Once the Music Fades, the Beat Dies

NAMIBIA’S MUSIC industry has the potential to offer products and services that capture the essence of its culture – from cultural music and memorabilia to traditional poetry, cultural podcast endorsements, and tourist destination subscriptions that encapsulate the heart, culture, heritage, and hospitality of the nation.

However, the current reality paints a different picture.

The industry is grappling with a limited collection, repertoire, archive, and documentation of early Namibian music.

The narrative of Namibian music unfolds through oral storytelling and platforms provided by the South West African Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC), the former apartheid-era state-owned broadcaster.

SWABC, while fostering traditional music for rural audiences and church groups, has a rich archive that remains largely inaccessible to the public.

Names like Warm Gaat, Layden Naftalie, Ugly Creatures, Tate Simeon, Tate Lexinton, Tate Kwela, PJ. Auchab, and countless other undocumented bands and musicians remain obscure, representing a missed opportunity to showcase original content.

The post-independence era saw the emergence of artists like The Heroes, Jackson Kaukeua, and Ras Sheehama.

Yet a plethora of undocumented talent remains lost in the annals of Namibian musical history.

CONTENT AND DISCONTENT

The present scenario is marked by an inability to serve original content, with radio stations predominantly airing foreign music.
While conditions for broadcasting licences stipulate support for local content, these provisions often go unheeded, justified by claims that local music is “inferior” or lacks commercial viability.

Despite the Namibian arts police working on a policy for an extended period, progress has been sluggish in getting it through parliament.
The responsibility of funding and developing programmes for the industry lies with government stakeholders.

However, administration by government employees often leads to inefficiencies, with event managers, promoters, and service providers benefiting more than the artists themselves.

Namibian telecommunications giant MTC invested a substantial amount, reportedly 10 million, in hosting the Annual Namibian Music Awards.
While this might seem like a positive step, it raises questions about the motivation behind such investments.

Is it a genuine effort to support struggling artists, or is it a strategic move to capitalise on a growing fan base and following of these very artists?

UNLOCKING POTENTIAL

The state of Namibia’s music industry reflects both untapped potential and systemic challenges.

The need for a comprehensive policy, efficient implementation, and a unified voice through a music union becomes increasingly apparent.
It is high time stakeholders, including the government, telecommunications companies, and artists themselves, come together to unlock the industry’s true potential.

This will allow it to contribute not only culturally but also economically to the nation’s growth.

The rapidly changing technology landscape has altered the dynamics of music production, distribution, and consumption.

While the global accessibility offered by social platforms is undeniable, Namibia’s music industry is at a critical juncture in adapting to these changes.

A lack of contracts and financial agreements with aggregators, coupled with the absence of cross-border financial mechanisms, has hindered the industry from fully capitalising on its potential to access global markets.

In an era where duplication and imitation of trending international artists and music formulas prevail, it is crucial to distinguish between inspiration and a genuine reflection of local music activities.

Despite the investment possibilities, our music industry remains largely untapped for government, corporate, and social activation.
Blaming artists for not being conscious of the opportunities is a simplistic view.

The challenge lies in the absence of a supportive infrastructure that could empower artists to navigate the complexities of this evolving industry.

If the promise of the country is to create platforms, access, and opportunities for job creation and enterprise development, then there is a pressing need for comprehensive policies, financial structures, and educational initiatives.

CHANGING DYNAMICS

Namibian artists, who should be at the forefront of showcasing the nation’s cultural richness, are grappling with a system that has yet to fully embrace and leverage their potential.

Without proper contracts, fair compensation, and international exposure facilitated through cross-border agreements, artists find themselves at a disadvantage, unable to harness the full benefits of their creative endeavours.

To unlock the potential of Namibia’s music industry, there is a need for collaborative efforts.

The government, private sector, and artists themselves must come together to create an environment that encourages innovation, protects intellectual property, and fosters entrepreneurship within the music sector.

