Homeboyz as a producer and songwriter.

“What I did at Homeboyz was mostly work for hire. An artiste would come, pay for music production and I would be called to do the job. I did this until 2009 and not a single product had a split sheet. No one was keen on contracts,” regrets Musyoka who started out as a rapper in a group in 1997 before transitioning to being a music producer in 2002.