Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Atoht inspires Patience Namadingo & Faith Mussa

Like I said before right here Ellias Missi known in showbiz cycles as Atoht Manje is a self-made artiste who started his career by toying around with dancehall before discovering what more agree is closer to a Malawian beat.
He craftily used his crackly voice for dancehall in tracks like Majelasi and Lululu until he did Tizipepese, mistakenly called by his fans as Mabvuto.
My description of this beat then will not change now as I still think it’s a fast paced beat or merely hurried up beat sounding like a fast paced traditional Manganje beat. What is strikingly noticeable is that he is self-taught in the aspect of producing tunes that have come to be liked by music lovers.
It is ChePatuma built in the Sikiri tempo that captivated many including fellow artist Patience Namadingo.
Immediately after seeing how this track performed on the music scene Namadingo came up with his and called it Goliyati which took after Atoht's ChePatuma style.

Recently Faith Mussa has also released Selofoni which others still believe it is pointing at Atoht Manje's influence.

While for Namandingo it is unmistakable that it’s a copied style, honestly for Faith I cannot say with certainty that it indeed is. There are several differing elements that has made me doubt if indeed there was an inspiration from Atoht.

What I like about this whole scenario though is the fact that at least for once the inspiration is coming from within. We have complained before that there is just too much copying from international musicians.

I have always wondered if we have a Malawian genre.

I was once tempted to believe that the 2012 hit by Fikisa called ‘Ademwiche’ which is commonly but wrongly (or rightly?) known to the public as ‘Akamwile’ was going towards charting the way for Malawi.

It has however proven that our quest for a fixed and well established Malawian genre, has been tedious at times and it will not end any time soon.

The other day Lucius Banda told us that we were there with his ‘Zulu Woman’ beat while 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.

But it is the people that thought this was it, because as you can see, even Namoko had no idea what he was churning out, and this is the reason he thought his backing band was a Jazz set piece.

Robert Fumulani, likewise, had no distinct genre for Malawi and in one of his tracks he did what he thought was a fusion of reggae and Khunju traditional dance and called it Khunju Reggae.

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.

Ever heard of Honjo? It is a sound that emerged from the folds of Ndirande and this was Sunny B proclaiming the discovery of Malawian beat with what he was panning out.

Up in the north, Body Mind and Soul has what it calls ‘Voodjaz’.
Body, Mind & Soul started like a reggae band, but band leader ‘Street Rat’ claim that after reflecting on the importance of sharing Malawi ancient culture in modern time and after much thought and experimentation they created a new music concept they call ‘Voodjaz’, a subtle mix of traditional rhythms with a jazzy feel.

Now when all is weighed and measured may be the attraction of Atoht beat by the other artists will mean something, of course not the Malawi genre yet but something considering the elements that Faith has put is his Selofoni track.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Frank Kaunda imitating Skeffa Chimoto

Mangochi based musician Frank Kaunda has a deep obsession with Skeffa Chimoto. He mimics him a lot in his compositions especially in his track 'Sipuni'.

I am not sure if both of them are aware of my observations but like I have said here before I will say it again: Budding artists should only use the talent of the established for learning purposes and not take it as their own.

There are times when budding musicians copy from established ones in order to get a career foothold as they ascent towards glory. But there is always need to cut out one's own identity when unveiling self.

There is a reggae musician called Siddy Ranks. The first time I listened to his music I realised his futile attempt to be the great Gregory Isaacs' copycat. For me this was a complete put-off!

The one person that I have also discussed on these pages is Evance Meleka. When Evance collaborated with controversial gospel artist George Mkandawire to release tracks ‘Mwalawo’ and ‘Manga Patanthwe’ he realized how sweet it sounds to do tracks that are gospel.

A short while since this attempt, he declared himself a ‘Gospel Artist’ and I have no reservations with his decision because the effort he showed in the tracks, cuts him above the average acts that are polluting the gospel music arena.

My problem with Evance came when he decided to become an Oliver Mtukudzi copycat which instead turned him into an impressionist shame.
Evance is blessed. His voice is unexploited gold which only he can take care of and nurture as time goes by.

Meleka ‘debuted’ his gospel music career with tracks where he imitated Oliver Mtukudzi unashamedly.

I am glad he stopped and got back his senses and ever since he has done a few tracks like 'Yanokola' and 'Baraba' which has made him gain back his respect.

On the question of good voice, I would not hesitate to say the same for Frank who calls himself Ankhoswe. Besides his very good voice, his compositions are lyrically compelling.

