Following the recent media launch of the fourth annual Mosi Lager Zambian Music Awards (ZMA), to be held in Lusaka on Thursday 28 April, some Zambian artists have launched a fierce protest against the awards.
Leading the fight is Zambian musician Macky 2, who has called for a boycott of the ceremony. A lengthy message he posted in late February on his Facebook wall, titled ‘Pay us well or don’t involve us’ - apparently written on behalf of 'all' Zambian musicians - makes a number of accusations.
Chief among his complaints is that the prize money is far too low: between 3000 Zambian Kwacha (around US$275) and ZMW5000 (under US$455). “It is undeniable that Zambian music has improved compared to what it was a few years ago. Music managers, DJs and producers across the country have been investing heavily in the art…. The cost of music equipment keeps going up and operational costs for the studios too are even more unfriendly for the flourishing of the industry so anyone who seeks to promote the industry must appreciate these realities.” He is calling for the prize money to be raised to at least ZMW15 000 (around $1367)
Macky accuses the organisers of using the awards to enrich themselves, distancing himself from ‘this criminal act’. “If these awards are meant to promote Zambian music, we demand that the artist must benefit,” he writes.
He also accuses the organisers of deliberately ignoring artists who are based outside the capital, Lusaka. This he labels a “a huge insult” against recent calls for national unity made by the country’s leaders. “Working with the Lusaka-based musicians may be the most convenient thing to do but it is the worst form of arrogance towards those that have chosen to live in other parts of the country.”
As a solution, Macky 2 is demanding that this year’s ceremony takes place outside Lusaka, and that each province be recognised by awarding the most active and talented artists in each respective province.
If these demands are not met, Macky 2 has threatened a boycott of the awards, warning that “No credible music artist will be part of this year’s awards”.
Another prominent Zambian artist, Mr Vezzy, lent his support to Macky’s call for change, encouraging other Zambian artists to do the same – either by boycotting the awards and/or by using their social media to voice their concerns.
“Every year, a group of Zambian musicians protest against the Zambia Music Awards,” wrote Mr Vezzy on social media. “The calls are often legit. Better award system, more meaningful recognition etc. Other musicians, usually the ones who had a good year or are the most 'happening', choose to not engage in the protest and instead just proceed to campaign for votes. Until the next time... When they are on the other side. It becomes apparent that a more defined and dignified award system would be most favorable. So they 'join' the protest, but rarely is anything achieved, because there will be others who'd just had good year and are most happening who will choose to not engage in the protest and instead just proceed to campaign for votes. And the cycle continues...”
Turning his attention to the organisers, he asks: “What is the true purpose of your awards?” He argues that if the purpose was truly to recognize Zambian artists, then one would expect that the annual calls to change the awards would be taken into account – but they never are. The organiser’s lack of transparency suggests that for the organisers, “the awards are not really as important as the ceremony and the mileage gotten from it.”
“This thing can be fixed once and for all,” noted Vezzy Otherwise, the awards will still go ahead and next year it will be the same cries. And each year they lose their significance little by little, until no one worthwhile will care.”
In response, Mosi Lager Marketing Manager Nomonde Donsa dodged the accusations, telling Music In Africa: “The National Arts Council (NAC) is best placed to comment on the validity of the concerns as the organisation that spearheads arts and culture in Zambia. As sponsors, our aim is to celebrate Zambian’s passion for music thus rewarding artists for the time and passion invested in their craft. NAC and the Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) are best placed to assess the claims based on the local and other industry norms.”
Responding to the allegations of insufficient prize money, Donsa explained: “We will only know the exact prize money later this week once budgets have been finalised.” She outlined three ways the organisers will reward awards: firstly, for performing on the night (about six artists are expected perform), secondly, for winning an award on the night (18 in total), and thirdly by letting them perform at the Day of Thunder in Livingstone (about 10 winners, plus a few others). “In the event that an artist participates in all three, an increase on previous wins is guaranteed,” says Donsa, noting something similar for award winners invited to perform at the Day of Thunder, adding: “Out-of-town artists are also provided with transport and accommodation for both the Zambian Music Awards and Mosi Day of Thunder”.
In terms of accusations regarding the domination of Lusaka-based artists, Donsa was quick to deny this, stating: “Previous winners include artists from provinces besides Lusaka and the nominations media briefing was held last week in Kitwe in the Copperbelt. The Mosi Day of Thunder will be held in Livingstone.”
Asked whether the organisers were worried that Zambian artists would indeed boycott the awards, Donsa was clear: “We do not expect a boycott of the awards, and indeed all nominees have confirmed their attendance.”
This year’s ZMA nomination period apparently attracted 101 741 nominations. Macky 2 and Mr Vezzy’s accusations surfaced before the recent announcement of the final nominees in each category. Unsurprisingly, neither has been nominated.
To cast your vote, visit the ZMA website. Voting for ZMA winners opened on 31 March and closes on Friday 22 April.