By Bertha Kang’ong’oi | businessdailyafrica.com
Last year was a great one for Tinga Tinga art, some original, unpretentious art from Tanzania that are currently attracting a lot of global attention. There was an exclusive Tinga Tinga exhibition in Copenhagen last August; a piece of Tinga Tinga art returned an impressive $ 51,000 at an auction in Paris last October, then Tinga Tinga tales, a children’s animation TV series aired on BBC, as created in Kenya’s Homeboyz studios.
Gold Spotted Leopard and Friend the Songbird by Tanzanian Artist Rajabu Chiwaya
But these opportunities have not come without challenges. The television production, which is said to be one of the most ambitious animation production in East Africa, has left Tanzanian artists unhappy.
Tanzania’s Tinga Tinga Artists Co-operative Society (TACS) and UK based Tiger Aspects, the company that produced the series are on the war path. And up until a few days before this last Christmas, it seemed inevitable that the tussle will end in up court. So how did this dream project end up here?
Claudia Lloyd, head of animation at Tiger Aspects was traveling in East Africa in 2005. It was in Tanzania that she came across the Tinga Tinga genre of art. She was quite impressed with it. “Finally I met the cooperative’s representatives and we started talking.” Over the years, the production and marketing of the art has been under Tinga Artists Cooperative Society.
At this stage, it was just a dream project.
But Claudia believed so much in the potential of an animated film project of African tales that she went ahead with a pilot project in 2006. “The initial plan was to do the entire production in Tanzania but it soon became clear to me that would not be possible,” says Claudia. “The internet connection in Tanzania was not reliable and there was more trained animators and editors in Nairobi than in Tanzania. So Nairobi it was.”
After the pilot project, Claudia returned to Europe to look for funds for a complete series.
By the end of 2007, Claudia had successfully convinced BBC in London and Disney World in the US to buy rights to the concept. And so with the necessary funding, she, and a small team from London returned to Nairobi, hired four Tinga Tinga artists from Tanzania, animators and editors, musicians and set up shop at the Homeboyz studios.
Tinga Tinga Tales
To get the Tanzania artists, she had to go through their co-operative, TACS. “I went and presented the concept of making an animation film to the leaders of the cooperative. They were all really excited about it and happy that I would be putting their name on an international stage,” says Claudia. “We made contracts, written in both English and Kiswahili. I held barazas with TACS and invited them to ask any questions. I left the contract with them for them to seek legal advice before agreeing to sign it. In fact they were so happy with it they asked me to use the name Tinga Tinga, with their blessings, although the initial plan was to call the series “African Tails”.
And so the contract was signed by not less than five representatives of TACS. Two and a half years down the line, the series has hit the international stage, screening in several countries. The producers have done not only the TV series but also a book, and branded mugs and plates and a line of puppets based on the main characters from the series.’’
TACS on the other hand, generally agrees with Claudia about the contract signing procedures, in word but not in spirit.
“It’s true that Claudia approached us through our co-operative,” says Abbasy Mbuka, TACS vice chairman. “And it’s true that some of our leaders signed the contracts she presented, but the real situation is that she took advantage of the uneducated leaders. They did not understand all that was written in the contract other than what Claudia herself said. They trusted her that what she said is what was in the contract. But as it has turned out, she did not disclose everything”
Mbuka admits that they did not have lawyers to go through the contracts.
“We did not really understand how big this project was. Everything was not very clear to us. We had no idea that this would go beyond a small TV production into printing T-shirts, books, mugs and all these other things that have come up on the international stage!”
As the screenings continue to attract audiences, TACS feels cheated.
Tinga Tinga Tales
Having agreed to a one time settlement of about Tsh30 million (about Sh1.7 million), they feel its too little in comparison to how much the project is making.
“It was wrong for Claudia to take advantage of unsuspecting leaders,” says Mbuka. “They are using our name Tinga Tinga and broadcasting all over. As artists, we deserve more.”
And that is the cause of discomforts that the Tanzanian artists are suffering. Efforts to settle the dispute out of court has failed. A meeting scheduled for October 11 last year between TACS and Claudia’s team did not resolve anything and so TACS has hired lawyers and is preparing to go to court.
But Claudia says that they worked with Tanzanian lawyers in drafting the contract to be sure it was fair.
“The fact is that no one owns the name Tinga Tinga,” says Claudia. “Neither TACS nor I own it. But we have copyrighted the name Tinga Tinga Tales and that is what we own. The name Tinga Tinga cannot even be copyrighted because no one really owns it.”
But lawyer Gerry Gitonga of Azania Legal Consultants thinks that TACS has a case going for them. “I think what has been done to TACS is immoral,” says the entertainment and media law expert. “Common expression of art, including folklore, can be protected under intellectual property rights. The point is, folklore is property collectively owned by a people. In the case of Tinga Tinga, the late E S Tinga Tinga – after whom the style of painting was named – did not even invent it. He only made it popular by being creative enough to find a way to make some money from what was common practice by the Tanzanian people”
A quick search of Tanzania’s copyright and neighboring rights Act (1999), section 24, shows that Tanzania recognises expressions of folklore to include folk tales, folk poetry, production of folk art, in particular drawings, paintings…among many others
“The definition of folklore in Tanzania’s Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act (1999), is intellectual property in the form of heritage passed on in communities by preceding generations to the next, with the expectation that the current generation will maintain, develop it and pass on,” says Gitonga. “That is, in my opinion, property that is collectively owned and which they all have to protect. This means the artistes themselves, the associations they operate in and within, all people wishing to benefit from folklore, and the national people are tasked with regulatory oversight obligations over the same”
Claudia, on the other hand, says that in regard to the four artists that she hired for the project, and who were based in Nairobi for the two years.
“I paid them a decent salary. The paintings they drew, I had commissioned them, and so I owned them. And needless to say, the ting tinga artists only did the basic drawings. We also had Kenyan artists who added on to what the Tanzanians had done. Then we had animators working on what all the artists had done. The final product was really not a one person’s effort. It was not a tinga tinga painting any more”
Away from the paintings turned cartoon characters, the tales themselves are a collection of folk tales from around Africa.
According to Claudia, the folktales were changed to suit the Western audience because they were too brutal. “But we retained the essence of the tales”
“Depending on how Tanzania handles this, and whichever way it goes, this case will offer a good season of education in Africa about the value of culture, intellectual property and cultural expressions, including folklore,” says the lawyer. “Africa, and Kenya in particular, is obsessed with tangible property like land. But we need to switch perceptions and think more innovatively. Africa as a continent has so much to offer in terms of content and fresh original ideas”
Concluding on the Tinga Tinga case, Gitonga says: “there still remains the dispute as to whether TACS, in this case, represents the community. And if so, who then should benefit from a project like the Tinga Tinga tales”
The entire series is made up of 52, eleven minutes cartoon series, made for four to six year old. The project took a total of two and a half years to complete.
Posted By: Diana Achieng
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