Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Another Jamaican legend dies

Just some four years ago, these pages mourned the passing of Gregory Anthony Isaacs, a reggae legend known as ‘The Cool Ruler’ who had released over 500 albums in a career spanning four decades.

Now another reggae maestro John Kenneth Holt, who was born on July 11, 1947, died on October 19.

What is intriguing is that both Isaacs and Holt died in the city of London and in the month of October. What is even more fascinating is that these deaths come four years apart. Before Isaacs, Joseph ‘Culture’ Hill died after collapsing following a performance in Berlin on 19 August, 2006.
Today I will, however, talk of the legendary reggae icon John Holt who had been battling ill-health for a long time and collapsed on stage during a performance at the One Love concert in London, after which he underwent surgery and was recovering. Many Malawians knew Holt because of the track ‘Police in a Helicopter”.
However, those of you who like the UK band UB40 will remember how this band enthralled you with their hits including ‘Stick by Me’. This track was composed by Holt, no wonder UB40 mourned him by saying that Holt was a "massive inspiration and will be sorely missed".
This well-loved vocalist is also the one who composed the ‘The Tide Is High’ whose cover became a global hit for the American rock band, Blondie.
Described by The Guardian as the honey-voiced Jamaican singer and songwriter, John Holt - just like Gregory Isaacs and many Jamaican singers of his generation - came to lime-light through the island’s talent show circuit which put its contestants up on the stage and gave them national radio coverage.

Holt entered his first contest at the age of 12 and won 28 titles over the next four years before launching his recording career with a self-penned debut single Forever I’ll stay/I Cried a Tear released in 1963.
 
Holt first found success as the lead singer of reggae group, The Paragons, replacing original front man Leroy Stamp after making a name for himself on the talent show circuit.

He left The Paragons in 1970 to focus on his solo career. ‘Stick By Me’, his most successful solo effort, became the biggest selling Jamaican record of 1972.
The Guardian, however, says the reggae singer and songwriter will be remembered for his enduringly popular album ‘1000 Volts of Holt’ and for being responsible for some of the greatest moments in reggae during a career spanning more than 50 years.
Cover versions of easy listening hits from ‘1000 Volts of Holt’ still sell in great numbers today even though the album was first released in 1973.
“The enduringly popular ‘1000 Volts of Holt’, recorded in Jamaica and London, gave the reggae treatment to classic romantic compositions such as ‘Girl from Ipanema’, ‘Mr. Bojangles’ and ‘Touch Me in the Morning’. As a project it was, on the face of it, unlikely to meet with approval either from devotees of a music form usually given to addressing the harsh realities of Jamaican life, or from a more mainstream global audience, pre-Bob Marley, that was largely unfamiliar with reggae” reports The Guardian.

It is sad that within a space of four years since 2006 the world has lost iconic reggae legends. The joy, however, is in the fact that their legend lives on as they will continue bubbling on the top 100 forever and ever.

Rest in Peace John Kenneth Holt!

Holes in Airtel Music Competition

I am a little bit hesitant to be the one punching holes in the Airtel Malawi’s mobile music competition where the winner is set to cart home a whopping K14 million.

From the face of it, you really would think this is a perfect mobile music competition, especially when you throw in Trace Music Star and international music super star Akon partnering with Airtel for the success of the competition.

TRACE is a French international brand and media group active in urban music and sports celebrities. Since 2003, TRACE has launched 15 success pay-TV and digital platforms that are available in 160 countries to more than 80 million viewers.

Having written the story myself at the launch two weeks ago and having interviewed Airtel Malawi Managing Director Heiko Schlittke, who, of course, described the initiative called ‘Airtel Trace Music Star’ as ‘a combination of talent and technology’, I was left least convinced on some cobwebs that I observed.

Apart from K14 million take-home by the overall national winner he or she will also have an opportunity to compete with other African winners at a Pan African concert and there the overall continental winner has a cool US $50,000 waiting for him or her plus a recording deal with Kon Live, a distributed label through Universal Music Group and an intense mentorship programme with Akon in the US.

The devil is in the methodology used, according to me.

To join the competition, subscribers will have to call the Airtel Trace Stars number 59911 between October 7, 2014, and December 10, 2014, and sing through the phone while the machine at the other end will be recording.

Once done, voila! The winner emerges and takes home the opportunities as stated above.

I know I am a very bad vocal performer when it comes to singing. However, when I wake up on the right side of my bed I do surprise myself when taking a shower with a kind of singing that gives me false signals that singing just might be my calling when all and sundry know it is not.

What happens then if on this good day I make this phone call and just for once in this life I have done better than the rest? Will I indeed become a musician courtesy of the one-off 20 seconds performance?

Then there is also the open-ended entry method where artists like Lucius Banda, for example, can make this phone call and perform to the satisfaction of the machine at the other end.

Schlittke says this competition underlines Airtel’s obligation to unleash art, potential, creativity and talent. In the case of Lucius Banda entering such a competition, will this fit in the obligation?

