Boss is boss by Fortunato

Here’s how to maintain your grip on the electorate: keep them drunk with low alcohol taxes, hand out building permits for churches that preach to stay away from politics, and gain control over the music scene to silence any popular sound of dissent.
The alcohol is very obvious: an imported 5cl whisky shot in a plastic sachet goes on the street for 75 US dollarcent, less than a beer. The easy life of the happy clappy churches is a guess, I mean, they do get some nice building spots. So here comes a rant about the numbing of the music scene.

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Patrão é patrão, MC Roger's shameless and worrying blend of the once rebellious genre Marrabenta, the rather neo-colonial message boss=boss, a celebration of the hypermaterialist R&B culture and an open endorsement of president Armando Guebuza, who everybody knows is using his double presidency to make sure his family gets more than its share in the growing economy of his country. Conflict of interest? Boss is boss.

Local music does get its share of airplay here, but the thing, is, most of the current Mozambican (popular) music is nowhere near as interesting as the echos from its past. On Radio Maputo, you can hear a lot of local classics from the 70ies: they sound totally amazing, a diverse and experimental blend of tradition with pop influences. But nowadays about half of the musicians seem busy vocalizing the fact that Mozambican musicians need to find their own style. The other half seems more than happy selling whatever suits the mobile phone operators or the governing party.

Before we launch into Mozambique, allow me a short no BS assessment of the music business in general. For more or less a century, the music industry has been pretty much ruling the artists. They dealt with the vinyl record and the audio tape, embracing it and cashing in on it, they dealt with the first digital revolution, embracing it and cashing in on the CD’s, it all went fine till the advent of the internet. Suddenly they started behaving like angry dinosaurs… Meanwhile, the majority of the artists had no problem surviving at all. Production costs went down: making music became cheaper because more work could be done outside the studio. Artists’ income shifted: towards the revenues from live concerts and the author’s rights (especially for those who perform their own music). All in all, most artists adapted and got more control, while the recording industry is still fighting the change.

It’s not very hard to guess where all this goes in a less industrialized region with a lower income and with an overdue governing party that has no healthy opposition: artists become more vulnerable and dependent. Because the new production technology (home preproduction and -recording) is generally less available and comparatively more expensive. And because author’s rights (which the artist would collect from radio, television, publicity, concerts) tend to be less organized or not all. Meanwhile everybody is still buying your music on cheap CD’s in the streets without you getting a cent. So basically, you have to play live to make some money.

A small article in July 2008 UK magazine Songlines, gives a hint of what goes on behind the Mozambican music scene. An attempt in 2000 to run an independent music studio was directly sabotaged: a bit of burglary, the authorities handing out fines to the studio rather than investigating the robbery, and within 2 years the opening of two competing studio’s by sons of political figures; in short, the authorities like control over who can record. Furthermore there is clearly no political interest in organizing the author’s rights: keep the artists poor so they eat out of your hand? Meanwhile its the mobile phone companies who almost decide who makes a living of their music, through their high prices for playbacks. If this is the climate, no wonder MC Rogers scored a hit with a neo-colonial pro governing party song.

Maybe there is a fascinating, vibrating, talented, wild underground scene I haven’t got a clue about, me being the dumb expat scratching the surface, if always a bit paranoid about the cultural scene being too much of a scene funded by and catering for expats.
Dumb or not, in the present time I’ll take the Zimbabwe version of Sungura any time over Marrabenta.

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