Not Surprised That Pitch Black Afro Is Broke And Squatting In Downtown Jozi

Pitch Black Afro, Blondie Makhene and Stitch, who coined it at the zenith of their careers, are now reported to be paupers pinning their hopes on a musician-led charity organisation that plans to build houses for them. The shocking news emerged after the trio’s names appeared alongside others who received free houses built by African Musicians Against HIV/Aids (Amaha).

Pitch Black Afro (37) – whose real name is Thulani Ncgobo – is homeless, Makhene (57) is reported to be squatting at his mother’s house in Soweto after financial troubles forced him to sell his own place, while former kwaito sensation Stitch, who dazzled fans with his album King of Digong, is staying at his mother’s house in Kagiso.

The organisation’s chief operating officer, Shakes Mavundla, confirmed to City Press that Amaha would build houses for the trio.

I am not surprised.

Had I seen this story last year prior to my involvement with some artists in the industry I probably would have been shocked but now that  know the shady contracts that local musicians are tied to with recording labels--I am not surprised. 

The truth that most South Africans will never know is that South African musicians are basically just cash cows for recording labels and discarded once they are not bringing in the big bucks or publicity for the companies.

I was shocked to learn that a standard artist deal that musicians sign with recording labels strips them of any control over their music or careers.  

I once tweeted that if you are a musician and do not own publishing rights to your music you must never quit your day job no matter how successful your career is right now.

It is easy to read stories about musicians dying broke and judge them for not being smart with their money but the honest truth is that a lot of them do not get that much money from their success. 

You look at current great talents like The Muffins, Donald, Vusi Nova, Moneoa, Khaya Mthethwa, etc. They are seemingly riding on a wave of fame and success but you can not help but wonder if they have signed the right deals that will sustain them beyond this hype. 

It is no surprise that the likes of Zamajobe, Pantsula, Mapaputsi and many others are not making any money right now. Shockingly, even the ones who are still celebs like Jamali and Thandiswa Mazwai  has to rely on gigs to make some cash. Mazwai has had to resort to singing other people's songs to make ends meet..

The only artists who are able to live and make money from their craft are those who sign joint venture or distribution deals with recording labels while retaining their publishing and copyright. This means that when the gigs dry up or CDs do not sell, they will still make money from usage of their music on adverts, movies or television shows. 

Unfortunately most musicians are desperate for a big break so whenever they get an opportunity to sign with a big recording label they just too happy to sign and get a car or a house that they don't even own but the company provides, only to confiscate it later when they are done milking their talent. 

The only way to change this situation is to be honest about the exploitation that is happening in this business. Money issues should be discussed openly. For, if we keep this veil of secrecy about the real financial status of our industry we are giving these companies a platform to perpetuate their malice. 

Hip Hop and Gospel artists have got it right by taking control of their music. Opening independent labels so that they can produce their own music is paying off big time for them. Unfortunately the big guys have the media behind them. The musicians from independent labels do not get as much attention as the guys signed to the big labels. 

In a way, the media is also responsible for fueling this thievery. They are aiding these big recording labels in exploiting our artists. 

I was shocked the other day to learn that a young artist who performed at the SAMAs recently was signed to a well known recording label but has had to leave it because according to the contract he signed he could not get gigs for himself without informing the label, who by the way were not helping him get any gigs. 

Ok fair enough they need to know but the shocker was that, even though the label was not pushing his music nor getting him any gigs, they expected a cut from any performance he makes. Eventually it was not worth his while to keep feeding this monster that was bleeding him dry of his livelihood but give nothing in return because he was not a celebrity artist. 

The other problem with signing a standard artist deal is that the label will pay for your recording therefore you will owe them. It is like one of those mob contracts in movies where someone borrows money but will never really be able to pay it back because the mob makes it impossible for them to. 

Owing the label means you are tied to them for years unless someone can buy you out even though they may not be doing anything for your career to make sure that you can make money and pay them back.   

How can you help?

Support independent artists as much as you can. At-least you know that the money you put in paying for their performances or buying their CDs actually goes to the artist not some big shot in an office somewhere.  

AGAIN ... not all big recording labels are ripping artists off. The responsibility still lies with the artists themselves. Do you wanna be a celebrity or make a living from you music beyond the fame? That is the question that will define the choice the type of contract an artist signs. 

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