This includes establishing legal frameworks, negotiating cross-border agreements, and promoting financial structures that facilitate fair compensation for artists in the global market.

Moreover, initiatives to raise awareness and educate artists about the changing dynamics of the industry, including the benefits and challenges of technology, should be prioritised.

This will empower artists to be proactive in their careers, enabling them to make informed decisions and capitalise on the opportunities available in the digital age.

THE ROLE OF A UNION

The grievances voiced by individuals within Namibia’s creative industry echo a common sentiment: The absence of a music union exacerbates existing inequalities, allowing unfair opportunities, unpaid royalties, and the exploitation of creatives.

The challenges extend to radio stations neglecting their responsibility to play and pay for artists’ work, corporate gigs favouring foreign artists, and insiders manipulating the system for personal gain.

This situation not only stifles the artistic community but impedes the industry’s growth and potential contribution to the nation’s economy.
The absence of a united front, a music union, exacerbates these issues by hindering the development of practical solutions, lobbying efforts, and the formulation of policies that could empower artists.

Recognising the historical misuse of influence and misinterpretation for personal and political gain, it becomes even more crucial for artists to advocate for change.

Campaigning for policies that ensure fair compensation, a living wage, and equitable competition is not just a right but a responsibility.

The music industry has the potential to be a significant economic contributor, but without a unified voice, these prospects will remain unrealised.


It’s imperative to address the prevalent issue of individuals enjoying privileges at the expense of the broader artistic community.
The myopic pursuit of personal gain at the cost of the industry’s overall health is detrimental to the nation’s duty to develop and sustain jobs and economic indicators.

Fans and gig opportunities must be viewed not as personal favours but as essential components of the national responsibility to nurture and support the arts.


A CALL FOR UNITY

In essence, the call for a music union is a call for a collective dream to be realised.

It is a plea for artists to come together, transcend individual interests, and work towards a shared vision of an industry that is fair, sustainable, and a true contributor to Namibia’s cultural and economic landscape.

After all, the visualisation of a dream is just the beginning; the delivery of that dream requires concerted efforts, unity, and a commitment to the well-being of the entire artistic community.

While the idea of unions may initially seem daunting or unnecessary, their role is precisely to provide a structured framework for artists to assert their rights, demand fair treatment, and hold stakeholders responsible for their contributions to the public interest and national development.

A musician, like any professional, should not have to rely on sympathy, personal favours, or financial assistance just to acquire basic tools for their trade.

Policies, rights, training, and awareness programmes, along with support from line ministries and public funding for stakeholders, are essential components of fostering a conducive environment for artists to thrive independently.

The absence of such organisational structures often leads to artists being vulnerable to exploitation, cancellations, and victimisation when they attempt to address critical issues related to their profession and the broader industry.

Unions can play a crucial role in ensuring that the individual efforts of artists are not only recognised but also protected against unfair treatment.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The importance of addressing these issues as part of national development should be the emphasis.

Selective attention to artists, based on their current status or level of influence, does not contribute to the collective national effort to create employment and invest in the potential of the music industry.

In essence, a music union becomes a collective voice that transcends individual efforts.

It serves as a mechanism to enforce accountability, push for policies that benefit the entire industry, and ensures that artists are not only recognised for their contributions but are also given the necessary support to thrive independently.

Establishing such a union could mark a pivotal step towards realising the full potential of Namibia’s music industry in contributing to both cultural enrichment and economic growth.

Namibian artists influenced by imaginary standards set by international music industries is a valid concern.

It’s essential for artists to recognise that relevance and longevity in the industry doesn’t necessarily come from imitating styles, genres, or visual presentations of other countries.

Instead, it comes from embracing and celebrating the unique cultural identity, expertise, and creativity of Namibia.

The influence of unions in other countries contributing to the iconic status of artists is a pertinent point.

Unions often play a crucial role in fostering an environment that values and protects local talent, allowing it to thrive and innovate within its cultural context.

