Do you want your mbira to be a “fair trade” one or do you just want it affordable? I just had a moment of thinking deeply what my answer to that question is and what the response of others would be.
Of course a mbira can be both Fairtrade and affordable, but, putting quality aside, which one carries more weight for you, affordability or that it is Fairtrade? (Try to give yourself an honest answer!)
I hope most of you are familiar with the Fairtrade movement. If not, just pop over to their website here. Basically, the spirit of the Fairtrade movement is to try to ensure that everyone along the supply chain of any product gets a good deal for their work, i.e. better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade. I know the Fairtrade movement has largely worked in agricultural trade and might have its own problems, (you can google them), but it has been great at bringing the thought of fairer trading practices into the conscience of a lot of people. That, I think, is invaluable.
So what has Fairtrade got to do with mbira?
Over the years there has been a growth of online mbira dealers on sites such as EBay and Amazon and I’ve often wondered how the makers are benefiting from these sales. Quite often on these sites you don’t get an adequate picture of how the makers/suppliers benefit resulting in what I would consider blind buying where you don’t question how the product has been sourced.
The same goes for the sale of some mbira albums on iTunes and Amazon, do the musicians, particularly the ones in Zimbabwe, get a cent from these sales? I’ve also seen CDs that looked as though they are pirated being sold at some events here in the UK and wondered whether the mbira artists are getting a cent. For some of the makers and musicians, these things are a key source if livelihood hence it would be good for them to get a fair deal for their work , it’s only fair. Of course, how musicians and makers benefit is dependent on some contractual issues. You could go on and ask whether the contract is fair or not!
In our everyday lives a number of us buy things that are not “fair trade” because that is what we can afford. A guilt pang hits us when we do it but we assure ourselves that at least the people at the people of the trading line have got something, at least. After all, something is better than nothing, no? After a while the guilt goes away and we start convincing ourselves wholeheartedly that they are at least getting something. We stop thinking whether that something is enough.
An example in the case of mbira is the price of an instrument. A maker might be desperate to push some sales and they might offer you an instrument at a knockdown price, that is very affordable to you. The price might not be reflective of their input into making the instrument, they just need some cash. Out of your benevolence (and need for an affordable mbira) you buy it at the offered price because they will at least get something for it and resolve their cash flow problems. The price at which you buy this instrument becomes a precedent that heavily influences any future pricing of another instrument. The maker is happy to sell at that price but is it a fair deal? The dilemma!
So then, what is it for you. Fairtrade (defined in your own way) or affordability?