Music piracy has acquired an almost legal status in Cameroon, with burnt copies of albums on display in various markets countrywide. This has been going on for so long, such that many of those who buy aren’t aware that they are buying pirated CDs. If one goes from the premise that music piracy is the copying and distribution of music without consent from the copyright-holders, an overwhelming number of Cameroonians can be indicted for committing a crime of which they are not aware.
In recent years, Cameroonian songs (as well as songs from abroad) in mp3 format have been downloaded from sites like Dilandau.com, YouTube, Waptrick.com, and others with disregard to copyright laws, and some people even go to the extent of setting up makeshift kiosks on the sidewalk where they sell songs for as little as 200 cfa. With all these antecedents in place, it was only a matter of time before the situation, which was mostly limited to random unrelated songs, was bound to change.
Early in May, Jovi (an innovative Cameroonian rapper and producer who’s been profiled by Okayafrica and Jeune Afrique, as well as nominated for the 2015 MTV Africa Music Award) launched a social media campaign wherein many social media users changed their profile pictures to yellow, in order to show support for his upcoming album titled Mboko God. Jovi rose to prominence with the single “Don 4 Kwat”, a track off HIV, his 2012 debut LP which Kangsen Feka Wakai describes in Bakwa magazine as “the long awaited arrival of a self-assured emcee very conscious of his abilities, the vacuum in the genre, his audience’s expectations, and the right dose of hustle to assert his place.” Prior to the yellow campaign introducing his Mboko God album, Jovi had previously started #EtP8Koi on Twitter, a hashtag created to promote one of his singles, which became so widely used such that Pannelle & Co ranked it among the most used hashtags by Cameroonians on Twitter in 2014.
Jovi (Ndukong Godlove Nfor) has always been at the forefront of innovative music packaging and his label, New Bell Music, usually seeks novel ways of making the most of social media and the internet. Thus, ahead of the release of his sophomore LP, Mboko God, slated for May 20, it was announced that the album could be pre-ordered as from May 12 via the online store Jumia (a first in Cameroonian music retail).
Nothing prepared Cameroonians for what happened on May 20. A trend emerged on Twitter on that day (as well as the rest of the week), wherein people complained about the late delivery of Jovi’s album, which they’d already preordered, but this trend rapidly gave way to #MbokoLeak, as the album was illegally uploaded online and was as well being shared privately by email and social media. This marked a new era in the evolution of piracy in Cameroon, and made Mboko God the fastest (and first) album by a major Cameroon-based musician to be leaked on the internet, a phenomenon which highlights the birth of a new kind of consciousness in Cameroonian piracy; that of uploading copyrighted material for free download on the internet because one sees no need to pay for it, a phenomenon which is described as the ‘culture of free’.
Technically, the album wasn’t leaked, it was just pirated. ‘Leak’ presupposes that the album is made available illegally before its official release date, while this alleged leak was made available online for illegal download after the album’s release.
Reactions on the internet, especially on Twitter, were varied and fell under three main groups: those who were disappointed that the album was leaked because of the amount of work and energy invested in the process of creating an album; those who boasted about the fact that they’d downloaded it for free (and one of them created #MoiPasPayerPourCa [I’mnotpayingforthis]); and finally, those who wanted to know where they could find and download the leaked album.
An anonymous source revealed that, on the day of the album’s release, there were two methods through which one could download pirated versions: the first was via a direct download link and the second was through a shared private email containing a Dropbox link. Izane Gaetan, a techie with a huge online presence opined that he thinks the album was leaked for two reasons: firstly, “for the sake of sharing, and secondly, to see what would happen if Jovi’s album was pirated, given his loudmouth.” This was in a way corroborated by another source who revealed that the album was leaked by someone who was disappointed by Jovi’s altercation with Sadrak, a member of Negrissim’.
Further down the rabbit hole, the trail led to a Cameroonian student living in France. Via a Twitter interview (DM), Frank L revealed that he shared the album through Dropbox at about 6:45 pm (Central European Time) on May 20, several hours after another person had already uploaded the album online such that it could be downloaded via a direct download link on a site with a dot co.nz domain name. Unfortunately, we came up against a wall of silence as sources were less than forthcoming on the source and brain behind that first upload.
Frank said that he didn’t download the pirated version, but bought his on Bandcamp and decided to share it. Indeed, he added that the first reason why he shared it was out of “sudden impulse, when Nelson Simo asked on Twitter if anybody had the album”. Frank then realized that his Twitter timeline was flooded with people who wanted to buy the Mboko God album, but also wanted to be sure about the quality, and “some of them had already ordered the album on Jumia.” He further stated that he goes from the principle that an album has to please and people will buy it. Frank as well said that he prefers listening to albums, either by streaming them or through pirate websites before buying them, an approach he used with J Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. Jovi’s Mboko God was the only album he bought this year without having had a prior listen, so he wanted to save his friends from having the same experience.
To some extent, Jumia, the online store responsible for the distribution of Jovi’s Mboko God album had a part to play in the leak because of the delayed deliveries. In a context where the hip-hop community was already hyped up by the highly-anticipated album, this created a vacuum in demand, which was filled by piracy.
In the course of researching and writing this article, another upload of Mboko God popped up on May 27. This time, it was a YouTube channel, which uploaded all 12 songs of the album. In the process of checking out the songs and the comments, YouTube suggested yet another version of the album, which had been uploaded by someone with the initials S.L. on that same day.
In an article for The New York Times titled “On the Trail of an Online Pirate”, Jenna Wortham reminisces on her profile of Hana Beshara, a founder of NinjaVideo, a now-defunct streaming website and Wortham highlights the fact that she came of age “before Netflix/Hulu/iTunes were in full effect and when illegal streaming networks like Napster, Demonoid and Kazaa were proto-social networks.” It is, therefore, not difficult to figure out that those involved in the illegal sharing of Jovi’s album consider “free culture as an ethic”, in Zac Shaw’s words, and they belong to an ever-increasing subculture where words like ‘vinyl’ and ‘CD’ mean nothing, but ‘streaming’ and ‘free sharing’ mean everything, because this culture of free enables some people to have access to content which would have been otherwise unavailable to them.
Jovi has the unenviable (or enviable, depending on the stance) position of being “patient zero of digital music piracy” in Cameroon, and the various pirated versions of his album which emerged online within a week of the album’s release hint at the high demand of his music in Cameroon and beyond. In many cases, high levels of piracy result in a cultural buzz, and if one looks away, for just a few seconds, from the artist’s financial loss, one will realize that piracy is as well the result of an artist’s immense popularity.
Originally published in Thisisafrica.me