Of course a track like 'Masewera chabe' is more of a story telling marathon that sometimes becomes something else. The likes of long-drawn-out compositions of Thoko Katimba which would make you stick around a radio set long enough until it finishes as it is like listening to a short story.

I digressed, but my point is that there is need for our budding musicians to create their own identities. There are many artists who have tried to imitate Skeffa Chimoto, Lucius Banda, Billy Kaunda etcetera but they did not achieve music greatness.

The reason we are today talking about Frank Kaunda is because despite imitating Skeffa Chimoto he has shown us all that he is naturally talented and he has a very bright (in Malawian context of course) future.

Frank ought to realise that Skeffa Chimoto started with imitating and doing covers for Mlaka Maliro but he only used him as a learning passage.

Today, we cannot say that Skeffa imitates Mlaka because that is not what it is as he has now created his own identity which has attracted both local and international admirers including the current Zambian President Edgar Lungu.

There is need to have a cut-off point when an artists who is new in the game is using the works of the established ones.

I will end this entry in the exact way that I ended the one I did for Evance Meleka.

Musicians in this country should not only help each other financially, they also need to guide one another on career direction, surely those that have veered off the road need someone to help them get him back on the track if they have to achieve anything…

This is my message to Frank!

The Jupiters Renaissance

Very few modern youth know about the Jupiters Band, a Ndirande born reggae outfit that started in 1983. The Jupiters Band was the music entity of the moment when Malawi was transiting into multiparty politics in 1993, 10 years after its creation.
The Jupiters, which is an abbreviation of Junior People Trying to Emphasize Reggae, Rasta, Religious Sound, is now set for a renaissance having prepared for it after experiencing how the music industry has transformed in the last 35 years that it has been in existence.

The two of its surviving members of its six pioneering cast, John ‘Nizye’ Namalima and Chicco Nyirenda told This blogger that having studied the music industry they have realised that the only way for a band to survive is to be on the road and continuously perform.

“The 2018 is challenging us as a new season where we now need to start afresh,” said Nizye. “We are establishing recording studio and what it means is we are to start recording a new album in February before getting on the road in April.”

The band which has two albums to its credit Jupiters Burning which Nyirenda claims was Malawi’s first commercial album recorded at Studio K in 1991 and Nkhondo ndi Anansi recorded in 2000 but released in 2003 also plans to shoot videos for these previous tracks.

The 2018 in Jupiters’ Perspective

Chicco says they are diving in back, cognizant of the numerous challenges that await them.

“Chief among these is the issue of piracy,” he said before claiming that at the moment there is no music industry in Malawi.

“There is nothing that we can point at as Malawi music industry when there is no marketing structure,” he says.

He says most music groups are being forced to follow the only way to survive which is to hold live performances.

“We know live shows are capital intensive and we have heavily invested in this area so that once we start, we have a smooth going,” he added.

Chicco who accumulated a lot of musical equipment during his stay in the UK also said regulators have not helped the music industry.

“Royalties are not trickling down to musicians and yet Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) and Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) are there to do something about but are unfortunately sleeping on their jobs,” claims Nyirenda.

Copyright is a law which Chicco says should ordinarily have enforcers and yet musicians are left to carry out the enforcement themselves which is already destined to fail.

“These music institutions are part of the system that is contributing to the dwindling of the music industry in Malawi,” he says.

Chicco says a music industry without a substantive marketing system is a mockery to the artists.

“We need to have an outlet where we can sell our products,” he insists.

Nyirenda says politicians are also busy fighting each other without looking at the welfare of a lot of hard working Malawians including musicians.

They needed to check bodies like Cosoma to see if they are indeed doing their job. Otherwise if Cosoma was following what it ought to do, musicians in this country would be reaping fruits of their toils and become rich as is the case worldwide.

“Musically everything is rotten, and not even parliament can summon these public bodies to find out what is happening” says Chicco who was once Southern Region vice Chair for the then Musicians Association of Malawi and Southern Regional Treasurer for MUM.

Genesis of the Jupiters

Nizye says the other four pioneer members of the Jupiters who are unfortunately all dead are Black Mandiwa, who together with him, was the lead vocalist; Gusto ‘Pablo’ Zuze, the bassist; Gulamu ‘Aston’ Nathu, the drummer; and William ‘Bunny Widz’ who was the rhythm guitarist.

“On this day in 1983 I was walking on the road in Ndirande with William who was carrying a guitar when we bumped into Black who had come from Zingwangwa to see his parents at the Newlines in Ndirande,” recalls Nizye.

