Blog 10 – iTunes, Downloading, Streaming and The African Double Take

 

The advent of iTunes brought a seismic shift in the distribution and consumption of African music.

Quite suddenly anyone who had access to an internet line and a handy device able to access iTunes could listen to previously difficult to obtain African music ranging from Zimbabwean sungura, mbira, jit to Malian boujourou soul. Not to mention the intricate rhythms of Gambian band ‘Ifang Bondi’.

Why would I mention ‘Ifang Bondi’ I may hear you say?

Well, you may know how music streaming platforms like Spotify are getting lots of attention for the millions of users using it. That also includes the millions of dollars in royalties that Spotify claims to have paid out to music rights holders. Little of the bonanza finds its way to the African musician.

A western musician would need to get in excess of 1.1 million plays on Spotify to get anywhere near the American minimum wage of $1,260 (Guardian, 03-04-2015).

You will find a multitude of African acts on Spotify, and iTunes too, and even Bandcamp and not to mention Soundcloud! So much music, and so much streaming. Yet, there are very few African artistes who are actually raking in the royalties. The monetization levels associated with these artistes are so low in some cases that you may wonder ‘why bother?’.

Ah yes, back to Ifang Bondi. Their leader Badou Jobe has been an active musician for more than 50 years. His band has trodden the well-worn path to many a European and American festival. He lives in Sweden now. He has been known to forcefully state that iTunes is the biggest copyright infringer and ripper off of African musicians. He states this because he has found his music being sold on iTunes without his permission and license. Not only that, the music continues to be downloaded.

Osibisa are a Ghanaian band who hit the big time in the early ‘70’s with their ‘criss-cross rhythms that exploded with happiness’. At one point they were bigger than the Rolling Stones in Australia.

If you look up their music on iTunes, you will find up to 5 to 7 different publishers of the same music being sold. This anomaly can only be explained by unscrupulous operators somewhere in the music chain. It continues the trend of someone else profiting from the African musicians creative output.

The shame is the complicity of the streaming/downloading platforms. All for nothing and little for many African creators. No wonder venerable Badou Jobe, brilliant bassist he is and unsung in Sweden, is miffed.

References

Dredge, S. (2017). How much do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube [Accessed 12 Apr. 2017].

 

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