Listening to the Airtel Malawi MD speak what I was getting was that the competition is going to identify the best singing talent of the territory and then they will be rewarded and put in competition with the best singing talents of other participating territories across African to run for the accolade of best African Music Talent.

May be, based on this explanation, it might just mean that those competing would do so to prove a point that since they have been in business long, it was not by fluke. It will be like another Kora Award ceremony.

Inversely, this is something that, perhaps, only makes business sense but nothing for the industry. Imagine if one who wins it only sang so well on the day and no amount of Akon mentoring can make a musician out of him or her, would we say the competition has achieved its purpose?

Perhaps I am wrongly thinking strongly about the musical aspect of the competition when this is only a promotion by Airtel to have people who have nothing to do with their airtime waste it on singing their lungs out to chance the overall prize for the national and continental competition.

I am just thinking...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

When churches adopt Nyabinghi chants

There was some hype last year in December when Men's Choir St. Johann of Basel in Switzerland performed three Nyabinghi chants.

Many questions arose as to why a church should use something from another that do not in a way subscribe to their belief.

Although we talk of Nyabinghi chants, even when Nyabinghi is one of the mansions of Rastafari which are branches of the Rastafari movement, the chants are done by all the mansions, including the Bobo Shanti, the Nyabinghi themselves, the Twelve Tribes of Israel and others.

Of course, the mansion term is taken from the Biblical verse in John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many mansions."

And many individual Rastas are only loosely affiliated with these mansions, or not at all, according to internet information. This is in keeping with the principle of freedom of conscience, a general distrust of institutionalism shared by many, and the teachings of Haile Selassie I as Emperor that "faith is private" and a direct relationship requiring no intermediary.

Now let’s talk about the Nyabinghi chants also known as binghi. This is a kind of music that Rastas use when they congregate during their celebrations which are referred to as "groundations".

Rastas say the rhythms of these chants were eventually an influence of popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music.

Nyabinghi chants use three kinds of drums which are called "harps".

These ones include one that produces bass called the "Pope Smasher" or "Vatican Basher", which is a means to denounce Catholicism and Babylon.

The other drums are the middle-pitched funde which plays a regular one-two beat and the bass drum strikes loudly on the first beat, and softly on the third beat (of four while the third one is akete which is also known as the "repeater" because it plays an improvised syncopation.

Count Ossie was the first to record Nyabinghi, and he helped to establish and maintain Rastafari culture. Ossie, born Oswald Williams around 1926 in Jamaica and died on 18 October 1976, formed a group called "Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari" as a renown Jamaican drummer with whom he issued two albums, one of them Tales of Mozambique.

Nyabinghi drumming makes basis rhythms for reggae music and it has revolutionised Jamaican music by combining the various Nyabinghi parts into a 'complete' "drum kit," which combined with jazz to create an entirely new form of music, known as ska, which was the precursor of the reggae genre.

Ossie is attributed as the creator of Nyabinghi rhythms as he incorporated influences from traditional Jamaican Kumina drumming with songs and rhythms learned from the recordings of Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji.

Ossie combined Jamaican traditions with newly acquired African ones from the Nigerian master-drummer Olatunji.

Olatunji, born Lagos, developed his music while in the US after reading in Reader's Digest magazine about the Rotary International Foundation's scholarship programme and applied for it. He went to the US in 1950 but released released his first of six records on the Columbia label, called Drums of Passion, in 1959 which became a major hit as it introduced many Americans to world music.

Nyabinghi drumming goes along with recitation of the Psalms as well as well-known Christian hymns hence Nyabinghi chants which was popularised with the recordings of Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, as well as the Rastafari Elders.

It is, therefore, a wonder that such a seemingly Rastafarian music is finding its way in white Christian churches which chanted ‘No Night in Zion’ alongside the other two chants.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

MUM’s Chimwemwe Mhango

Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) must be a very lucky institution to have the Rev. Chimwemwe Mhango at the helm. To start with, when he was starting, I dismissed him as just one of the many heads of the then Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) who have come to confuse things even more.  
Just last month, the grouping of the musicians saw something in the good reverend and retained him as their president.
When I talked to him in March last year, he told me about the vision that he and his executive had in running the affairs of musicians in the country.
The body has been a shame and I have written enough on my misgivings with it not to waste time to repeat the same here.
The body that was MAM was failing to be an affiliate of the Federation of Professional Musicians because, as the requirements demand, it was not a union.
What it means now is that no one will just wake up one day and claim to be a musician as there will be a Code of Ethics and Conduct that musicians will have to follow to the letter.
Likewise, no institution, corporate, religious or otherwise will not just wake up one day and make musicians perform at their events without signing the dotted lines of binding contracts.
The industry has now gained the semblance of order and soon the body, in collaboration with government, will come up with a mechanism where all foreign artists that come into the country to perform must pay temporary affiliation fee.
When I talked to Mhango then, the reasoning was that this is because foreign artists come here to work. Besides, the local body will be raising an alternative income.

