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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:18 am
by Adam Blake
Have I got something wrong here? Isn't accessing this site just like tuning into a radio station that plays really cool old African music? How is that exploitation? Could someone please explain. I really am confused. Several of you seem to have got on a very high horse indeed. Are you seriously suggesting that it is in some way immoral for us to listen to and enjoy this music? That the fact that these musicians don't get mechanical royalties should be reason to boycott the site?

What does "suitably recompensed" actually mean? Who decides whether it's suitable or not? Would you decide on the basis of sales? If so, how would you measure them?

I'm with Jonathan. Enjoying and appreciating this music is actually the point.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:31 am
by Des
We had a similar thiread about Sublime Frequencies a while back but as SF uses largely contemporary material, the ethical questions are more black and white. As Adam points out, the ATfA website uses very old material and perhaps the whole question of adequate recompense is rather academic.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:53 am
by Rob Hall
No high horses Adam. By "suitably recompensed" I meant something woolly along the lines that any musician might expect for their output ending up, for example, in my hands. In the opening post, Des says that he has downloaded this stuff; I assumed - rightly or wrongly - that others were doing the same. You say it's just like a radio station; fine, but I would hope that the musicians would be suitably recompensed none the less. Who decides by how much? I'm fucked if I know. I just said it seems odd that it's not happening. Maybe it's not happening because it's just not possible. I doubt it.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 3:49 am
by That Was Jonathan E. Then
Rob Hall wrote:It seems odd to me that "we" have the technology and the inclination to bring the music out of Africa - or wherever - but "we" seem incapable of putting some mechanism in place whereby the the musicians who created the music in the first place are suitably recompensed. It's a one-way street. To echo Joel's earlier point: it reflects badly on us all.

I take Rob's point. How can "we" — smart, articulate, privileged, and passionate about this music — find a way to improve the current system so that we can both access the music and send a shilling or two to the original musicians?

Some sort of networked copyright-clearing house would seem to be one direction to go. How to set one up I have no immediate idea. How to make it efficient enough that it was not a bureaucratic fiefdom swallowing half the funds and how to make it appealing enough to bloggers and downloaders that they found it agreeable enough to cooperate with are two questions that are not trivial. Maybe there are other approaches, advertising, licenses, I don't know what — what I do know is that the technology and culture of the internet, while not cast in stone, make the current system (obviously) the strategy of least resistance with at least some advantages for all concerned, even I would argue the musicians in at least some cases. It is also obvious that strenuous attempts are being made by giant corporations to extract cash from us for content on the internet and to some extent I oppose those because I like information and culture to be free. I also like musicians to eat and be strong enough to make more music.

So, why don't we continue brainstorming on what we might be able to do to rectify the situation rather than bellyaching about how evil it is?

On my own excessively intermittent blog, I excuse my making tracks available with the following language:

Music has been my passion and joy for near forty years. I wish for musicians to eat and live well and receive generous remerciement for the réjouissance they give. I even think that record labels deserve to make a fair profit. Unfortunately, much of the music I love has fallen into an abyss of near-invisibility and non-availability in the commercial marketplace. One of the goals of Black Magic Plastic Bullet is to assist in the ongoing collaborative effort to keep such music alive and to stimulate the marketplace sufficiently that both musicians and record labels find it worth making greater efforts to present this music more widely. If you own the legal rights to any of the recordings on Black Magic Plastic Bullet, and believe that those rights are being damaged, please contact me via DJjackdaw[at]gmail[dot]com and I will promptly remove them.

I've thought about this for a long time and, ultimately, I'm comfortable with it under the present circumstances. I think that making and playing music is about the process of creativity rather than the making of a product. If we can invent a way to make that process better for musicians by changing the current system to something friendlier to music makers, I'm all for it. It's a big job and until it's done I don't see the point of shutting up our ears and depriving ourselves of some of the little joy that can found in today's world.

So, any ideas?

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 11:43 am
by Rob Hall
Yes Jonathan, I have some ideas. I'll put them into some sort of order and send them to you via PM.


PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 11:45 am
by Adam Blake
All laudable sentiments, no doubt, but I can't help having a cynical expression when I think about what would happen to monies gathered into a central mechanical copyright collection agency in Africa. It might even work for awhile, but I suspect it would soon be looted by military governments who don't give a toss about music or musicians - in fact they prefer their musicians dead so they can't work the people up with "counter-revolutionary" songs etc.

I say that the real enemy is the international arms trade! But enough of that.

Perhaps one of the reasons us affluent westerners who love this music get a bit uncomfortable with this kind of thing is that it brings us right up against our essential role as cultural eavesdroppers. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it is sometimes difficult to justify when presented with the realities of the lives of the people who make the music.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 6:58 pm
by mike gavin
A couple of points:

You can't download these tracks (or I can't - they just open in a real player window in exactly the same way as an Amazon sample does) - it's not even like home taping - this will turn people on to African music and lots of these will end up buying legit CDs.

The bootlegging market in Africa makes questions of rights pretty redundant anyway - it's not like the income in most cases would have gone to the artists even if you went to Accra and bought the tapes/CDs yourself.

