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Dancers dressed in African attire pose for a picture after a perfomance in Harare,Zimbabwe,25 May 2021.Zimbabwe has joined many other African countries in commemorating Africa Day. .

Arts & Lifestyle

Mbuya Chiweshe versus Mukundus: The issues

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Addy Kudita

THIS here marks a return to column business. Looking at society through the prism of culture and of course the arts is just one of the integral elements the column will tackle because a simple definition of culture can be rendered as a people’s way of life at a given time; their norms, practices, traditions, beliefs and values.

Storm in a teapot?

Zimbabweans far and afield on social media were engrossed in the past week on social media with hoopla surrounding the video posted by one musical lad of 21 years, Takakunda Mukundu.

Just over a minute long, the video contains footage of mbira music icon Mbuya Stella Chiweshe singing acappella at the inauguration of the statue of Mbuya Nehanda a few weeks ago.

Young  Mukundu, the son of celebrated guitarist and music producer Clive Mono Mukundu, thought to pay homage to the music legend by, ex post facto, adding his guitar accompaniment to the Chiweshe rendition.

She unleashed invectives upon him on social media, hurling derogatory words at the young man. The father naturally jumped to his son’s defence and, whilst acknowledging Mbuya Chiweshe’s right to her performance, stated his displeasure at the attack on his son as unmeasured.

And so it went, snowballing and trending and dividing Zimbos on social media along two camps. I found it amusing that people got worked up over the matter.

I did think the reaction of Zimbos was over the top. We tend to go over the top when it comes  to trivialities. So as a good hack, I reached out to both parties. I had Mono’s digits.

For the sake of full disclosure, Mukundu is my homeboy from way back and someone I have thought of in friendly terms.

So I had to check myself for partiality. I have watched Mbuya Stella Chiweshe from a distance and only managed to access her contact through an acquaintance who knows her daughter.

Still, I care about facts and narratives that grip the popular imagination.

The facts are that the video, which has since been pulled down from social media, depicts a superimposed accompaniment by Takakunda Mukundu and at the end is his name or logo and sig tune.

Two sides

The following is Mbuya Stella Chiweshe’s reaction on social media at the start of the furore: “To all the people who were at the unveiling of Mbuya Nehanda medium’s statue, I would like to ask you if you saw me with anybody on stage.

Now I have seen a video of a guitarist sitting behind me playing a guitar that is spoiling my voice and the song that I had sung,” she posted.

“Please, I would like to let you know that I am very disappointed. Who edited that and added a guitarist? If you listen to the guitar it’s just spoiling my voice, it’s not playing along with it. I was alone on stage, now I see a wicked guitarist behind me, who is he?

“Can someone please explain to me why it was edited afterwards without my knowledge? Who did that? I want an answer please, because even Lucifer does not have such cruelty.”

Mono Mukundu, on his Facebook account, wrote: “..I am not forcing you to like his version, but this is his own artistic interpretation. Art is subjective, that’s why there are some who loved it, but all the same, he should have asked for permission, but on the other hand, you shouldn’t have over-reacted like that.

“After all, YouTube is full of young artists paying homage to their idols, bringing relevance to their music by adding some modern touch. This is not something that is done out of malice, it’s mere admiration.”

Zimbos divided on social media

Some Zimbos believe that Mono’s reaction should have been conciliatory and apologetic. Consider for example, the following opinion (with name redacted) which encapsulates those siding with Mbuya Stella Chiweshe:
1) How hard was it for Taka to ask for *permission?*
2) After Stella reacted, how hard was it for him to ask for *forgiveness?*
3) Mono needs to realise his son is a *grown man* and let him deal with his own issues.
4) Why was Taka putting his *brand* on that video as if it’s his work?
5) Did Taka and Mono miss the *spiritual relevance* of that Mbuya Stella performance or they just don’t care? That sounded like a very spiritual piece to me, no wonder she was that upset.
6) When you have *wronged someone,* do you have a right to decide how severe their *reaction* should be? It’s like saying I know my son slept with your wife but you didn’t have to beat him up, now you owe us an apology I don’t think *the wrongdoer has any standing to determine how upset the wronged should be.*
7) We need to respect *intellectual property* as Zimbos, someone will get into trouble one day. Especially if you are already in the industry and your father is that senior in the industry there is no excuse.
Leave Mbuya Chiweshe alone hamumbovagoni; mutupo wavo munouziva here?”

I reached out to Mono Mukundu over the points raised. The following is his response  (translated from Shona and abridged).

Mono Mukundu: “Concerning the issue of ambuya, I acknowledged that the young should have asked for permission. There is however a trend globally with people doing covers without seeking permission from original artists as a way of honouring the past generation and the proper thing is to ask for permission because at law there are moral rights because he did not cover the song but used digital means to superimpose his performance onto her rendition like he was performing with her.

“Some people love it but she was not for spiritual reasons.  He (Takakunda) once also did a cover version of Thomas Mapfumo and he liked it, encouraging the young man and offering to assist the budding musician.

He also did Sulumani’s song who was also happy about the young man’s efforts…Still, mbuya has moral rights to her performance and for that reason she should have been consulted and we cannot force her to be happy about it.