Slowly the musicians’ body is getting rid of the mentality that was inculcated in the musicians that MAM’s duty was to be begging on their behalf.
And where it was failing, the musicians would ask for alms themselves, which was a defeatist attitude that was helping them to embrace mediocrity.
The reverend has now made every musician in the country to be counted and earn respect.

I know the advantage with unionism is that there is always a saving culture which will remove the situation where when our artists are down on their luck they should be going around with begging bowls looking for alms. This tendency brings ridicule to the profession.


Seeing the good work that Rev. Mhango and his team are now doing at MUM I thought I should dedicate this week’s entry to them so that they are encouraged to steer the musicians’ ship to clear waters and finally earn the respect of all and sundry.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Piracy resurrects Ned Mapira

This week on Monday my brother, Ephraim, called me from the grounds of Hyper Store in City Centre Lilongwe. Apparently, he was in his car at the parking lot waiting for my in-law, Clara, who had gone inside for some purchases, when vendors selling different wares approached him.
What attracted him were music CDs which had my face on them and he was taken aback thinking that I have ventured into music – meaning not writing and critiquing the performances of our artists as I do over here week in week out, but the actual singing that has culminated into an album.
On close inspection, he discovered that in fact the CD indicated that it was the work of the fallen musical great Ned Mapira whose album 'Chosatha', a traditional music album, sold over 63,000 copies posthumously.
The vendor demanded K1, 500 for the CD but using his negotiation skills my brother got it down to K500.
My brother called me instantly to meet him having bought the CD. I drove to City Centre where he gave me the CD and, indeed there I was, on the cover of Ned Mapira’s pirated work.
When I reached the parking space of the Hyper Store the vendors, including those selling the pirated music, swarmed around me. My heart bled when I discovered that the extent of producing and selling pirated work has gotten worse.
Well, the first feeling was that of anger, and questions started welling up within my psyche for I thought this was the prize those in the business of piracy have decided to give me, finally, for crying out loud!
When I had taken a Ned Mapira CD, then it dawned on the vendors who I was. I was Mapira’s ghost and they all vanished, and not before snatching the CD from my hand.
It’s a pity that for a mere K500 or K1000 one can buy a single CD with Lucius Banda’s all 17-lifetime-albums. The vendors are putting all the Kuimba albums, all the lifetime toils of The Black Missionaries, in just one CD for a K500.
People have argued before against the tendency. The artists have complained loudly that piracy is killing them but those that have the powers to control it have either failed or they just don’t care.
For argument’s sake, one might say people still love Ned Mapira and, since our music marketing and distributing system is mediocre - if not  nonexistent - then those that need the music can do with the provisions created by those pirating. But what would you say about Lucius Banda or Mablacks’ music which has also been denigrated in the manner I have described above when it has well supplied distribution system?
There was a time when I asked the question on these same pages on how the dead musicians get their royalties where I looked at the big difference between doing something in Malawi and doing similar thing in the West.
There was a time that I wondered on this very page why Michael Jackson’s riches are increasingly making him posthumously richer when there is no penny to show for Malawi’s fallen reggae hero Evison Matafale.
Without bothering to look at a well-coordinated system where musicians outside can release just a mere single and hit gold and continue making more money even after they die, I want us to look at what happens to music of our dead musicians.

We still hear songs on our radios that were done by the late Robert and Arnold Fumulani, Alan Namoko, Daniel and MacDonald Kachamba, States Samangaya and the list goes on and on. Where are the royalties and how different is it when vendors are cashing on the work of the dead?

This might look as if it is the problem for the dead, but, as I faced it this week in Lilongwe, believe you me piracy is the cancer that will kill the living artist.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Where are the Sunbird stars?

So, the Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ is now in eviction phase which is a sure way of trying to ape the South African and US Pop Idols, although without being a complete replica when it comes to what accrues for the competitors.
Look, the American Idols, for example, since it began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, has not only become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television, but also has spawned 345 Billboard chart-toppers besides producing what have become top international stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jordin Sparks.
Of course, the South African idols has its fair share of controversies as the television show on the South African television network, M-Net, as - until its eighth season - the contest only determined the white competitors as best young singers in South Africa until Khaya Mthethwa became its first black winner, ending the dominance of racial minorities.
The good news is that Mthethwa took home a prize package worth almost R1m, including a recording contract with Universal Music, South Africa.
It is apparent that someone watched both the US and South African pop idols, both of which base their format on the British series, and thought of replicating the same back home.
The Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’, other than the marketing ploy that it is, is but a mockery of the ‘stars’.
Adrian Kwelepeta fast comes to mind. He won the last season and it’s just now that he has been able to release an album. He says this is the case because he was searching for resources.
Apart from promoting the Sunbird brand, the country’s search for a star really also needs to ensure that the stars are not just fading.
The initiative is commendable because it is the best when it comes to isolating the stars from the crowd. My opinion is that it, however, needs to take a mile further by finding the stars institutions that should train them to become professional musicians.
At the current trend, it is all clear that these youths, who are hungry for fame and swayed by the belief that what their vocal cords can project is sweet sound that can stand the musical test, will remain being used as pawns in this marketing promotion game.
The flowing of benefits in the end create a disharmony of sorts as it is one-sided, flowing at the promotion of the corporate firms without trickling down to those players that make the whole event matter.    
Adrian pocketed a K500, 000 prize money but where did it take him to if for a year he had to hunt for resources to record an album?
By the way, where is the second spot winner, Chisomo 'Chichi', and, of course, the third winner, Ruth Magona?
Of course, the organisers say the Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ was a success in 2013 and the competition has proven effective as a corporate social responsibility intervention to showcase innovative singing talent among the youth of Malawi.
I know Sunbird has been partnering E-Wallet to implement and manage the show. E-Wallet’s Felix Njawala says, through the show, they intend to enhance and enrich musical talent in the country putting much focus on the youth.