He said Black enquired if they were into music and when they said yes he promised to come the following day. He kept his promise as he turned up with Aston and from there on they agreed to form a band although at that time he was a member of a Zingwangwa based band ‘Rising Power’.

Nizye evokes that their first outing was at the French Cultural Centre in Blantyre where together with another old time local band The Gas Machine Head curtain raised a French music outfit called Cyclop.

“At that time we were only doing cover versions for Ivorian reggae stars Ishmael Isaacs and Alpha Blondy,” he said.

Nizye recalls that Jupiters only started playing their own tracks after Chicco joined them and started composing songs that made their name including the famous Jupiters Burning.

In 1986 Nizye recollects that they met up with Jai Banda, Mr. Entertainer, who was compelled by their skills to start what was to be called Reggae-By-Foot shows.

“We used to hold these shows at the BAT ground and had other reggae bands like Young Generation, Flashers Band of Steve Ndiche, Burning Youth of Caleb Munthali and many others,” remembers Nizye.

He said it was at such shows that they interested one Robert Gondwe who had just arrived back home from Zimbabwe and took them to Studio K where they impressed with just one audition session and started recording under the production tutelage of Patrick Khoza.

He said things would have remained rosy but along the way that’s when they underwent the most difficult times. They lost Black Mandiwa who place was taken by Niccodemus Njolomole. Unfortunately he also died immediately after the death of another member William.

Nizye said then Gusto also died and was briefly replaced by the current Black Missionaries bassist Peter Amidu.

The Jupiters future was bleak when Nizye left for the United Kingdom in 2002. There was some hope when he sent money to Chicco and Aston while there to help in releasing the second album which had already been recorded. However, after Aston also died soon after the release of the album Chicco also left for the United Kingdom in September 2005.

Upon his return in 2008, Chicco founded another band which he called Natural Rites which was only doing live shows.

“We revived Jupiters in 2012 when Nizye came back from the UK where got other members,” said Chicco and Nizye chipped in saying at this point they teamed up with Jai Banda again.

The New look Jupiters

Nizye says they have now opened a new chapter with new members that include Yamikani Makate on the bass who is ironically a nephew to the original bassist Gusto.

The others are drummer Ellard Chiwaya, Keyboard player Mwai while Chicco is playing the rhythm guitar and Nizye is both leading guitarist and vocalist.        

Jupiters’ Reggae Genre

Chicco recalls that when they recorded an all reggae album, the genre was not as popular but they had a vision that it will be accepted in future.

“We however vowed to ensure that we give people genuine reggae music of the Jamaican type not the local Khunju reggae,” he says.

He says to date the reggae genre has taken over as everyone including gospel artists are now settling for it.

“Now three-quarters of Malawi music is reggae, we are a reggae nation!” declared Chicco.

The two Jupiters founding members said the 2018 continuation of their journey will therefore perpetuate the reggae genre.

Implications of HS Winehouse Closure

There was a time back in 2004, when indeed a building structure designed to serve as a warehouse closer to the Railway station in Blantyre was transformed to become a soundproof indoor theatre that would become an entertainment haven.

The Warehouse Cultural Centre however disappeared in 2012 or thereabout as mysteriously as it appeared eight years earlier.

The Warehouse, if you must know, is the place that stood shoulder to shoulder with The French Cultural Centre in bringing all sorts of arts, be it drama, musical performances, poetry festivals and the list is endless.

It is however music that I want to talk about. It is at the Warehouse where we first enjoyed acoustic music in earnest. Edgar and Davis, Agorosso came to be popularised at this spot. This is also the place where Mablacks, Lucius Banda and Zembani Band used to play.

When around 2014 or thereabout HS Wine House opened its doors down in Namiwawa in Blantyre not many understood what it was meant to become, let alone why the fuss when it was just another bottle store that will specialise in selling wines.

However, it was never to be as it was almost like an ambiguous response to the question of a befitting replacement of Warehouse, of course not in real terms considering that this was right in the middle of residential area where already complaints of noise pollution would become one of the blockades.

But nevertheless this became the home of acoustic as well as jazz music performances. All the established names and budding artists would go there and perform to a middle class clientele with the possibility of turning out to become bigger since this was a decision making congregation.

The other big thing is that the venue was being offered for free and this was therefore availing opportunities to both the budding - to gain exposure and the established ones - to get more visibility.

And for the entertainment media practitioners, this was almost like a package full of all what their pages and broadcasting time yearned for.

For the entertainment starved patrons this was a perfect spot that offered them a variety of artistic performances in a mild measure; not the Chez Ntemba kind of booming music or the Motel Paradise kind of Phungwee, but that artistic feel that gives you both musical entertainment and an artistic purview.    

