I heard Margaret Mcnignana (aka Singana) on the radio today singing I never loved a man (the way that I love you). What a song! She also sang the lead vocals for Shaka Zulu (Bayete) and a number of other songs, and was as famous as they come in South Africa. But from what I understand, she died in abject poverty, almost penniless. Our beloved Solomon Linda was another muso who was raped by the industry, and died with less than $25 in his bank account in 1962, the year his song Mbube became the smash hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
It may sound like I’m bragging (and maybe I am – and name-dropping a bit), but I also know Cindy Alter from the band Clout. She is a music mentor of mine, and from time to time I will go to her for a music/psychology fix, to get my head wrapped around the music industry. Clout’s 1977 hit song Substitute is a local classic. My aunt in Dubai has a CD of Springbok Radio classics, with this song on it. But if you chat to Cindy, she will tell you that, in a nutshell, their manager took the money they made from the song and ran away with it – Mauritius, if I’m not mistaken. I asked Cindy what she would do if she could do it again – and in typical fashion for a muso who really loves what she does, she said she would still do music. But I can tell you that she is not rolling in the dough. She makes a living from music, but if she had received the money from her hit song, she would today be a much wealthier woman.
So what is it with this industry that it has the ability to work over the musicians, such that a substantial number of them end up being dirt poor? Well, I guess the answer is simply this: music is about art first, and business second. And because of that, a great many musos don’t know or understand the business. My advice to them: knowledge is power, so arm yourself with knowledge, and protect your intellectual property. That way, there’s probably a much better chance that you will never regret your decision to do music full-time, and that’s a really good thing.