But where is the talent that E-wallet unveiled? Where are the Sunbird ‘stars’ that were ‘searched’ and ‘found’ through last season’s event?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why Oliver Mtukudzi still matters

Was it a privilege? Yes, I guess it was.
On the night of Wednesday, August 20, I had an opportunity to share the same dinner table with Oliver Mtukudzi, hosted by Latitude 13, barely 48 hours before he staged a sterling performance at the Bingu International Conference Centre auditorium on invitation by Qoncept Creative which is setting some ambitious bars in the entertainment business.
Talking to him on the day, his voice was perpetually husky; you needed to pay close attention to listen to what exactly he was talking about.
Also present on the table were his female vocalists, Alice Muringayi and Fiona Gwena, as well as his drummer Sam Mataure and a youthful bass guitarist, Enoch Piroro.
The one who was taking command of the conversation was Sam who talked a lot about their globe-trotting career which has taken them to almost all corners of planet earth.    
Both Tuku and Sam recalled names of people they have dealt with in Malawi before, including Enoch Mbandambanda and a music promoter from Blantyre called Pedro, whom Tuku described as the calmest Malawian he has ever met.
Both Sam and Tuku recalled how disorganised this promoter was. He was so disorganised that everything that was supposed to facilitate their performance was not adding up and yet Pedro never pressed the panic button as he kept assuring them with aplomb that all was well.
The instruments were poor, they remembered, and that when they reached the stage it was very dark they had to use headlamps from two vehicles that were positioned on the either side of the stage for the show to take place.
Well, this is a story for another day.
At the dinner the impression Tuku gave me was that age was catching up with him although he is only 62. His speech was almost a drawl, twiddling around issues like he was not ready to talk at all.
Even when my colleague Yvonne Sundu and I asked to talk to him away from the dinner table, for him just to rise from where he sat and walk to the place we needed him to be took a lot of effort.
But come Friday night at the Bingu International Conference Centre auditorium, I saw another Oliver Mtukudzi.
Throughout the show I kept asking myself how can one person live two lives that are a total contrast of each other?
From a seemingly tired old man to an energetic musical super star who danced throughout the 16 songs that he played for two hours running, I was left dazed with amazement at his energy-consuming dancing antics.
My fear throughout the performance was that fatigue will catch up with him. I was wrong. His dinner table fading voice was gone, replaced by a booming voice that has become the Tuku signature worldwide.
My goodness, Tuku and The Black Spirits only use five instruments for all the international appeal; the voice, the lead guitar, the bass, the drum and an occasional tambourine.

However, because Tuku is so good at his game, he leaves you with the impression that he has a whole range of instruments, including an orchestra, for his trademark Tuku music.

Learning from the best

 Last week I had the honour to be flown to Jo’burg by Malawian Airlines to interview headliners at this year’s Lake of Stars Music Festival.

These were the Mafikizolo duo, Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, as well as South African Hip-Hop artist Sizwe Moeketsi aka Reason. 
One thing that came out clearly is the fact that being an artist is supposed to be an organised job.
The main issue that was not spoken during the two interviews, but was clearly registered on my mind, is that our musicians have not dared the music industry enough.
There is one advantage that comes with breaking into the international music market, which is to give it out to the audience in line with what you believe in.
Originality is the mother of best innovations and what has failed our musicians a lot is the proclivity to move with the crowd where if people like Joseph Nkasa’s beat, then if Moses Makawa will come on the musical scene then this is the beat to go with.
Talk of artists like Mafikizolo, for example; they came on the scene with hits like Kwela-kwela and had a break of seven years before re-emerging on the musical scene with a track like Khona which is a dare-devil departure from what they have been known for.
Nhlanhla, the female member of Mafikizolo, says change is growth and if you have to succeed in this business you have to be brave enough to try on other genres.
And it does not matter whether such genres were established already or are a product that becomes the artist's brain-child.
Even when you are playing genres like Hip-Hop that are already established, you have to do them better than the existing music because you risk imitating something that exposes not only your mediocre talent but your lack of ambition as well.
Take Reason, for example. He boasts of such a long history with Hip-Hop. He says to a certain degree he got so brave and started experimental approach to his creativity after feeling he had done just about everything with Hip-Hop.
He says Malawian artists must strive to be creative in whatever realm they pinch their beacons in in order to have to have a trans-generational appeal with their music.
He says, for example, he has caught his father listening to his album and he finds it instructive since that is the only way he can have a conversation with his father about his life experiences.
Apart from artists like Lawi, who would give you what is their concept of music, most of our artists lack courage to try out something new that should solely be a product of their imaginations.
My feeling is that unless we dare, we won’t break into the international music market.

