Though the music industry in Kenya has recently been viewed as potential driver of economic activity, piracy has continued to wreck havoc on the sector.
Piracy has been and continues to be a thorn in many musicians flesh and the sector’s contribution to the growth of the country economy is close to none.
The modern musical landscape of Kenya is one of the most diverse and vibrant of all African countries. But under-investment, ineffective management of intellectual property rights, and rampant piracy have prevented the industry from realizing its economic potential and left its artists struggling to earn a living.
And despite its vibrant creativity and boom in production, the Kenyan music industry is nowhere near realizing its potential.
Paradoxically, the very diversity of Kenya’s musical scene represents a key challenge to developing a sustainable industry. In particular, its linguistic diversity has fragmented the market and made it more difficult for artists to develop unique and recognizable sounds that can serve as currency for access to mainstream global markets.
The lack of investment in production has also stunted the industry’s growth. Training and rehearsing facilities are few and inadequate, recording studios are technically obsolete and CD plants are virtually non-existent.
All mastering of recordings has to be done in South Africa, thereby increasing costs. Moreover, it is often very difficult for young musicians to buy instruments.
More and more artists are embracing River Road – also known as River wood, the center of the burgeoning Kenyan film industry – for production and distribution of their music.
For a long time, Kenyan artists were critical of the production quality of River Road, indeed viewing it as a wellspring of music piracy. But many musicians are now tempted to experiment with the cheaper production options and better distribution networks offered by the film industry.
However, currently only a handful of famous Kenyan artists have been able to make money from the popularity of Kenyan music. High piracy rates, poor enforcement procedures and ineffective management of intellectual property (IP) rights mean that most musicians struggle to make a living from their music or to achieve social recognition of their status as artists.
Ever since the introduction of cassette tapes in the 70’s, piracy has blighted the Kenyan industry. Music pirates, who copy CDs the moment they are released and sell them on the streets, have a stranglehold on the market that musicians cannot break, making it nearly impossible for them to profit from direct sales of legitimate recordings.
Another stark reminder of the impact of piracy is that for more than a decade now, international record labels and music companies have abandoned Kenya as a non-viable market for their product.
Kenyan copyright legislation was updated in 2001. A national Copyright Board is entrusted with implementation and monitoring of the new legislation. Stakeholders are working to further improve organizational structures of copyright and provide effective education on IP issues. The economic value of music to the country is beginning to be better understood and promoted.