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Chris Mba hit the Nigerian music firmament in the early ‘80’s with the very vibrant cut entitled Baby Don’t Cry. At a time the beat scene was being invaded by the American pop, Blues & Soul, Chris emerged spotting Jerry (Chris) Curls, belting songs in his self styled pop-highlife, and quite a number of hits came from his repertoire. In this interview with www.beats-onit.com he talks about his music and the prospects of collective management of copyright royalties. Enjoy:
For quite some time now, you have not recorded any new music; not a single nor an album. What is the reason?
The reason is that given the way the country is; the government is not helping matters as far as the economy and the creative industry are concerned and you try to invest your hard-earned money to put out your music but nobody has the where-with-all to buy, you are discouraged. Again, after your struggle to do an album or a single somebody in Alaba is telling you to pay him money to include your work in a mass; that is after you must have either borrowed or sourced fund the hard way to do your work. Artistes are not finding it funny.
The economy is so bad that people are looking for what to eat; as a matter of fact, I don’t know who sells records or CDs now; things are not the way they are supposed to be; the economy does not favour music even though you hear that one artiste or the other is doing this or that; how many of them are really doing anything? It’s not only me; it is affecting a lot of artistes that I know and that’s the problem.
It appears this is peculiar to those of you who made your break-through in the ‘80’s and meanwhile, the younger guys who emerged on the scene later and recently are recording and making waves. How do you feel about it?
Yeah, they are recording, but that’s what I’m telling you right now; they are recording and booming, do you know their background; do you know what they do under?…(laughter)… yeah! They are recording every day, every time… but I don’t know what to call it; it’s like a cult or something; I don’t know; I don’t know how they push it.
The radio stations are not helping matters; when you come to them with your work for airing, they want you to pay them. Meanwhile the person you are expecting to pay you, has nothing; he or she has just managed to do his job. I have done some works but when I look at the cost of promoting them through radio, television and all, I decided to put them aside for the time being. There is a lot of issues and hassle that you have to pass through that’s the truth.
As a key player in the industry, do you feel there is still future in the Nigerian music space today?
I have already told you that this present government does not favour entertainment genrally; not only music and musicians but movie and actors. I am sure that the movie industry is suffering the same thing. The way movies were moving four, five years ago is not the same presently. Both music and movie businesses were booming during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and take it or leave it that is just the hard truth.
Let’s face it, there’s no cash. People have to think about what to eat first before music; If you have no food on your table in the house; will you remember to play music?…(laughter)… tell Mr. President that the economy is bad and wrong; that they should do whatever they have to do to ease things. Now they say they have won election, let them make people happy; let them make people eat in their houses. People are hungry and they should know it now. You have to feed first before you talk about music or movie.
Many of you artistes have recorded music which you have assigned to some collecting societies…(interrupts…COSON, COSON)…there is also MCSN…(interrupts…agreed, but I’m telling you where I belong)…I’m coming; you are the first person who took me to MCSN; you were a member of MCSN, right or wrong?…(interrupts)…yes, I was, but they weren’t doing well and that’s why I had to move to where things are happening. And no matter how little it is, things are happening at COSON
Let’ be honest to ourselves, unlike before, now I have realized that half bread is better than pof-pof. What COSON is doing is pension for musicians; it does not matter how small. People are sure that at a certain time of the year, something will come into their pockets. It was not like that before. MCSN was not doing like that back in the days unless they have woken up now.
Those shouting audit, freeze accounts, I want to know, what their problem is. Is it that somebody came and decided that things must be done in the right and proper way; built a magnificent edifice they can call COSON House; managing the affairs so well that they can now wake up and realize that money is being misappropriated or embezzled?
Since all artistes have been there watching their rights being violated, have they given anybody one naira? But they have been there; has anybody received an alert of one naira from any given quarters? Nobody has given one kobo to any artiste. Now somebody came and is doing it very right, some people have just woken up to say that he is ‘eating money’. You, ‘Mr. Nodey-eat-money’, what have you done?
My take is that Nigerian musicians should wake up. We don’t need to run everything that belongs to us down; that is wrong. Nothing is good when it comes to musicians and that attitude must stop. We have to find better ways to correct our wrongs; a way to support this man who has been doing a marvelous job to earn for Nigerian artistes what they truly deserve and also be able to encourage him to do more. Today it is ten naira, tomorrow it could be one hundred naira, you never can tell.
Don’t you think that those asking for the accounts of COSON to be audited have a point?
Well, so they are just waking up to realize that accounts can be audited? What is that they want; is it that they feel there is much money there or what? I feel they should meet the man in charge, discuss with him and find a way to move forward. This fighting and squabble do not pay anybody; there should be a rallying point; we can meet and discuss our problems; agree with each other and move forward.
Do you think that COSON is standing in the way of anybody or group?
COSON is an organization and I believe it has a good management that is doing well so far. Whether you like it or not, they are doing well and you can see progress. Whoever feels he or she has objections or better ideas should put it on the table and not; get out, I am in charge now; you don chop too much. Where were you when the whole idea was being nurtured and later coming into fruition? COSON is not in any way standing in the way of anybody or group. Rather, COSON is the hope of every musician in Nigeria which we can look up to for the enhancement of our rights. It is not something we should destroy.
There are some record companies still existing presently, like Premier Music and Ivory Music …(interruption)… please give me the phone number of Premier Music MD they have not paid me anything for years; let me know if I have anything to collect… But you are the company’s artiste and the MD is there…(interruption)…I have lost his number, please send me his number so that first thing Monday morning, I’ll call him to know my sales figures; I need the money because it’s my sweat. Talking about COSON, they will not wait for you to call them; they will send your money to you.
Are you sure Premier is selling your works?
I don’t know. But something must be there for me and I need to remind the MD that I deserve some royalty, if they will agree.
What message do you have for a lot of Nigerian artistes who do not seem to understand what is happening but sitting on the fence?
Yes they don’t know, may be because things are well with them right now. But nobody knows tomorrow; you cannot predict this life which can be too sweet today and gets very bitter the next day. For instance somebody was telling me that R-Kelly is broke and I said how can he be broke? If it can happen to a man like that, it can happen to anyone. All artistes should come together let us support COSON; put aside whatever differences and let us fine-tune the orgnisation. All the musicians should understand that COSON is the only organization we have now that we can call our own. Here, government does not recognize you, does not support you in anything, they don’t give you any grant; it all suffering for musicians in Nigeria so if you cannot do anything to help youreslf, you die.
Look at what COSON did for Ras Kimono; without COSON Kimono would have been buried like a chicken. Thank God for Tony Okoroji and COSON the idea they brought and made Kimono look like a king in death; that alone is enough. Somebody was even telling me; look at what they did for Kimono; am I sure if he died they would do same for him? I said Oga die first; when you die we would know if they will do the same for you; just die.