By Emmanuel Legrand
In Western countries, we tend to take for granted the status of creators and musicians, and the infrastructures that allow them to exercise their trade (recording studios, rehearsal halls, venues, etc).
Paul Brickhill, who runs the Harare Book Café in Zimbabwe, provided a refreshing view from a country and a continent that lacks everything, except talent, youth and enthusiasm.
In his keynote speech at ECSA’s Creators Conference in Brussels on February 3, Brickhill spoke from the heart about Africa’s love of music, and the difficulties that musicians and authors face in the continent to earn a living from music.
“Music IS the universal language, it is our means to talk to each others,” said Brickhill, who quoted the late Nigerian sax player and band leader Fela who said that “music is the weapon of the people” to explain the power of music in Africa.
Brickhill said that there was a wealth of talent in Africa in all music genres, but “infrastructure is inexistent” and States have a very lax view about the notion of copyright and compensation for creators. “Building the infrastructure is the priority [in Africa] because you need the fundamentals before you develop,” he added. “Besides, the attitude of States is patronising and meaningless to creators on the ground. As a result, much in the sector is done from the bottom up.”
He added, “There is no association to defend their rights. A dream of ours, a goal actually, is to create an organisation that represents our songwriters and composers and recognise their contribution to society and to the economy.”
And since “poverty is the biggest problem facing the music industry as a whole in Africa” many artists are faced with no other choice than leaving their countries to try to live of their art. As a result, “a large part of the value added to music in Africa takes place in Europe or the US” where African artists can find proper infrastructures to record and play.
“We export musicians and we import CDs,” said Brickhill. “It is the wrong way to do it. It is in no way how Africa can sustain its economy.”
Also heard at the Creators Conference:
British film score composer and music producer John Groves introduced a debate about coercion in music, a system that has been developing in recent times, which sees film studios, broadcasters, or ad agencies, asking composer for a cut of their royalties for the privilege of getting work.
“Composer often have to give up a rather significant part of their income to get their job,” he explained. “You also give away your freedom and you have a very splited catalogue. We are not just given up our money, but we are given a job tied to the acceptance of the previous. The mentality of these individuals is that it becomes the accepted way. Why is this happening? Is this a fall in moral values?”
Groves added that unlike performing artists, composers often only have one way of earning a revenue, and that was through works that they were composing. “Live is the new buzz apparently, you can go out, play in the streets, but what do I do as a film score composer…take my studio out in the streets?,” he joked. “I tried to sell t-shirts but it did not work either.”