Understanding this, Namibian musicians should focus on becoming true representatives of their own cultural richness, drawing inspiration from their roots to create music that resonates authentically with local audiences.

DIVERSITY

The idea that some local musicians benefit through political, religious, social, or tribal platforms without truly representing Namibia’s diverse artistic landscape suggests a need for a more inclusive and representative approach.

Artists should aim not only to be icons within specific niches but to be an inspiration for the broader human resources of the nation, contributing to the development of a sustainable industry that generates employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

The path to industry longevity lies in fostering an environment that appreciates and supports the diversity of Namibian creativity.

This involves recognising and celebrating the rich tapestry of cultural influences, musical styles, and artistic expressions that make Namibia unique.

By doing so, musicians can contribute not only to the growth of the local music scene but also to the cultural and economic development of the nation as a whole.

Change is not just about hosting more seminars and conferences discussing the state of the arts.

It’s about taking concrete actions that empower musicians to capitalise on various programmes and opportunities, especially in the context of challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, tribal conflicts, and broader national and regional interests.

Formulating a music union becomes a pivotal step in this direction.

It can serve as a unifying force, providing musicians with a collective voice and a platform to advocate for their rights, fair compensation, and access to opportunities.

It can play a crucial role in enabling musicians to actively participate in programmes related to the issues mentioned and leverage these opportunities to sustain their livelihoods.

OBJECTIVES

The music Union could focus on several key objectives:
– Advocacy: Actively represent the interests of musicians in discussions related to government policies, funding opportunities, and industry regulations.

– Education: Provide workshops and training sessions that equip musicians with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate challenges like the impact of the pandemic, climate change, and regional conflicts.

– Networking: Facilitate connections between musicians, industry professionals, and relevant stakeholders, fostering collaboration and creating a supportive community.

– Access to Opportunities: Serve as a bridge between musicians and various programmes, initiatives, and funding sources, ensuring that musicians can actively participate and benefit/

– Financial Empowerment: Work towards fair compensation, royalties, and financial agreements with stakeholders to ensure musicians are not only recognised for their work but also compensated adequately.

The focus should shift from discussions alone to practical, actionable steps that empower musicians to navigate challenges and capitalise on opportunities.

Forming a union aligns with this vision, providing a structured platform for musicians to collectively address issues, access resources, and actively contribute to the sustainable growth of the music industry.

SUSTAINABILITY

Artists like the Ugly Creatures, Jackson Kaujeua, Axali Doeseb, and Elvo Diergard represent not just individual stories, but broader issues the industry must grapple with.

The struggles faced by these artists, ranging from financial difficulties to a lack of recognition for their contributions, highlight systemic issues that hinder the development and sustainability of a thriving music industry in Namibia.

This often stems from a lack of fair compensation, inadequate support structures, and a failure to recognise the intrinsic value of music and its impact on society.

Dreams and visions should be seen as aspirations for a better future, not as illusions or mere fantasies.

The difficulties Namibian musicians face underscore the importance of addressing fundamental issues such as fair compensation, intellectual property rights, and adequate support structures.
Perceptions that music is merely a “hobby” rather than a dignified, paying job needs to be challenged.

Music is not just a form of entertainment, it’s a cultural expression, a source of identity, and a potential economic driver.

Transforming this perception requires a collective effort from stakeholders, including the government, the public, and the artists themselves.
It’s essential to advocate for the recognition of music as a legitimate and valuable profession, with policies and structures in place that support artists and ensure their well-being.

Forming a music union could be a crucial step in this direction, providing a unified voice to address systemic issues and advocate for positive change.

In conclusion, the challenges Namibian musicians face should not discourage individuals from pursuing music but rather serve as a call to action for industry stakeholders to collectively work towards creating an environment that values, supports, and sustains the artistic contributions of musicians.

While the challenges are significant, they also present an opportunity for Namibia to redefine its approach to the music industry.

– Boli Mootseng is an audio/video creative director

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