“I understand also the spiritual dimension which is being mentioned. So yes the copyright issue yes the young man should have sought performance. In my post I did not insult her; I merely called her out for calling my son wicked and being a devil. She responded and people were also siding with her and some female musicians charging me for cyber bulling.”

The above is an abridged and translated version, where necessary, as Mukundu’s responses to my questions were in both Shona and English. At the time of going to print, I had not yet managed to get Mbuya Stella Chiweshe’s reaction to the debacle.

The law

I looked  at the law surrounding copyright (Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act [Chapter 26:05] 2000 and Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Regulations 2006 from the following site:

http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/diversity/pdf/WAPO/National_copyright_laws/Africa/zb_copyright_2000_en.pdf and managed to glean the following regarding a performer’s rights to their performance:

Exclusive rights of owners of neighbouring rights

Neighbouring rights are enforced in the same way as copyright is enforced (section 77).

The performers’ rights include the following:
–Making a recording of a performance
–Broadcasting a performance live
–Being remunerated for commercial use of a sound recording of a performance

A creator’s moral rights are established under section 61 and 64 of the Copyright Act and these include the right to be included as the author of the work and the right to object to derogatory treatment of work. These rights are not transferable and enforceable as per section 67.

Copyright is infringed by any person who is not the owner of the copyright and who, without the owner’s authority, does or causes another person to do an act in Zimbabwe which the owner has the exclusive right to do or to authorise.

Infringement involves doing any of the following acts (section 59):

–Importing or exporting otherwise than for private use Zimbabwe
–In the course of business, exhibiting, or distributing to the public
–Selling it or letting it for hire or offering it for sale or hire
–Distributing it to such an extent that the owner of the copyright is prejudiced
–Transmitting the infringing copies to the public; and
–Permitting a place of public entertainment to be used for a performance of the work, where the performance constitutes an infringement.

On the basis of the law, there does appear to be a prima facie case of infringement against Takakunda Mukundu and so far the Mukundus are not disputing that fact.

His issue was over the name calling. “On the point about calling out Mbuya on her reaction, I feel that that does not make sense because even with crime, the punishment must be commensurate with the crime. A small infraction like stealing sweets should not be burnt alive for example.

She did not have a right to call my son Lucifer for merely accompanying her performance. In my view, the matter was not worth the over-reaction. After all, the song is not even hers, so there is zero apology coming from me as a result. My admission that she should have been consulted is apology enough but her reaction is ridiculous. There is nowhere I insulted her so where is the cyberbullying claim coming from? My issue is only one: calling my son wicked and Lucifer.”

The right of the wronged and the wrong of the right

There is validity in the point raised by some that those who offend do not get to dictate how the offended should react to perceived infractions.

On another hand, there is something to be said for measured responses to those same infractions. The offence must always suit the punishment and, of course, many factors can be taken into account such as harm, motive and even benefit or prejudice arising out of the infringement.

Lawyers can go to town over such minutiae. I did reach out to Chimurenga music guru Thomas Mapfumo whom Mukundu senior mentioned in his defence as one of the artists whose works have been covered by Mukundu junior, the effect of which can be construed as justification for his son’s action.

Here is Mapfumo’s abridged and translated reaction: “This is a young man and we must teach them properly. What he did was not meant to harm ambuya.

We as elders must teach young people the correct way of doing things instead of merely insulting them. “We see it on the internet young people doing it.

There is one who did a cover of my song from Bulawayo and sent it to me. I was happy. Mono’s son played my music and his father sent it to me and I told him to encourage the young man. If we fight with young people we are not going anyway and these youngsters are following in our footsteps.

Still, if young people want to do copyright music they should follow the rules like seeking permission from the creator but there is no harm in doing covers like some are saying.

We all started doing cover versions. I have never seen a musician who did not do covers. Personally, I used to do covers of the likes of Franco changing his Lingala lyrics … As for covering our traditional music vadzimu vacho vanotodawo mbiri (ancestral spirits also want to be honoured). Here in America there are even white people calling themselves names such as Mbuya Shumba who do our traditional music. That is how our music becomes more popular… As for the spiritual dimension being mentioned, how will that be affected? The ancestors would be happy, actually I do not see the problem there.”

Summation
This piece is not about justifying either of the warring parties but looking at what I feel are the critical issues. The incident can be broken down to a combination of homage, youthful exuberance gone awry and a tad bit of ego (because Takakunda did insert his logo and signature tune at the end of his own edit of Mbuya Stella Chiweshe’s performance).

Alongside the young man’s action are a protective father’s reaction and some say ( over-reaction).In the end, it may be argued that Takakunda Mukundu rode on the legend’s name to advertise his guitar-playing prowess wittingly or unwittingly and got rightly “cyber slapped” for it.

Still, Takakunda is 21 and though he may be a legal major, I know from experience that even at 21, like my own son, he is prone to making many mistakes.

Suffice to say then that Mbuya had her right infringed clearly. As to whether she was justified in calling the young man wicked, it is in my opinion far-fetched because it implies that she has the ability to read hearts and motives.

But mbuya, in traditional culture, denotes an elder who must be revered even as she imparts wisdom and compassion.

Next instalment will feature an exclusive interview with Thomas Mapfumo and his take on music, struggle, revolution, inspiration, influences and thoughts on topical issues of the day.
Follow me on Twitter: @KuditaAddy

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