Malawi urban music takes over


A seemingly simple question this one might look considering the genesis of what is now known as urban music. Not that it provides us with the opportunity to define what it is or is not, but it is all clear that Lucius Banda will be considered as the traditional archetype of our local music.

That it is on one hand, but on the other hand, Tay Grin exemplifies what ought to be known as the urban type of music.

Now what is bringing me into this talk this week is observation made over a period of two subsequent weekends.

There is a new joint in town – Blantyre – called Dusk to Dawn where one Friday, Tay Grin decided to organise what he called Afrima nomination party. He simply used the social media without going to the traditional advertising platforms to announce about the event. What followed is the jam parked dance floor where patrons parted with K2000 to gain entrance.

It should also be mentioned that performances started from midnight to morning and patrons kept trouping in all this while. There was lack of parking space outside the club and it clearly shows what this means when we compare it to this.

Come the following Friday, Lucius Banda and Zembani Band also performed at venue and the story was different as it failed to park to its capacity.

There are different schools of thought that are emerging in order to explain away this disparity. But I should say from the onset that this does not mean Tay Grin is better off as others are arguing.

I think it all goes down to the niche audience that these two artists separately appeals to. It is becoming an extremely painful reality that the urban audience is taking over the space.

Because the urban is more appealing to the youthful population which is becoming a dominant force it is clear as they say in marketing that ‘consumers of niche products become product advocates more often because they feel more connected to the product and realize it was made for them’.

A good example is the free Ndirande show by Fredokiss. He parked a venue in a way that no meeting, be it political or religious could achieve. With politics and religion you know their manipulative power where they will try to profess popularity by parking vehicles with people that they ferry to such spots for obvious reasons. For Fredokiss it was just consumers of his niche products walking by foot to the venue.

What it means for traditional musicians is that this is the market to explore. Lucius has tried to feature hot musicians every time they are taking the music industry head on.

Recently, Fredokiss who is also known as Ghetto King Kong released latest hit song “Njira Zawo” which features Lucius Banda. This is the rendition of Lucius’ “Ali ndi njira Zawo” and if anything one would think that it should have been the other way round.

What is happening right now on the market shows that a very big boundary is developing, on one side there is the urban niche audience and on the other there is the traditional one. Again the venues also matter because it looks like the way Dusk to Dawn is designed it makes urban music lovers identify with it more than the traditional music followers.

If it were at Motel Paradise for example, would the Lucius Banda, Tay Grin comparison remain the same? At the risk of being wrong I would want to believe otherwise. It does not at all compare the two on the strength of their musical talent but it rather speaks of the shifting in fortunes for various reasons.

Unfortunately the urban niche audience has internet while the traditional remains there in the past where newspapers and radio announcements mattered.

The industry players perhaps need to rethink.

 

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Stella Mwanza’s mismanaged career


Malawi’s music has some subsets within its wholeness. Within these subgenres we have its influential players. If I mention Black Missionaries for example, then what will quickly come to mind is that these can be lumped together in their own subgenre with Wailing Brothers and Lilongwe based Soul Raiders.

If I mention Joseph Nkasa, then Thomas Chibade, Moses Makawa etc will join this subset. The same way Mlaka Maliro and Billy Kaunda will form one subset.

Most of these are dominated by men artists. But while the other subsets have had female players coming in and going the Nkasa, Chibade, Makawa subset has rarely entertained any female challenger until Stella Mwanza came on the scene.

Tracks like Musandilaule, Chidodo, Chimbayambaya, Mdanitsa, just to mention a few took the music world of Nkasa’s ilk by storm.

Her music and music videos were being produced by Harry Kazembe of Rhem Records as well as John Nguluwe of MC Studios Entertainment. These have produced all the greats including Skeffa Chimoto and Lucius Banda.

 

Now Stella Mwanza has gone into hibernation and perhaps like Mirrel Nkhoma she will never come back again.

 

There was a time when she had a manager, someone whom she entrusted to manage her career but it all ended up into a disastrous ending.

 

According to a write up by lawyers of creative arts, there are four different kinds of representatives that may represent recording artists, performers, and songwriters in the music industry and these are personal managers, agents, business managers, and attorneys.

 

Of course I know with the Malawi scenario none of these are there to show the way. One other female artist that I know relies heavily on her manager is Sangie. Like Stella in her time, she is never allowed to speak or strike deals only when her manager says so.

 

Now back to the said write up, it says Personal Managers are there to advise and counsel the artist on virtually all aspects of the artist’s career.

 

Thus the duties of a personal manager may include dealing with the artist’s publicity, public relations and advertising; assisting in the selection of the artist’s material; devising plans for the artist’s long term career development; choosing the artist’s booking agent, road manager, lawyer, accountant etal and overseeing the artist’s relations with each of them.

 

The personal manager’s other duty is also to provide counseling to the artist on what types of employment to accept; in some instances, acting as a liaison between the artist and the artist’s record company.

 

For all this to work personal managers are usually paid a commission of 15 percent to 25 percent of the artist’s gross receipts from all of the artist’s activities in the entertainment industry (recording contacts, publishing contracts, endorsements, television and movie work, etc).

 

Of course this commission, which may increase depending upon the artist’s success, is in addition to reimbursement of the personal manager’s travel and out-of-pocket expenses incurred in representing the artist.

 

If you check the above duties, there is no where written impregnating or sleeping with the artist because in the music industry worldwide this often happens and to an extent end up killing the budding career.

