Fisticuffs and fainting, a furious Deborah Fraser, a walkout and anger towards Arthur Mafokate and Loyiso Bala marked a dramatic meeting last week Monday when musicians confronted royalty body Samro about the need for transformation, reports Charl Blignaut.
A meeting in Braamfontein on Monday to discuss changes to the membership rules of the SA Music Rights Organisation (Samro) was almost derailed several times by furious musicians demanding change.
Samro board member Arthur Mafokate was dragged into an altercation outside the meeting at Samro House when a group of musicians arrived and demanded access, but were apparently not listed as members on Samro’s database.
They refused to take no for an answer and when, according to one eyewitness account, they began to storm the venue, “Mafokate tried to calm the situation and a short guy in a beret approached him harshly”.
“Then Arthur pulled him towards him and took him behind some wall, just after the Samro banner, in argument. It seemed like Arthur was trying to calm him down, but the short guy kept on insulting everybody and shoving Arthur back and forth.”
Another eyewitness says Arthur was “klapped”, but another says he was “thrown down”.
In response to queries, Samro spokesperson Andile Ndlovu said: “They intimidated and physically assaulted some of our staffers. They threatened to burn down the building if they were not allowed into the meeting. In an attempt to manage the situation, the Samro board and management requested the members in attendance to vote if this group of non-members should be allowed into the meeting. The Samro members voted no.”
Even so, he says, management “reluctantly allowed this group into the meeting on condition that they would merely be observers. They agreed initially, but then later highjacked the meeting.”
Other witnesses, however, said that not all the protesters were non-members. Tebogo Sithathu of the Gospel Music Association of SA said: “They didn’t hijack anything, they were only asking why they keep getting anything between R100 and R500 royalty payment year in and year out? Where’s all the money going?”
Other members City Press spoke to said they left the meeting before it started as there was a threat of violence and “rumours that tyres were going to be burned outside and security wasn’t adequate”.
Samro is the only performing rights collecting society in the country. All music rights users – from radio stations to concert promoters – pay licence money annually to Samro’s songwriters, composers and arrangers for musical works used commercially. This amounted to R351.4 million last year.
Deborah Fraser’s anger
The meeting only calmed down when board member Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse called for calm, but witnesses say that didn’t last long.
Older musicians complained they receive peanuts in royalties from Samro, despite having had platinum careers. Joining Sithathu in demanding transformation were gospel stars such as Deborah Fraser, who musicians had voted on to the board, but who management said did not qualify.
Ndlovu says the membership rules and criteria are “under review and have been discussed at membership round tables. It is hoped that the new rules ... will be ratified at the extraordinary general meeting to be held in June.”
Musicians made a number of complaints to Samro management, saying that artists on the board, such as Loyiso Bala, are “selling out” other musicians; that rural musicians are not catered to; that not all members receive invitations to meetings and that communication is primarily in English, disadvantaging many.
Ndlovu acknowledged some of these problems, saying Samro tries to reach all members and provide translation services wherever possible.
But in an interview with City Press after the meeting Fraser remained angry.
“They keep singing the same tune. We are not looking for a fight, we are looking for change. Now,” she said.
She and Sithathu complained that musicians were not seeing their money because of the alleged “DP Scam” that City Press exposed recently, where 83% of the money owed to artists making new versions of traditional works are paid into the broader Samro distribution system, instead of being allocated to the artists making the new versions. Another problem cited was the murkiness around undocumented funds, known as “Undoc” in the Samro system. This is mostly from information not being correctly provided by music users and so Samro doesn’t know who to pay.
Ndlovu denies any wrongdoing with regards DP and says Samro is trying hard to educate music users.
Fraser is tired of talk, saying that she has never received a single live show report from Samro in her career. These are her share of royalties from concert promoters. Other gospel stars like Hlengiwe Mhlaba made the same claims.
Nomuntu Kapa collapses
Witnesses told City Press that platinum-selling Nomuntu Kapa, famed for her work with the group Chimora, tried repeatedly to be heard in the meeting. She then got up and moved forward, saying she had been a member of Samro for years and has never earned a cent in royalties. Mhlaba has made similar claims.
Artists at the meeting said Samro does not do due diligence to verify claims.
Ndlovu responded, saying Samro was committed to improving its operational efficiencies in terms of its new business strategy.
Kapa, say witnesses, then began crying hysterically, suffered from palpitations and collapsed. The meeting stopped for her to receive medical attention. Later, Samro paid R5 000 to her landlord because she had been evicted and had to borrow taxi money to get to the meeting.
Dodgy in Dubai
Members in the meeting again voiced outrage over Samro management losing over R40 million of their money by investing in a music rights organisation in Dubai. They said Samro never obtained a special members’ resolution at an annual general meeting to allow it to make the investment, or to invest in buying its headquarters Samro House.
They demanded investments be made locally, which benefit artists.
Ndlovu did not comment on the Samro property, but said: “The matter regarding [Dubai] is currently under forensic investigation.”
But members’ biggest gripe of the day was that Samro’s structure allows local artists’ money to flow overseas to international record companies’ publishing divisions.
Ndlovu flagged a need for higher local content quotas and confirmed that publishers receive 47.7% of money paid out.
Sithathu remains defiant: “The publisher/author split is at the core of our monies being stolen by white monopoly capital that has no shareholding by South Africans.
“We will give Samro 30 days after receipt of our demands to respond with a clear plan for accountability and transformation, otherwise we will shut Samro down.”
Ndlovu said Samro is “committed to the process of transformation”.