Where is Lloyd Phiri’s song?

When you are a gospel artist you risk being dismissively given the rubbish tag that is cynical of every musical talent and endowment on display.
In the past, I have argued on the basis that every religious belief is a closed system and as a result it has its bedrock on a specific dogmatic belief. This is the reason one can neither question nor disagree with church authorities.
While the explanation is that God is Omnipotent, He was there and shall always be there looks like enough, it still has holes which fail to hold together even a child’s credulity.
This is where a belief will use its ‘closed system’ which simply shuts up you by saying it is the evil powers of Satan that drives you to ask such questions. This snaps any desire to ask more questions. This approach is what is usually looked at as a dogmatic slumber where you wake up at your own peril.
This frame is unfortunately one which most gospel musicians want to use. They sing very bad songs, which they are not even ashamed to put on CDs or tapes and call them albums, comfortable in the belief that no one will point a finger at their mediocrity because it is the Word of God.
Artists that are into gospel take it for granted that since it is gospel music then they could get away with murder.
No, as I have disputed before, I am not going to fall for that; this is a big blue lie. God loves beauty, this is the reason even his creations are beautiful, including Lucifer himself although in believers’ depiction he is shown as a badly-horned looking creature!
Lloyd Phiri, one of the country’s best gospel artists, has proven over the years that he is into the game of music not to hide behind gospel, but because he is a multi-talented artist.
Lloyd started his musical career in 1998 and since then he has released eight albums and six video albums.
To show how good he is, Lloyd has been a producer, an engineer and a session artist of different instruments in his studio. Some of the country’s top-notch gospel artists that have gone through his hands in his studio include Allan Ngumuya, Favoured Sisters, Allan Chirwa, Wyclief Chimwendo, Ethel Kamwendo Banda, The Joshua Generation, Thoko Katimba, Kafita Nursery Choir, Maggie Mangani, the late Geoffrey Zigoma, Bertha Nkhoma, Living Waters Praise Team and Princes Chitsulo.
In fact the famous track from Chitsulo, ‘Ndizayimba’, was done by Lloyd. 
And, if one traces Lloyd from 2001 when he released his first album Musagwedezeke - with hit song ‘Afuna Mulape’, you will appreciate how gifted he is. In fact, MBC listeners awarded this track as the Number One song in the ‘Entertainers of the year’ awards for 2002.
The following year he released Ndagwiritsa and another hit track on this album ‘Sindimatsilira Zachikunja’ won the MBC Entertainers of the Year’ award in the Best Song category for 2003.
He took a break when he went to the UK in 2003 where he started with several performances before enrolling with Manchester Christian College for Bible Studies. He returned in 2006 and opened Llohay Sound Control which is contraption of his name Lloyd and Harriet, his wife’s name. In fact Harriet is one of his backing vocalists in the Happiness Voices Band.
The studio has now changed name to One Heart Studios.
The same year he released a third album Nkadangokhuza which he recorded and mastered in his new studio. In 2007 he became the first musical artist to produce a live recorded album at the then French Cultural Centre.
In 2009 he released another album called Sikuthekera Kwanga. He also produced a live DVD Volume II but was duped by distributors and was left penniless.
For three-and-a-half years Lloyd struggled to revive his career by recording artists in his studio until indeed he managed to get enough resources to release a 15-track album Sachedwa Safulumira last year.
This is where there are tracks that have taken the consumers by storm such as ‘Wonkana Yesu’ and ‘Yesu Akubwera’. He has also included Praise and Worship tracks like ‘Yehova M’busa Wanga’ and ‘Inetu Ine’.
He has now released another album just this year called Assaulted, an English-dominated album with tracks like ‘It’s by Design’ which is against homosexuality.
He also did ‘One Love’ which a Lucky Dube total imitation.

Need I say more about Lloyd Phiri’s talent?

Chibuku’s failed musical road

I was privileged to have been one of the judges at last Saturday’s
Chibuku Road to Fame where twelve bands from the Northern,
Central, Eastern and Southern regions competed for the grand prize of K1 million, plus a K400,000 recording deal, as well as a trip to the regional Chibuku Road to Fame in Botswana.

To start with, it was a disappointing encounter because, from the word
go, it looked as if those organising the event - the Musicians Union of
Malawi (MUM) and Chibuku Products Limited - were taken unawares to
put the event together.

By noon, when everything was supposed to have started, the
organisers were still mounting the stage. To make matters worse, this
continued even when bands started testing instruments which was a distraction to both the performers and the audience.

