Warning: music pirates on air

Good people, gone are the days radio stations were exemplars of music standards.

Now they do not only air trash, but also things that were once unimaginable to broadcasters as well as listeners.

Trash is the word reggae artist Limbani Banda used to discredit “Malawian music” even though his is neither Zambian nor Jamaican.

But this touchy debate was loudly settled about 15 years ago when the Chisoni nku Matenda artist refused to retract the real name of bubblegum music.

Yet low-grade songs still dominates the airwaves of radio stations that keep replaying Lawi’s Amaona Kuchedwa and Evison Matafale’s Watsetseleka as if the erudite musicians have no better compositions.

Sadly, artists may not be to blame when substandard songs go on air.

The presenters could be, for they sometimes acquire tracks through illegal means tantamount to piracy.

Oh! What a friend pirates have in a well-known announcer who was on air on this day two weeks ago.

It was around 9.30am when a phone-in section of a programme on brutal attacks on people with albinism slumped to an unprecedented low, with the announcer heard pleading with a caller to send her the song she wanted played.

What a disgrace for the State-run station which broadcasts to millions.

Not that the presenter kept giving excuses like “I don’t have your favourite song”, “I will keep searching” and “I will play that song if we find it”.

The scarce songs in demand were actually hits by Thoko Katimba and other local artists.

Forget that the scapegoats somewhat shows that selection of the music played by this radio station, like its contemporaries, is at the discretion of the presenter—with no specialised team assembling quality music behind the scenes.

From the start, listeners would have been forgiven for thinking the station for the nation, which boasted the largest music collection and recorded albums of local greats, suddenly stocks a few singles.

Do they buy or possess any complete albums at all if they cannot play a Katimba number on demand?

This was the sticky issue.

But the reply came shockingly when a regular Zokonda Amai caller phoned in and named her most wanted hit.

The announcer may have been candid that she did not have it handy, but overstepped when said something like amwali imeneyo tilibe, mundigayile.

Yes, it was loud and clear that she wanted the caller to share the desired track.

How?

Via WhatsApp, she said.

“You know my number. Please WhatsApp me,” she said remorselessly.

Clearly, mobile devices, especially smartphones, have eased the way people access and share music.

But the things broadcasters say on air shape the way their listeners and target audiences behave.

This is why those on the mics that broadcasts to more than just friends and relatives should always remember that begging music using means that do not offer copyright owners  a coin is unacceptable.

The said celebrity voice radio just popularised and normalised intellectual theft–and there was no endorsement fee attached.

Illegal distribution of music using new technologies, including WhatsApp, e-mails and other phone apps, impoverishes artists who have been struggling with poor sales since cassettes and CDs joined dinosaurs.

Selling the songs online and in formats matching emerging technologies is the way to go.

But sharing songs without prior permission of the copyright holder or paying the artists’ dues is theft.

Mandatory warnings on covers of  original works shows that unauthorised distributors are liable to prosecution. n

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