African traditional music open to abuse

When Gallo Music Publishers took the Belgian tenor, Helmut Lotti to court, the tenor argued that he had done nothing wrong by using the late Miriam Makeba’s songs among the Click Click song and that they were traditional materials. But the Belgian court dismissed Lotti’s claims, writes Wonder Guchu.

There are 17 tracks on Helmut Lotti’s 1999 album, Out Of Africa. Lotti, who was born Helmut Barthold Johannes Alma Lotigiers, is a Belgian tenor.
The album was recorded in South Africa in the Maluti Mountains at the Bosotho Cultural Village.
Lotti was backed by the Golden Symphonic Orchestra when he redid most of the songs that had taken not only South Africa but the whole world by storm.
Among the 17 tracks are songs such as Asimbonanga, Malaika, Qongqothwane (Click Click Song), The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Shosholoza, Umakoti, Jikela Emaweni Hamba, Tula Tula, Pata Pata, Minapendawe and Kumbaya My Lord.
But four years later, Gallo Music Publishers dragged Lotti to a Belgian court claiming that he had redone two of the 17 songs without their permission.
The songs at the centre of the court case were Qongqothwane (Click Click Song) and Tula Tula. These songs were originally done by Joe Mogotsi and Bertha Egnos.
The Click Click Song, Tula Tula and Jikela Emaweni were some of the songs which propelled the late songbird Miriam Makeba to international fame.
Gallo argued that Lotti, his publisher Piet Roelen and Wim Bohets who was his arranger and the album producer had used the songs without permission and had also not credited the original singers.
In defence, Lotti argued that all the material he had used was in the public domain and as such nobody had a right to them.
They further argued that these songs were traditional material – African traditional songs that is.
But the Belgian court ruled against them saying while it was true that some of the songs were traditional, what Lotti had used was composed material which was copyrighted.
Geoff Paynter of Gallo then applauded the ruling accusing foreigners of visiting the country to plunder “our intellectual property and folklore with impunity”.
According to Gallo website, the Belgian court ruled that Tula Tula “is an entirely fresh and original work, written in or about 1963, by Bertha Egnos, Eddie Domingo and Basil Gray”.
The court further established that there was no “traditional version of the song and no evidence of the existence of such a traditional work have been produced thus far by anyone”.
Gallo further said, was also the creator of South Africa's greatest stage musical of all time, Ipi Thombi while Tula Tula “is yet another enduring South African song and was created for the show, Dingaka, which was also made into a film by Jamie Uys”.
“Gallo's songs are not just songs. They are some of the very best songs ever created in the history of South Africa and a number of them feature on Samro's ‘Top 10 South African Songs of All Time’ List.
In most cases, the composers themselves or their heirs are largely dependent on the royalty income for their welfare,” the company notes.

December 2012
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