At the end of the show, I, together with the other panellists - veteran broadcaster and musician Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma and music lecturer at Chancellor College Andrew Falia, who was the Chief Judge - agreed that the competing groups should have refused to go ahead with the mediocre musical equipment.

I am not sure why the High Table was reserved for Sports and Youth Minister Grace Chiumia and her officials when the reason we had assembled at the venue was to let the performers play music and be judged.

Because of such a bad decision on how and where to set the stage, a number of things were clearly improvised. So the make-shift stage was clearly that - ‘makeshift’! No wonder it kept mocking the K15 million that was billed for the event.

Just to demonstrate how haphazard the preparations were, while the
competition was still on - and having realised that it would be past dusk before the charade would end - the organisers came on stage and started setting up lighting, something that would have been done at the time the stage was being constructed.

In the end, I was not surprised that one band disputed our judgment that its performance was ‘below par’ because it played in the dark.

Then there was the question of the poor output of the equipment which made voices hoarser than the normal voice of the artist. Or, in a number of instances, the bass guitar would eclipse all other instruments leading to a cacophony of disorganised noise.

I wonder why a competition worth K15 million could fail to hire top-class equipment like that of the calibre of the Mibawa Open Air Music Equipment or indeed the one belonging to Mr. Entertainers Promotion.

It is clear that due to lack of good quality bands that brought other
elements like Nyau, Beni and other traditional dancers managed to distract better musical judgement from the audience. In the end, a commendable initiative from Chibuku Products was reduced to be reduced as ‘one of those things’ that have failed to promote the growth of music in Malawi.

The idea of throwing light on talent that is hidden in dark corners of
the country for us all to see and appreciate is really what the local
music industry badly needs. However, when badly done, we should not allow ourselves to be shut up for fear of scaring away the potential sponsors.


If Chibuku Products Limited and MUM think of putting K15 million to good use, they need to be well organised. They should not be afraid to approach those that have music equipment that matter for the sake of the competition. After all, it is going to be a musical competition.

When Nigeria invades Malawi

I am not even in doubt; we are musically under heavy attack from
Nigerians. All, if not most, vehicles in public transport system have
the dominance of Nigerian music.

There have been funny names and titles from this West African country
where musical artists have come on the scene and left the local music
lovers none-the-wiser.

It all started with artists like D'banj real name ‘Dapo Daniel
Oyebanjo’ Nigeria’s pop duo, P-Square of Peter and Paul Okoye as well
as Flavour (Chinedu Okoli) it was more like one on those once off
thing.

But lately with the mergence on the scene of more Naija artists, as
they call it there, like Mcgalaxy with tracks like 'Skeme', Udoka
Chigozie Oku a.k.a Selebobo who has featured J. Matin in a remix track
called ‘Yoyo’.

There is also Enetimi Alfred Odom better known by his stage name
Timaya who has done a track famously known as ‘Shake your Bum Bum’,
Nwanchukwu Ozioko, (a.k.a Vast) is one half of the popular singing
duo, Bracket whose other member is Obumneme Ali a.k.a. Smash. Ayodeji
Ibrahim Balogun known by his stage name Wizkid

Of all the names above one that seem to have taken control is the son
of a Billionaire business magnet David Adedeji Adeleke popularly
called Davido with tracks like Skelewu, Aye, and Gobe which are all
over places that use music in Malawi, of course except Churches but
not Christian weddings.

The Nigerian beat has become the heart beat of most entertainment
activities in Malawi and their music were popularised by sound tracks
in the films.

Of course Shemu Joya has tried to use local music by Agorroso in his
films Seasons of Life and The Last Fishing Boat but what I am talking
about is having a group of musical compatriots who would do music that
will have a recognisable element to be referred to as Nigerian genre
for example.

In a country like Malawi, you will have San B coming up with his own
thing and calls it ‘Honjo’ and Atumwi will call theirs ‘Sendeza’. The
African Representatives to the 2008 World Music Crossroads festival,
the Boys from Mzuzu ‘The Body, Mind and Soul’ will call theirs ‘Voodoo
jazz’. Tay Grin, Nyau Music.

When Malawians musicians claim that they have come up with their own
genre, are they fair to themselves?

Ben Mankhamba has tried to do a fusion of traditional dances with
western instruments and called it Beni, Mwinoghe, Vimbudza. You see,
our quest for a fixed and well established Malawian genre, has been
tedious at times; the other day Lucius Banda told us that we were
there with his ‘Zulu Woman’ beat.

Edgar and Davis thought a beat like ‘Kale-Kale’ was it; so were the
sounds that emerged from the Lhomwe belt of the likes of Alan Namoko
and Chimvu River Jazz Band and Michael Mukhito Phiri.Wambali
Mkandawire has never called what he plays anything else other than
African Jazz whatever this means.

Peter Mawanga and a certain sector of the industry believe he has
cracked the elusive code to establish the much sort after Malawian
genre with his type of music; but the response has only fascinated the
ear of those that can read music.

