Kundai Marunya Arts Correspondent
When upcoming musicians are starting out, with limited or no resources, but imbued with passion to succeed, they sometimes feel they have nothing to lose but everything to work for in the industry.
Most of them start out as starving artistes with their days characterised by empty stomachs, long walks to studios and performances whose payment is sometimes only “exposure”.
Names that easily come to mind include Jah Prayzah, Killer T, Enzo Ishall, Shinsoman, Freeman, Seh Calaz, Mono Mukundu, Alick Macheso and Progress Chipfumo. They all have tales of a painful road to success.
The pain and huge hurdles on their way up can make them susceptible to exploitation.
Seemingly juicy contracts are tabled before them and they readily append their signatures without second thought, let alone legal counsel.
A promoter or record label can have them sign off even above half their gross income.
Which hungry artiste can refuse money enough to cover their housing, food, clothing and recording?
Usually they have nothing to lose at this point as they are not popular enough to earn and to many, it will actually be a dream to sign such contracts.
When luck then shines on them, their hit songs begin to be churned out on radio. Shows and corporate endorsements start streaming in.
This is the time one then looks back with regret and feels used and exploited as their hard earned money is fleeced by promoters and label owners.
Such is the case of dancehall musician Jah Master and his handler Hard Mashona Arts and Culture Trust.
Jah Master (real name Rodney Mashandure) who rose to fame after signing a five year contract with Hard Mashona in 2015 feels cheated that he now refuses to pay his handlers the agreed 51 percent of his gross income.
He even dismissed the authenticity of the contract even after his handlers produced copies of the document with his signature on it.
“I do not have a contract with anyone,” said Jah Master.
“I think it’s just people who envy my success.”
Hard Mashona’s Lennon Madzamba a.k.a Elder Spitfire said he invested over US$4 000 in the musician over the years only for Jah Master to ignore his obligations.
“Jah Master has been refusing to even participate in shows we organise. We tried to negotiate a reduction of the percentage he is supposed to pay us to 35 percent but the musician refused,” said Elder Spitfire.
“Our only option now is to approach the courts to force him to pay back our investment, money that will be used to help other struggling artistes.”
This is just one of many contractual issues that have seen musicians fighting with their handlers over purported exploitation.
If there was a standing fund that gave talented artistes grants or loans to be paid back when they became successful, both parties would enter agreements on equal footing.
There is also need for artistes’ training on how to deal with contracts as failure to meet one’s obligations can lead to serious loss in legal settlements.