With over a decade of experience in the music recording industry, the artist has been a vocal proponent of the creative sector’s economic potential for job creation, trade expansion, and social inclusion. Along with encouraging policy makers to revisit present policies in the sector in order to develop a stronger national focus on cultural and creative industries. As part of the Artist In Focus series, PANAF spoke with the ‘Sunday’ singer who is also a songwriter, record producer, and one of the directors of the Ugandan Musicians Union (UMA), on his expectations for PANAF and the industry in general.
You are one of the first PANAF members in Uganda; what do you hope to gain from it?
PANAF provides a unique opportunity by bringing together various state and commercial stakeholders. Round table idea exchanges are taking place for the first time in Uganda, which should result in a deeper knowledge of each other’s points of view and pain areas. It is now easier than ever to arrive at viable answers thanks to the subsequent pooling of ideas. A well-organized and well-supported creative industry benefits all parties involved, including the government and private stakeholders. It is worth noting that the arts have proven to be the most efficient way of marketing any country. It could be for tourism, immigration, or business. Nigerian music is now known all over the world. Regardless of any negative press the country has received, the successful exportation of their culture through the creative industry has had a beneficial global impact on the country’s image, perception, and even celebrity. It would be a shame if others (like us) did not learn and emulate.
How has the music industry evolved since you started?
Because of the internet revolution, the industry has made significant progress. Though the market has gotten more monetarily competitive, leaving out individuals (majority) who are skilled but have limited access to finances, talent discovery is also easier than it was previously. We are also seeing the emergence of many record companies, which is a fantastic thing in theory, but it has also resulted in artist exploitation by label executives. Lastly, which is a good thing, artists are more aware of their potential and/or potential revenues as a result of the greater flow of information globally.
But there are still challenges, don’t you think?
Absolutely. The first is the lack of copyright law enforcement; there is no clear redress for cases of infringement, leaving authors frustrated because the legislation exists but enforcement is shaky at best. For instance, media houses owned by powerful individuals bulldoze collection agencies and refuse to abide by the law, preferring to ignore it with no penalties, resulting in weak/unenforced laws. Politicization of the arts industry has now become another concern. Artists have been reduced to relying on government-sponsored opportunities. An artist who does not support the government runs the risk of being sidelined or barred from performing. Lastly, event organizers, or “promoters,” are increasingly exploiting performers. One recent example is a promoter’s recent attempt to impose musician performance fees to their benefit by releasing a list of their rates for hiring each singer on social media. This demonstrated their arrogance towards artists, which is unacceptable. We also have very bad infrastructure, but the government’s primary interest is in collecting taxes from us.
What about regulations?
There is a lack of relevant policies or political will to implement current policies that would create a favorable environment for the creative sector to thrive. For example, regulations such as excessive internet taxation; while countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania strive to make the internet virtually free for all, Uganda does the reverse. In a world where the digital age is driving the transformation, Ugandan artists are at a competitive disadvantage in the region and beyond.
There have been reports of music being banned and artists being barred from performing live over the years, primarily due to their political beliefs. Have you ever been a victim?
Yes, I have. I had a music video rejected by radio and tv stations on the basis of “morals” owing to skimpy clothes at the request of the then-minister for ethics. The problem is that this only applied to domestic content; foreign content was /is not subjected to the same scrutiny. Inadvertently (or not), this resulted in the promotion of foreign work above domestic work.
There is a lack of relevant policies or political will to implement current policies that would create a favorable environment for the creative sector to thrive.
Gender representation in the sector remains an issue. What are your thoughts?
It’s crazy to me that gender equality is still a point of contention/discussion in this day and age. In my opinion, I make use of the Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang. There can be no balance, stability, or overall societal advancement without gender equality (or equity), which necessitates the empowerment of women in the sector. Women in the sector face greater challenges than men in dealing with predatory promoters and managers who take advantage of them. We’ve also seen instances where artists have gotten into physical fights with performance promoters over unpaid bills. In such situations, men may present a more difficult nut to crack, but women present an easy target… So, absolutely, there is a need to identify long-term solutions for empowering and safeguarding women in this context.