Daniel Kachamba and his brother Macdonald are said to have been
playing ‘Kwera’ music which musical historians claim was born right
here in Malawi during the Ndiche Mwalare/Alick Nkhata days. They claim
when Malawians were descending down South Africa in the 1940/50s they
took with them the ‘Kwera’ music which the South Africans took as
their own and perfected it and became a springboard that has helped
them established different genres that are still recognizable as South
African.

Now when you hear Ademwiche by Fikisa you do not even want to be told
that what you are listening to is a Malawian beat even with the
presence of modern instrumentation.

This is clear that this is a traditional beat. But like a chewed
bubblegum, where is it?

This is an argument I have ever made in the past, but point here today
is why Nigerian music has taken control of all our entertainment
joints.

Why is it that when it ripples within your earshot it is easily
recognisable as Malawian music?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chibuku’s failed musical road

I was privileged to have been one of the judges at last Saturday’s
Chibuku Road to Fame where twelve bands from the Northern,
Central, Eastern and Southern regions competed for the grand prize of K1 million, plus a K400,000 recording deal, as well as a trip to the regional Chibuku Road to Fame in Botswana.

To start with, it was a disappointing encounter because, from the word
go, it looked as if those organising the event - the Musicians Union of
Malawi (MUM) and Chibuku Products Limited - were taken unawares to
put the event together.

By noon, when everything was supposed to have started, the
organisers were still mounting the stage. To make matters worse, this
continued even when bands started testing instruments which was a distraction to both the performers and the audience.

At the end of the show, I, together with the other panellists - veteran broadcaster and musician Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma and music lecturer at Chancellor College Andrew Falia, who was the Chief Judge - agreed that the competing groups should have refused to go ahead with the mediocre musical equipment.

I am not sure why the High Table was reserved for Sports and Youth Minister Grace ‘Obama’ Chiume and her officials when the reason we had assembled at the venue was to let the performers play music and be judged.

Because of such a bad decision on how and where to set the stage, a number of things were clearly improvised. So the make-shift stage was clearly that - ‘makeshift’! No wonder it kept mocking the K15 million that was billed for the event.

Just to demonstrate how haphazard the preparations were, while the
competition was still on - and having realised that it would be past dusk before the charade would end - the organisers came on stage and started setting up lighting, something that would have been done at the time the stage was being constructed.

In the end, I was not surprised that one band disputed our judgment that its performance was ‘below par’ because it played in the dark.

Then there was the question of the poor output of the equipment which made voices hoarser than the normal voice of the artist. Or, in a number of instances, the bass guitar would eclipse all other instruments leading to a cacophony of disorganised noise.

I wonder why a competition worth K15 million could fail to hire top-class equipment like that of the calibre of the Mibawa Open Air Music Equipment or indeed the one belonging to Mr. Entertainers Promotion.

It is clear that due to lack of good quality equipment, competing bands that brought other elements like Nyau, Beni and other traditional dancers managed to distract better musical judgement from the audience. In the end, a commendable initiative from Chibuku Products was reduced to be reduced as ‘one of those things’ that have failed to promote the growth of music in Malawi.

The idea of throwing light on talent that is hidden in dark corners of
the country for us all to see and appreciate is really what the local
music industry badly needs. However, when badly done, we should not allow ourselves to be shut up for fear of scaring away the potential sponsors.


If Chibuku Products Limited and MUM think of putting K15 million to good use, they need to be well organised. They should not be afraid to approach those that have music equipment that matter for the sake of the competition. After all, it is going to be a musical competition.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When Nigeria invades Malawi

I am not even in doubt; we are musically under heavy attack from Nigerians. All, if not most, vehicles in public transport system have the dominance of Nigerian music.

There have been funny names and titles from this West African country where musical artists have come on the scene and left the local music lovers none-the-wiser.

It all started with artists like D'banj real name ‘Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo’ Nigeria’s pop duo, P-Square of Peter and Paul Okoye as well as Flavour (Chinedu Okoli) it was more like one on those once off thing.

But lately with the mergence on the scene of more Naija artists, as they call it there, like Mcgalaxy with tracks like 'Skeme', Udoka Chigozie Oku a.k.a Selebobo who has featured J. Matin in a remix track called ‘Yoyo’.

There is also Enetimi Alfred Odom better known by his stage name Timaya who has done a track famously known as ‘Shake your Bum Bum’, Nwanchukwu Ozioko, (a.k.a Vast) is one half of the popular singing duo, Bracket whose other member is Obumneme Ali a.k.a. Smash. Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun known by his stage name Wizkid

Of all the names above one that seem to have taken control is the son of a Billionaire business magnet David Adedeji Adeleke popularly called Davido with tracks like Skelewu, Aye, and Gobe which are all over places that use music in Malawi, of course except Churches but not Christian weddings.

The Nigerian beat has become the heart beat of most entertainment activities in Malawi and their music were popularised by sound tracks in the films.

