Ever wondered why Elani, one of Kenya’s most rapidly growing musical acts, abruptly stopped releasing material in the beginning of 2015?
In a new video released Tuesday, Elani, which comprises Wambui Ngugi, Bryan Chweya and Maureen Kunga, announced that they started out 2015 in serious debt, having spent an unexpectedly large amount on putting together their October 2014 #ShareTheLove concert at the Impala Grounds outside Nairobi.
“It was one of the most exciting times in our lives,” Ngugi says in the video. “Unfortunately, at the end of it we were millions of shillings in debt. It was heartbreaking for us because this is a thing we love to do.”
The financial setback forced the trio to stop focusing on making and releasing music in order to find more lucrative ways to pay back their debt. Going over their finances, the three band members found out something rather unsettling: why did they only make 31,000 Ksh in royalties in 2014?
Elani, being a copyrighted musical act, receives a large chunk of their income from royalties issued by the Musical Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK). Every band registered with MCSK is awarded an annual sum that is supposed to reflect the number of times that its songs are played on radio stations, clubs, TV networks and other outlets.
“Music is a job like any other job and for that reason we’re entitled to compensation,” Ngugi said. “We wanted to figure out how much money do we have after actually paying out everything?”
With the release of hits like “Nakupenda,” “Milele” and “Koo Koo,” 2014 was a widely successful year for Elani. The low royalty compensation they were awarded just didn’t seem right.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense to us,” Kunga said. “We went into the MCSK and asked, ‘Explain to us why this is the amount of money that we are receiving.’”
Three days after demanding to see proof of why they were only awarded such petty royalties, the band received a phone call from MCSK. A representative with the copyright society told the trio that they would be awarded a “compensatory” sum of 300,000 Ksh, hoping that would settle the dispute. Instead, this was what really made the three band-members realize that something really wrong had been going on.
“If all it takes for me to get 10 times the money of what you were giving me is to scare you in an office, something’s wrong,” Kunga said. “[MCSK] is supposed to dispense the money fairly. If it’s giving out money fairly, how do you come up with 300,000? Where is it from?”
“How many artists are there that deserve 10 times more than they receive?” Kunga added.
The trio suspects that they’re not alone in being awarded unfairly low royalty checks and is now demanding that MCSK opens up its books to the public. The band is also asking that an independent “reputable audit firm” be called in for the job.
“We need you to show how much you collect, where you collect from, how much you spend and how much is left,” Kunga said. “What we need more than anything is transparency and accountability on the part of MCSK.”
The trio ends the video by encouraging other copyrighted Kenyan artists to demand the same thing from MCSK. The problem, they say, might extend far beyond them.
“This is not only about Elani or MCSK – it’s about our country,” Ngugi said.
“Enough is enough,” Chweya chimed in. “We are tired. We live off music, we feed off music – this is the only way for us.”
At press time, MCSK had not yet returned requests for comment.
This is a developing story. Please check back in later for updates.