We all know what has been trending on social media and in the news this week; the state of Mzee Ojwang’ as he is popularly referred to. It is unfortunate of the trials he is currently going through and I do sympathize. However, I want to address the underlying issues and talk real talk to all the individuals in the entertainment and creative industries.
Allow me to use Mzee as an example and his co-actors in . I have watched the them since I was a little girl and it is probably the same with a majority of those reading this article today. We all know how successful the TV sitcom/ comedy was and has been for the last three decades. The genesis of all this drama? A contract that was perhaps not well understood or not read at all.
Like any other profession, contracts are essential. As a result it should be every artist’s obligation to ensure that they read contracts as handed to them and be aware of the nature and scope of the envisioned relationship before signing. Furthermore, when you are given a contract to sign, it is only prudent that you request for time to read and understand what the contract states, there shouldn’t be any pressure. This gives you sufficient time to either consult with your lawyer, which is highly advisable or discuss the contract with other knowledgeable peers to advise you on the contract. Signing on the spot only conveys the level of desperation you are in and opens you to possible manipulation by the other party.
This is also the best opportunity for one to negotiate on the terms of the contract and to have more favourable terms for you as an artist. Truth be told, when a person drafts a contract, they tend to have drafted it more in their favour than the other party; which means if you fail to do your due diligence to read and understand the contract, you will lose out and definitely sell yourself short. When you sign on the dotted line the negotiation door closes and it will not matter whether it was an unfavourable contract to you if or when a dispute arises.
There is one very popular excuse that a majority of artists like to use when it comes to engaging services of a lawyer and other relevant professionals in these our beloved industries. “You know artists don’t make money in Kenya. We are underpaid so we cannot afford lawyers.” You have to spend some to earn some. We have all seen what happens when we do not invest in seeking expert legal advice.
Let me try and put things in perspective. When you are buying a shamba, it is mandatory for you to transact this business through a practising lawyer, or else you could find yourself on the raw end of the stick in such transactions. The monetary investment in the shamba is always far too great for us to gamble and handle casually. So, why should it be any different when it comes to your intellectual property? ; Your art? Your IP is your shamba. You must guard it and protect it with your life. It is your daily bread and you should not handle it as casually as it is the case in most instances.
So yes, now you are on our screens. You are receiving an income from your talents that entertain us. What are you doing with the money you earn? And just to top up on what you are earning from the production house or the broadcasting house, whichever the case, you have become a celebrity; as a result you start attracting more gigs outside the set or your usual work space. You get calls to perform or emcee at weddings, state functions, private parties etc. The opportunities are endless. There is another revenue stream to sustain you. What investment measures are you embarking on to secure your future and that of your next of kin?
It is no secret that some of our artists are very flamboyant in their lifestyles. But how sustainable is it? This is one area the Government cannot and should not take the flak for. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure they invest to secure themselves in case of any eventualities. Ensure you are paying your NSSF, NHIF and where you can, purchase health insurance, enter into a private pension scheme. All these services are within our reach and are attainable. It basically calls for self discipline and for you to understand where your priorities lie not only as an artist but as an individual as well.
We all grow old at some point and nothing can run in perpetuity. As the Swahili saying goes, “Kilicho na mwanza kina mwisho.”- Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Therefore, if you are an actor, you will not be on screen forever, if you are a singer or a performer,at some point your bones will become brittle and you are no longer the trending sensation. Then what?
What are you doing as a creative, as an artist to secure your future? At some point this blame on the Government must stop and you start being responsible for yourselves. There is need to embrace the basic business principles and acumen to ensure that your creativity and talents work for you, feed you, educate you and take care of your next of kin when it is time to exit this earth. But it cannot happen when you are reckless and thoughtless in how you handle your finances.
Yes, your art, your money, your choices. Just make sure you are making the right choices. Remember, “Msiba wa kujitakia hauna kilio.” – When one drives themselves into a misfortune, they should take ownership of their actions or lack of it!
Image courtesy of: http://www.themoneyproject.ca/