Of course Shemu Joya has tried to use local music by Agorroso in his films Seasons of Life and The Last Fishing Boat but what I am talking about is having a group of musical compatriots who would do music that will have a recognisable element to be referred to as Nigerian genre for example.

In a country like Malawi, you will have San B coming up with his own thing and calls it ‘Honjo’ and Atumwi will call theirs ‘Sendeza’. The African Representatives to the 2008 World Music Crossroads festival, the Boys from Mzuzu ‘The Body, Mind and Soul’ will call theirs ‘Voodoojazz’. Tay Grin, Nyau Music.

When Malawians musicians claim that they have come up with their own genre, are they fair to themselves?

Ben Mankhamba has tried to do a fusion of traditional dances with western instruments and called it Beni, Mwinoghe, Vimbudza. You see, our quest for a fixed and well established Malawian genre, has been tedious at times; the other day Lucius Banda told us that we were there with his ‘Zulu Woman’ beat.

Edgar and Davis thought a beat like ‘Kale-Kale’ was it; so were the sounds that emerged from the Lhomwe belt of the likes of Alan Namoko and Chimvu River Jazz Band and Michael Mukhito Phiri. Wambali Mkandawire has never called what he plays anything else other than African Jazz whatever this means.

Peter Mawanga and a certain sector of the industry believe he has cracked the elusive code to establish the much sort after Malawian genre with his type of music; but the response has only fascinated the ear of those that can read music.

Daniel Kachamba and his brother Macdonald are said to have been playing ‘Kwera’ music which musical historians claim was born right here in Malawi during the Ndiche Mwalare/Alick Nkhata days.

They claim when Malawians were descending down South Africa in the 1940/50s they took with them the ‘Kwera’ music which the South Africans took as their own and perfected it and became a springboard that has helped them established different genres that are still recognizable as South African.

Now when you hear Ademwiche by Fikisa you do not even want to be told that what you are listening to is a Malawian beat even with the presence of modern instrumentation.

This is clear that this is a traditional beat. But like a chewed bubblegum, where is it?

This is an argument I have ever made in the past, but point here today is why Nigerian music has taken control of all our entertainment joints.

Why is it that when it ripples within your earshot it is easily recognisable as Nigerian music?


Malawi’s Radio Presenters

I have ever said that I have problems calling Malawi radio presenters Disc Jockeys or fondly shortened to DJs based on the knowledge that I have of who a DJ is and what the radio presenters who call themselves DJs do.
Nonetheless, today I am not bothered with whatever names, titles, ranks, designations or positions radio presenters bestow upon themselves. I am here to wonder aloud if these people know their role to make Malawi music what it needs to become.
Forget about the question which one is the Malawi music. But one statement that I have to register from the onset is that Malawian Radio presenters or Disc Jockeys as they love calling themselves are a huge disappointment.
This is not because of the way they live their lives with their spouses and other extramarital activities as it were, but this is to the choices they make when playing music on the radios.
I have no problems with a radio like MBC Radio II or Capital FM who have declared that they are bent at promoting music, which is music. Meaning the foreign music all of us strive to emulate.
However, radio stations like Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Matindi FM and other religiously inclined broadcasters their interests has been cast around locally produced and sang music, call it gospel or secular.
The general complaint is that we have talent when it comes to music and musicians. We also have outlets that suit us but fail to satisfy us all.
Back to the radio presenters, the positions these dudes hold is very privileged and in some countries like Zambia they have used it massively to promote their local music. Someone was telling me there was a time when a decree was imposed where all media outlets in the country were asked to only play Zambian music; I doubt its truthfulness though.
Not that I am suggesting that we do likewise in the country; because we risk clamping down sources where we can learn from.
In that way, we will not have anywhere to assess ourselves as a country to see if we are indeed doing what we should be doing as a musical nation or whether or not we are stepping on the same spot or moving either forward or backward.
However, given that we also impose a similar decree, do you see ourselves achieving anything? Considering that even when the radio presenters have the opportunity to play our local music, others creating programmes that have local music as the only input it still raises a number of questions when you see how these radio presenters comport themselves.
You find that they will stick to a track or an album of a musician who everyone who has an ear for music is condemning due to his or her mediocre feat and yet the so called DJ will be heaping praises that you who is listening fail to see its justification.
In the process, the questions of corrupt radio presenters which has ever come up in this regard pops up again.
While other presenters will do likewise due to naivety, others largely seem to have a hidden interest that is not even well hidden…
If the Malawi music has to grow and glow, its fate, to an extent, also lies in the hands of these people.
Radio promoters or DJs, as they would like me to call them, are promoters of sorts. If they play bad music on their respective radio dials, then it has to be on the back of trying to point at weaknesses in our artists’ music.

May be it is high time radio station started deliberate programmes that look at a particular song or singer and critique their way of performing and final music production.

Patriotism comes in many ways, if presenters give us quality music we promote quality products from Malawi, which can bring us forex before we know it, not to mention catapulting the artist to international stardom.
Next we try to look at what makes one a DJ.