Read Mark Hudson's excellent The Music In Your Head for a study of the complex relationship between western record fan/promoter and African artist. ( ... 0224043838)

Check Neil Foxlee's excellent Guardian article about changes to the scene in Jamaica (interestingly the tone in some of the posts to this thread assuming that African artists are 'vulnerable' would not be applied to the analogous Jamaican artist): ... 32,00.html

People can take the option of buying second hand, from Amazon market place, for instance. many of us do and this reduces the income to labels and artists.

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 8:32 pm
by Neil Foxlee
Actually, it was one Dave Stelfox who penned the Guardian article, not me - I just gave the link!

This thread reminds me of the threads I started on the Russian download site and then how much the Ethiopiques artists were benefiting from the success of the Very Best of compilation...

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 9:11 pm
by Des
mike gavin wrote:A couple of points:

You can't download these tracks (or I can't -


Yes you can if you really really try (i.e. right-clicking save link as)

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:21 pm
by mike gavin
Neil Foxlee wrote:Actually, it was one Dave Stelfox who penned the Guardian article, not me - I just gave the link!

Yes you can if you really really try (i.e. right-clicking save link as)

Even so - my argument about tape copyright stands

Sorry Neil (and Dave) I was foxed by your names!

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 12:54 am
by joel
mike gavin wrote:The bootlegging market in Africa makes questions of rights pretty redundant anyway

Surely the question is only redundant for those who choose to give up and say it's nothing to do me me, mate.
Really, though, it is our problem. However, since I don't want to annoy Adam in any way, I'll dismount now :-)

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 2:04 am
by Neil Foxlee
Remounting the horse, the situation reminds me of two hundred or so years ago, when some British people decided to boycott the West Indian sugar that was used to sweeten their Indian tea because it was a product of slavery.

Likewise during the American Civil War, when the lack of cotton from the Southern States brought Lancashire mill workers to the brink of starvation. In spite of their hardships, many of the cotton workers supported the Federal States because of their opposition to slavery. On the 19th of January 1863, Abraham Lincoln famously sent an address to the cotton workers of Lancashire thanking them for their support.

Nowadays, of course, some people would consider it bad taste to ask about the conditions under which the music from faraway places we listen to is produced and sold (or bootlegged), and how much the producers benefit from it.

Sorry for my bad taste in winding anybody up about this, but perhaps there's a case for Fair Trade in music too.

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 3:52 am
by That Was Jonathan E. Then
There are obvious differences between the consumption of sugar and cotton and the digital distribution of music, whether authorized or not, whether done for profit or as a freeby pass-along. The prime difference is that the musician still has the music as a (potential) resource, whereas the sugar or cotton has gone completely out of the hands of the plantation workers.

Rob sent me a PM of ideas re how to resolve this moral quandary, which I've been slowly mulling over. Neil's points are also cogent and give me pause for thought — but I continue to think that we're at a point in time where technology has outstripped the legal concept (and that's all it is) of ownership of intangible goods.

Calabash claims to be a "fair trade" download site, but I'm not convinced by their implementation of the concept — and many of the obscurities presented by Awesome Tapes From Africa or Voodoo Funk are not available anyway. I'm really of the opinion that in the vast majority of cases the "bootlegging" of tracks by bloggers is not actually hurting the musician. I just don't think the marketplace (in the west) is strong enough to support commercial channels for most of this music — there's no money going to come their way whether the track is downloadable or not. The tracks are unavailable as tangible goods, except for peculiar second-hand channels that don't benefit the musicians either. Would it were otherwise.

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 1:06 pm
by Neil Foxlee
I've long thought that if music was not commercially available (because the LP/CD/cassette is out of print and the original record company or their successor won't reissue it), people should be able to reissue it - providing they pay the appropriate royalties, or set money aside for this purpose if it's problematic. How this could be enforced is another matter.

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 8:42 pm
by That Was Jonathan E. Then
I agree with the general theory there from Neil. The sticking point is that most of the bloggers and other freelance enablers of downloads are not seeing any money for what they're doing. It's more or less a matter of love and freely sharing your record collection — and so where are the royalties supposed to come from? If there are no sales, if no money changes hands, there are no royalties.

Unfortunately, I think the availability of obscure music would dry up if one had to pay for making it downloadable, whether it was free to the user or there was some sort of micropayment. It's one thing to do this as a hobby or on an amateur basis, quite another as a business. And if payment were required from the user, I think it unlikely that the music would be downloaded as much.

The sums of money involved are relatively trivial, I believe — although what is only a little money here, obviously means more in Africa. For example, of my two Wax d'Afrique compilations, one has downloaded 919 times in almost a year, the other 780. Now, that's for free — people will take a chance etc. If I were asking, say the fairly standard $9 or so that commercial downloaders charge, I'll bet the downloads would be no more than 100. Pretty slim pickings when split between 20 or so artists and when I also would get a slice as a commercial operation. Many of those offering free downloads restrict the number of downloads to a relatively low number. I think Matsuli limits it to 100.

So where's the money? That's the question that never gets answered.