This is a thorny issue and at times very unpleasant and unsettling to some. One that can easily provoke or offend some artists & producers. Its a continuous conversation that may not end with a single article or post and its not something unique to Zimbabwe alone, its a global conversation.
By Plot Mhako
Originality, Interpolation, copying and sampling. What are the legal implications of sampling or copying one’s musical works?In music, sampling is the reuse of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in another recording.
There is still a lot of debate on the issue and to what extent a composer or producer can sample another artist’s works, the need for credit and also payment in some cases. Ideally you need the permission from the composer, publisher and record label to use the sample.
Whilst sampling has globally become “acceptable” it still remains highly subjective and contentious.
Music genres like Hip Hop and Dancehall were founded on the art of sampling. A good number of Dancehall artists made big hits from sampling American pop songs and US artists did the same.Next-door in South Africa the House music genre was born from sampling House / Techno and fusing with local melodies such as Mbaqanga to create new music.
In Zimbabwe a lot of our music has sampled some elements and melody from across the globe. An interesting example is Sungura music which was born out of a fusion of traditional Mbira music combined with Kanindo etc and other sounds that found their way into the country during the war of liberation. Named after the iconic and star studded Sungura Boys band and later Khiama Boys the music genre had artists offering richly diverse styles and melody despite most of them coming from the same root. In the 80s and 90s Sungura music did not remain static, it kept evolving with each artist thriving to create a unique sound and authentic compositions.
Sungura artists could be seen sampling Reggae melodies and when Kwasa Kwasa became the music of choice we also witnessed an increase in sampling with some even imitating the style, chants and voices.
Fast forward into the new millennium the younger generation of artists started doing Urban Grooves with a lot of Hip Hop, RnB and Dancehall influence. A number of them were practically copying and pasting and at times changing the language only from English to Shona.
Sampling became a hallmark of Zimbabwean music as unique genres created by the likes of James Chimombe, Andy Brown, Zig Zag band, Ilanga, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata, Cephas Mashakada, Prince Tendai were ignored in preference for the American influenced sound and style. This lasted until the wave died down and another one in the form of ZimDancehall popped up.
ZimDancehall remains rooted and is still with us but as the global sound is fast changing and the Afrobeat sound impacting heavily we see more ZimDancehall artists shifting in style and melody. Is there anything new? Absolutely No! Is it wrong? That remains very subjective based on the angle from which one sees it.
I have for a while been talking about this subject and it has created both excitement and disappointments. The argument is around whether we are copying and pasting or like everyone else sampling?
A number of songs being released in the urban and pop music are an interpolation, copy and paste or a sample of a song or video in Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, US, South Africa, Jamaica and some smart ones extract from not so familiar places and present these works as their own. Is this a good thing ?
Young artists in Zimbabwe are more alert and hungry to breakout and make it on the international scene. This lure has been one of the biggest driving force for the producers and artists, something that is starting to eat off authenticity and creativity. You see this in the video concepts that look very familiar, from the songs that sound very familiar and at most just like that other popular song.
Have we had international musical successes ? Yes and who are these what were they presenting ? Thomas Mapfumo, Lovemore Majaivana, Bhundu Boys, Oliver Mtukudzi, Mokoomba, Insingizi, Stella Chiweshe to name a few made it International. One striking thing is that they all carried a powerful narrative, a unique sound, original compositions. Is the younger generation of artists informed and interested in knowing about these legendary artists and seeking to understand their story and how they made it globally?
In Nigeria, Burna Boy speaks profoundly about his love and appreciation for the late icon Fela Kuti and how his music connects to him in both text and melody.
In South Africa we have seen layers of musical generations emerging from the House / Kwaito genre. All these sub-genres pride themselves in deep rooted socio-political narratives and always sample some traditional sound and today South African house is a global sound but sounds different from Detroit Techno or German House. The industry built strong structures, structures supported by a viable economy and political freedoms.
I believe we have more to learn than just copying and pasting foreign sounds and riding on waves. There is need for us to learn and emulate more of how the industry works, believe in our own creations, sustain them until they become global sounds.Plot Mhako
Tanzania did it with Bongo Flava, it was their Urban Grooves but they believed in it, developed it into a global sound and now they have a thriving industry.
We have a rich musical heritage, amazing talents, composers, instrumentalists and producers some of whom are running the institutions and music industries in the other countries we admire.
Our narratives, our struggles, our resilience, our desires and triumph make global stories and remain untold.
Radio and the media needs to play a key role in curating the sound other than catching on waves.
Until next time___ the plot thickens