Toza Matafale, the young brother to Malawi reggae icon, Evison Matafale, has of recent been in the media for his response to the remixed and sampled songs of his brother. He has expressed his disappointment over two songs: First, Chauta Wa Mphamvu, remixed by San B, Nepman and Young Kay, second, Malawi which has recently been sampled by rapper, Martse. All of these songs were from his maiden 1999 ground breaking album, Kuimba One.
The accused artists have a good history of their own in the Malawi music industry. San B has been around for close to two decades now, Nepman came into the limelight in 2003, Young Kay made his mark in 2006 and the award winner, Martse, is one of the top rappers in Malawi.
There have been mixed reactions to the songs. Some are seeing no problems with them while others think Toza is justified to say whatever he has said in the situation. But this article is for the latter. Toza is right in blaming the artists of copying the songs of his brother, especially without the permission of the family.
This debate, if taken well, can be the turning point of the Malawi music industry. This is not the first time musicians in Malawi have remixed and sampled a work. It has been done a couple of times, and in all those, there was never a loud cry like that of Toza.
The normality of the arts world and copying states that the use of someone’s work must be done after permission has been sought and granted. An art work, even when the creator dies, does not exist on its own. There are always custodians to the work. These people are responsible for guarding the work from being exploited by other people. That is the reason the art world has witnessed countless number of lawsuits.
The challenge is that, in Malawi, copying or using an existing work, especially music, has never been taken seriously by the said custodians. They look upon it as recognition and a moment of popularizing a work. It is hard in Malawi, due to weak arts laws, for music to continued making money even when the singer is dead. For example, Allan Namoko or Paul Chaphuka songs are still popular today, two decades after their deaths. The continual use of their work means that the family and all those involved in the work still have to gain from it.
But with them gone, there can never be any opportunity for the family or the record companies they were in to be rewarded. Their work takes the path of extinction. Therefore when one samples / remixes a song from them, it becomes a happy moment for the custodians as they see it as salvation of the work.
This is why there have never been lawsuits regarding this issue in Malawi. But Toza has taken the issue otherwise and he must be commended for that. Laws or no laws, using someone’s work must be done after permission. Musicians of repute like San B, Nepman and Young Kay ignoring this is a crime and has to answer for it. Evison Matafale’s work is left to the family, since he was not under a record company. These three artists could have asked the family for permission than doing how they did it.
For Martse, this is the second time he is sampling / remixing a well-known song. Two years ago he remixed / sampled Billy Kaunda’s first hit song, ‘Mwapindulanji?’ without permission. He easily got away with it. Billy Kaunda is the kind of man who cannot take him to task. He is a media-shy person and in his entire career he has never involved himself in controversies. Martse must have felt that he will also get away with the Matafale song. But fortunately, he has met his match and this is important for the industry.
The thinking that San B and his friends sampled the song out of recognition of Evison Matafale’s talent and legacy, as others are saying, is welcome. But still, bypassing the family was an artistic crime. And the fact that Billy Kaunda never had issues with Martse over his remixed / sampled song, and that Toza should have treated the issue the same way, is a narrow view of the situation, the characters involved and the progress of the music industry.
Toza is not the problem. The problem is the four artists who decided to do it without the blessing of the family. It is not that he wants to make a name out of his brother or that he is bitter since his music career did not blossom like that of his brother. What he is saying is true, and reflects even to those people whose music was remixed / sampled but permission was never sought and granted. He is speaking for a lot of people and maybe from now onwards artists will think twice when they will want to sample / remix a work. Sampling / remixing a song [without acknowledgment] is not doing them a favor. You are compromising their legacies and reaping where you did not sow. Stop that!
*Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.