COMMUNITY VOICES | Somali music piracy highlighted


When you hear `Somalia`coupled with `piracy ` it rings the bell that Somalia has grown over the years into a household name with sea piracy. But there has been another form of Somali piracy, a Somali music piracy since the downfall of Siad Barre`s military government in 1991. Of course this music piracy can also ring a bell as to what kind of Somali music piracy we are talking  about here, where one might think of it as being some kind of online Somali music piracy: but it is more than that. Over the years, I have personally witnessed usually young Somali musicians willing to emerge but using a shortcut to singing by singing old Somali songs of 1970s/1980s and then burning it into new albums/CDs. I am not ranting here to speak evil of the reputation of the emerging Somali musicians but I am trying to shape this writing of mine as a way not only to expose this habit of copy singing but mainly to raise awareness of the issue which I think the Somali music deserves at this modern era when piracy is evolving into forms hard to contain or predict.

There is the nickname Wejiya xun coined in Somali for those who shamelessly do copy singing. It is not known who came up with the nickname but rumor has the nickname was coined by a famous Somali play writer, a member of Somali Waaberi band,  called Sangub. The phrase Wejiya xun means bad faces in Somali which figuratively points out that whoever knowingly infringes copyright has a bad face in the sense that it is bad day for science as to the potential of a thriving Somali music.

One thing that allows so-called Somali singers or Wejiya xun to copy old Somali music is the fact that a segment of the old Somali Singers of 1970s/1980s are dead and the other segment are either not interested to do something about the copyright issue or they do not have with them any documentation that verifies the patents of their songs as records were destroyed by nearly three decade old Somali civil war. However, anybody who grew up with the old music knows and can testify that tons of songs sung  today by Wejiya xun do belong to someone else. 

Another thing that might have encouraged the copy singing, although debatable, is the collapse of the Somali State in 1991 whereby from that time on, there has been no effective Somali State with a ministry that oversees Somali Literature and Music. So, copy singing started like wild fire in early 1990s as every other national treasure and inheritance was despoiled.

At the end of 1990s, the bulk of the Somali music industry started moving to overseas from the county. Although a huge portion of the Wejiya xun was based outside Somalia, the Wejiya xun have musically great opportunities overseas especially in North America and Europe, yet they failed to create new original music, though they had the right musical instruments, the right atmosphere that supports creativity, and the right time of the digital age, where the internet makes it easy to reach the whole planet with your sea change creativity.

One more factor that the copy singing feeds on is the fact that a huge proportion of the Somali singers of today back the wrong horse and hardly compose a good music of quality. Indeed, if  I throw a bit of analogy here, creativity is like an ocean and if one wants to create something, one must keep diving to get something: it is like a fisherman, but there is a difference between the fisherman who goes everyday to the sea to fish and the fisherman who occasionally fishes: but one can infer from this analogy that the more you do something, the more likelihood that one can be good at it.

One obstacle, that cripples those among Wejiya Xun who reside overseas, who create  original, uncopied Somali music, is their scepticism to apply copyright for their music or songs. I cannot pinpoint their scepticism, but it could be tax avoidance or it could be something else which is totally different.

But one thing is foolish: not applying copyright for your music: having your stuff registered with copyright not only protects your stuff from being stolen, but it helps you succeed in your business.

I remember one day I was watching a youtube video. There was in the video a Somali American Stand Up Comedian in Minneapolis, MN, USA: he was talking in Somali about the importance of copywriting Somali music and concerts created in the United States: but in the video, he said Somali content creators were sceptical about it, which is unfortunate.