Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Finding a name for our Music in Malawi

That Malawi music leaves a lot to be desired is a fact I do not desire to dwell on as others before me have ably expounded on the subject.
Nevertheless, I feel duty bound to disabuse all who think highly about our musicians with a revelation that all are just rote musicians whose simple task is to blindly arrange sound to produce what they feel will give their audience a pleasing effect.
Show them the do-ti-la-so-fa-mi-re-do stuff and they will look at you with blank faces, as all this will be Greek to them. Simply put, they can’t read music; others do not even know that music is meant to be read.
The musical notation like breve, semi breve, minim, crotchet in Britain and quarter note in America or quaver or semi quaver which is the sixteenth note is known only by those in the military or the police service bands in the country. Pity it is confined within the terra firma of order and discipline establishments.
Of course these play instrumental music, as they are brass bands whose main up-thrust is to perform during ceremonial occasions while seated or while they march.
What we have outside the barracks is what others have called ‘trash’ while I would like you and I to find a name for the sound arrangements taking place in the country, which is called ‘music’.
There are several factors that we have to take note of; the first one is realising how we found ourselves a nation grappling with a music career.
We had music greats whose music still reigns in the country’s Hall of Fame as they used to enthuse all.
Names of Dr Daniel Kachamba and his brother Donald, Wenham Chechamba, Alan Namoko, Michael Mukhito Phiri, Snowden Ibu, Tambala Chitenje, Stonald Lungu etc. invokes memories that used to make everyone proud.
It is a pity that nothing can be said without singing about politics in the country now. This unfortunately does not leave much to music history, which has also politics dictating and charting its direction.
With the fight for change from Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s single party dictatorial rule to plural politics so emerged another crop of musicians like Lucius Banda.
When we took a stride into the multiparty political system we had the youths who had little hope in the employment market. Then they went into a flurry of activities arranging sound which they would eventually call music and sell to the Malawians. This was self-employment at its best, youngsters fighting for the right to be self sufficient.
At least Malawians had now their own music that had a certain appeal, especially considering that the other political system left behind never allowed our music to be expressive because it would have brought political disgruntlement and despair. But when the new artists did that, then that was the best music, so it sold well.
Now with the establishment of our democracy we have to revisit this pattern. Currently a song produced involves a drum roll, followed by a voice, which is complaining over lack of employment or political manipulation. Then the song goes into what is believed to be a chorus then back to a verse, a little instrumentation then, suddenly, the song is over.
When another new artist emergences, the only difference he brings is that of using a high-pitched voice as opposed to the low tones of the previous artist. Then the cycle goes round and round. And we have all their kind littering our music market and airwaves.
Now this confused sound is enough for our radio stations to create programmes meant to feature local music.
Most of the courses that have so far been offered in both private and public institutions prepare Malawians to be job seekers without being able to make Malawians self-employed or job creators.
If government can make available a facility that trains these fellows who think they are musicians to become real artists, singing what is real music - then the nation can really stumble onto gold. The positive point is they are willing to work out something for themselves and have great initiative to succeed.
Good music makes good sales. Unlike other products for instance the maize crop, which can only be exported when it achieves a surplus in production. With music the better the product, the more assured it is to collar markets outside the country, which in turn can give us greater forex.
I may be wrong, but I understand Malawi’s music is the richest in the region in terms of depth of tone and clarity of pitch. Surely this can be exploited!!

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