Of course after the exist of the French from their cultural centre which was sold to Malawi Government, our efforts as a country to carry on where the French left off has proven to be a total disaster.

At first it was all left to vandals before Government renamed it Blantyre Cultural Centre and started renovating it but is still failing to make it what it used to be. Now it is not as an attractive spot as it used to be as entertainment activities there are sporadic.

Seeing the gap, with the influence of the French, another place called Jacaranda Cultural Centre opened its doors and in has brought with it, its unique way of hosting a number of entertainment activities.

This was complementing HS Winehouse which like I said earlier was hosting entertainment activities differently, with every Fridays being special days full of all artistic happenings.

It is therefore very sad to learn that all what HS Winehouse was offering has come to a halt following the announcement of the owners that they have closed down the place and are relocating to Mangochi.

Of course we cannot force them to hang around if it is not making business sense but we can still mourn the place's passing knowing too well how the entertainment industry used to benefit from them and how they will become an orphan again.

Entertainment from nothing

I was unreservedly impressed with the spirit of Ndirande youth who last Sunday organised what they called Reggae Summer Jam. This was a free musical show that took place at the Ndirande Hall, right in the heart of Ndirande's trading expanse within the premises of the area's health facility.

Of course the whole arrangement could not be described as flawless. There were challenges with punctuality as well as the sound quality which kept on bogging down progress.

For long we have always thought we need a great deal of money to package and deliver entertainment. But last Sunday it showed us that many factors that are usually struck out as not important can sometimes make things happen.

I know that when bands or musicians are about to stage some musical performances the talk always revolves around money - money in and money out.

This could be the case as there are different levels of class and standard that also tell a story about the kind of organisation we are talking about.

It goes down to the issue of quality which means heavy investment or vigorous marketing that should involve many corporate firms. This in the past has shown that it helps things to happen and avoids the maxim 'garbage in, garbage out!'

There is something that also happens with free shows. One would say quality is always compromised as at the back of the minds of the organisers, the word 'free' rings piercingly loud.

However with the Ndirande youth, the sound output was okay on larger scale save for misbehaving cords and microphones that had to be replaced time and again.

Now the reason I was impressed with the will to achieve something by the young ones is something that lacks and consequently comes short to achieving greatness in the industry.

With this spirit, the music industry can manage to put together the structures that that have eluded it for long. The reason has always been that there is no money.

The Ndirande Youth showed that where there is a will there is a way. At the moment the music industry is stagnating because the players are expecting a miracle to happen.

No one is pushing so that things can take a motion towards somewhere that will become profitable for all the players.

At the moment, there is no market for the Malawi music. There is no royalty system that should put something in the pocket of musicians even at a time when they are down and the flow of income has stopped.

There is no music label of meaningful effect that can be able to translate the sweat of musicians into sweet. Those that are running the show at the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) and the Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) will pat themselves at their backs that they are doing a great deal for the arts and music industry in the country.

On the other hand musicians keep on crying that there is nothing that is happening on the ground. To drive their point home, they will show you how they are being stripped off the little they hoped to gain from their toils in form of piracy.

Now my point is, the Ndirande youths that I am talking about, did not wait for someone to tell them to organise a kind of show that they put out last Sunday.

Their will drove them to take those gigantic steps and it happened. 

Performances went on up to around to 7PM.

Now the disgruntlement that is being expressed all the time by the local musicians that things are continuously going south when they should have been at par with some markets on the international stage where musicians are respected due to what their output accrues, should stop.

Musicians in Malawi have to put together the structure by themselves only if they will to do so.

Another Dosage of Kenyatta Hill

Kenyatta Hill and Culture were in Malawi in June last year where they performed in Blantyre and Lilongwe. I attended the Blantyre show at Mibawa. 

Given an opportunity I can get to their show again and again. In fact everything being equal, I won't miss their Sand Festival show for anything.

And as an icing of the cake this time round Andrew Tosh is going to be part of the festival this year and for a reggae fanatic this is more than one can ask for.

However, my excitement cannot fail me to look and question the pattern when it comes to inviting the international acts. Of course I know of same music stars that perform in Amsterdam year in, year out as an annual fixture.

However for Malawi at least we have had Fanton Mojah, Luciano, and twice Morgan Heritage brought by Born African Productions. While Sand Festival has brought Busy Signal twice and of course through Impakt Events, Lucius Banda's company that organises the festival, also brought into the country Kenyatta and Culture.

