A trip to Saba Saba – Dar es Salaam’s annual trade fair, held in July – is incomplete without calling in at Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation’s (TBC) pavilion. Their collection of musical and other recordings is a treasure trove of East Africana. Countless Nyerere speeches and the occasional radio commentary on classic Yanga v Simba encounters can be found. But understandably, most make for the music and its comprehensive collection of dansi music – East Africa’s signature big band sound. Dar es Salaam Jazz Band, Western Jazz Band, Atomic Jazz; Vijana Jazz; and of course DDC Mlimani Park and Ottu Jazz – it’s all there, and it’s all available on CD or casssette by request, for a fee. And it all draws on the hours of music recorded for broadcast since the 1970s that sit in the TBC archives, slowly deteriorating. You can even pick up some stuff by Tancut Almasi Orchestra. Great stuff – though problematic, as we shall see.
The Tanzania Heritage Project is hoping to change that. They are looking to digitise the archive and give this remarkable collection a new lease of life. And if you have a credit card, you can donate to help them do so.
But who owns the music? TBC has been selling cassettes and later CDs since the nineties. When a state broadcaster does so openly and for such a long time, one would expect that either they hold the rights or are paying the rights holders.
Not so, says musician John Kitime*. In a letter to the Minister for Culture, John Nchimbi, he claims that no effort has been made by TBC to ensure that performers get their rightful share of the sales proceeds. And he presents as evidence a tax receipt for a CD of tracks by Almasi Tancut- for which he can be seen playing rhythm guitar above. In translation:
It doesn’t take great wisdom to see that blatant theft has been underaken by a government agency, as there is even a receipt – our own government itself has been engaged in musical piracy. And this scandal went on even after the passing of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act of 1999.
Kitime’s letter goes on to relate a litany of public administration SNAFUs: unimplemented legislation, competing ministries, lost documentation, and a drunk at a gig claiming to be a tax official sent by State House to clear up matters. Most of that will be familiar to anyone dealing with public policy issues.
The above should not discourage the Tanzania Heritage Project – their website indicates good relations with TBC. If anything, it illustrates the depth of knowledge that they can draw on, as well as giving a sense of the scale of the challenge. Agreeing on rights, defining a business model and ensuring payments will depend on building sound relationships with the musicians’ community and the bureaucrats alike – and they have already started on that.
Music was central to the forging of a Tanzanian national identity and the legitimacy of the state. It would be dishonourable if that same state were to deny those same musicians recognition of their contribution – and the payments that come with that.
*John Kitime is one of Tanzania’s more prominent public figures. He can be seen in the video above on rhythm guitar and sporting Curtis Mayfield type glasses. He now leads Kilimanjaro Stars – one of Dar’s more popular live bands. He has two blogs. The letter referred to above is from Tanzania Artists’ Rights – a serious minded look at rights and related legal issues. He also has Kijiwe cha Kitime, where he curates a delightful collection of pictures, memories and music.