Now the announcement that has come to light is that Kenyatta Hill and Culture alongside Andrew Tosh will headline the musical face of the festival this year.

What I could not fail to notice is that Impakt Events is fond of inviting artist severally. I don’t know the business of bringing these guys into the country and 
I will therefore base my opinions from the heart.

Which is that we have numerous artists of reggae out there who can as well be invited into the country so that we have an opportunity to appreciate them the way we did last time Kenyatta and Culture came.

If we will go to Kenyatta's performance again, it will be for the fact that he is a great entertainer, there are others though who will not be very excited because they already watched his performance last year.

It surely would be double exciting to have new big names. Of course there is Andrew Tosh. The similarity between Andrew and Kenyatta is that they are both sons of the greatest reggae icons, Peter Tosh and Joseph Hill respectively.

Having died in 1987, Peter Tosh does not resonate so well with today's youthful audience whose attraction is a different genre altogether. Joseph Hill died in 2006 and because he was one artist no world music lover would ignore, he managed to interest the modern youth even though they are into some other funny genres.

Now with this when Kenyatta who is now 39, stepped in it was all easy for him unlike Andrew who has rode more on the songs left behind by his fallen legendary father. Of course Kenyatta too has fully adopted the sharp social commentary and catchy rhythms characteristic of his father's music.

While Kenyatta's debut single, “Daddy,” backed by a masterful roster of musicians including Sly Dunbar and Dean Fraser spelt the way for him and helped him to make own name, for 51-year-old Andrew who first release a single in 1985 two years before the demise of his father, not much has happened.

The other good thing with Andrew is that he has had it all, having been exposed to the music of his father's group The Wailers from an early age. Andrew also performed two songs at his funeral, "Jah Guide" and "Equal Rights". Imagine! He is also nephew to living reggae legend Bunny Wailer.

His work with producer Winston Holness on his debut album, Original Man was followed in 1989 by a second album, Make Place For The Youth, which was recorded in the United States and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

Andrew Tosh also toured with The Wailers Band in 1991. But if you ask many, not one will know Andrew Tosh's own tracks. This is unlike the Marley children who have managed to popularise their songs.

Well, while I am looking forward to their performance I just could not help it, but point out a few things.

Are Malawi Musicians selling digitally?

The biggest challenge facing Malawi music at the moment is selling their music. 

The catchword to describe their disappointment is 'piracy'. Making this challenge worse is the fact that there is no powerful music outlet in this country that can enter any forms of contracts with musicians.

Over the years musicians in Malawi decided to abandon the conventional ways of selling music by adopting the online market not necessarily by design but because they have no choice. We have such platforms like Malawi Music, iTunes, YouTube, Sound, Cloud, Audiomack, Spiritunez, Spotify, Amazon and Tidal among others where local musicians claim are their market spots.

While most of these websites claim to be legal platforms that offer digital sales of music to a global audience through credit cards using Google's wallet, others really do not have the straight forward way of doing business.

We also have other such online markets like Maluso Music, which says its primary mode of payment is through mobile money which is common in Africa compared to other continents.

The feeling is that many Malawians do not have access to other sites, users will have to use their international credit cards like Visa, American Card and Master Card amongst others which are used for the purchase of music.

In this case at one time Malawi Music was only selling in UK, USA and Germany thereby denying Malawians to buy online.

There has however been other arrangements where local music consumers can now locally access the music through TNM Mpamba, Airtel Money, National Bank of Malawi mobile phone transaction, PayPal and PayGo.

Not many Malawians can still be able to buy music through these means. When Malawians were buying music through OG Issah then, the means was buying from the counter using hard cash. This is the time we saw that our local musicians were able to be transformed through their sweats.

Now, while there is this problem to contend with, my huge and biggest concern is with the musicians who are supposed to be the sellers of these music products.

Like I said there benefits accrued during this time were obvious, this time round apart from reading in news outlets that so and so has had the biggest hits in downloads, such reports fall short to explain how this in translated into actual benefits for the musicians.

It is sad that in these days of many likes and following on social media platforms you find that our musicians will feel contented with these. There is however no wealth associated with their efforts.

I am waiting for the day that I will be able to see progress in careers of the local musicians based on what their products is bringing forth through online sales. It is useless to have musicians toil their whole lives without having to have more valuable following than Facebook likes.

As is the case elsewhere, we still need an orthodox music marketing system which should be complemented by the digital markets. We cannot continue with this laissez faire approach which can and will not right things.

Music is an evergreen product which knows no season to attract its consumers, however for Malawi it is the non-existent of the selling and marketing system which will continue to hurt its makers.