 

Now when you look at how, for example, Miracle Chinga is struggling at the moment, would you say she has a personal manager that is looking after her affairs? Are we going to be surprised if two years down the road she will still remain a shadow of her late mother?

 

Now if the music industry is not going to reorganising itself and start validating who becomes a manager of our artists we are going to end up with a lot of Stella Mwanzas in this world.

Eliza Mponya’s dalliance with the devil


I was at sixes and sevens when I bumped into a video by Eliza Mponya on GBS television one good afternoon. My misgivings popped up when I saw how the music video had dramatised the abduction and killing of people with albinism – I hope this is right as there is a raging debate on how best to address brothers and sisters with this condition.

The issue of people with albinism has left most of us with no better explanation on what really is the driving motive behind their persecution and not surprising colleagues in the music industry have tried to come up with a few compositions.

But one effort done by Eliza Namponya is an attempt to do justice on the plight of people with albinism which is not vain.

If you have an opportunity watch Eliza’s track titled ‘Muloleranji’ from the album Ndili ndi Mulungu.

There is a story line that centres on a teenager albino boy who is leaving school premises or is it his home. While walking along a tarmac road a saloon car pulls over and two heavyset mean jumps out and grabs the boy whom they bundle into the boot of the vehicle before speeding off.

They later take him to some gangster looking men while tying his hands. The video shows the bartering of the boy between them after money exchange hands. He is left to his fate that leaves the watchers guessing.

I do not know who this abducted boy is; what arrangement or consent was made to allow for the video production to come out the way it did.

What I find abhorring is the choice of production concept for the music video which is a clear dalliance with the devil and does not manage to leave the bittersweet after effect that it intended.

In steady it is reassuring those that believe in the selling of people with albinism that this is how it is done. Whether these macabre acts lead to financial rewards as the music video encourages or not is not for me to say but it now brings me to question the television stations that would really broadcast such kind of production.

To say the least, this is careless of highest order. The media is crucial in relaying codes that can be decoded differently by the consumers. This is the reason journalists undergo a very strict training on ethical reporting. Musicians are an integral part of media products and what they package ought to also follow strict ethical considerations before getting carried away with excitement in the process of production.

Ever since we started reading, listening and watching stories about the albino killings, there has never been one that followed a conclusive discourse that point out to their fate in the manner in which the music video projects. Yes mutilated bodies have been found but it still does not prove the reasons behind this heinousness brutality.

Music is crucial to carry messages for different intentions, but there is supposed to be decency that has to precede the penchant for recognition and yearning to pamper artists’ pride and self esteem.

There are issues of privacy that are also to be considered. The teenager used in the video should not have been enticed with money to appear the way he did. Even if there was consent, still Eliza’s production team should have brainstormed and guided the youthful devotee properly.

The gospel in the lyrics ended up fighting against the picture thus in the eyes of ethically conscious viewers like me. Granted, that Eliza had all good intentions when she decided to produce the video; but it has left us with far-reaching effect which points to a different negative achievement, eventually.

The albino teenager should not have been exposed and disrespected in the manner the video achieved. Yes, works of arts tend to provoke different reactions, but unpalatable is the word for this particular production, especially in the face on the national plight.

 

 

Alborosie – The Italian with Reggae DNA


There is a tale of Alberto D’Ascola, born and raised in the home of Mafia in Sicily in Italy. At 23 he left Italy for a journey to the home of reggae music in Jamaica his flirting with the genre back when he was just 15 having spurred him to trek to the Caribbean.

At that age back in Italy and named Stena, D’Ascola who has now adopted stage name Alborosie, which was never given to him in good faith in his early days in Jamaica, started his musical career in an Italian reggae band called Reggae National Tickets, from Bergamo city in that European country.

Kingston, Jamaica is a place where plenty talented native Jamaicans have failed to break through with their music career. It is therefore unimaginable that a white Italian man would survive in such a black dominated space, pursuing a music genre that promotes the black race in the face of white domination.

What is more, from a country that Pope, who makes huge folder for Jamaican reggae music, comes from.

However Alborosie as a multi-instrumentalist – being one who is adept in guitar, bass, drums and keyboard – took the challenge head on. Here he did not only try solo music career – pursuing roots reggae – but also embraced Rastafari culture and learnt Jamaican Patois.

Knowing that it won’t be easy to land in Kingston gun blazing and as they say there ‘mash up the place’, Alborosie started life as a sound engineer and producer.

Funny enough he worked with another of his ilk, this one from Germany called Tilmann Otto, stage name Gentleman who has been travelling to and fro Jamaica since he was 18 years old. He also worked with one of BOB Marley’s sons Ky-Mani leading to his first solo album called Soul Pirate, subsequently followed in 2009 by a second one called Escape from Babylon.

Now with hit singles like ‘Rastafari Anthem’, ‘Kingston Town’, ‘Call Up Jah’, and ‘Rock the Dancehall’ Alborosie who has since started his own record label, Forward Recordings has gone against the odds to be counted. Now he is conquering the world with reggae concerts.

And to cap it all in 2011, he became the first white artist to win the M.O.B.O. (Music of Black Origin) Awards in the Best Reggae Act category.

When one listens to Alborosie’s reggae tunes from his nine albums, 54 singles and extended plays (EPs) you are left with admiration for the inborn reggae talent that he puts on display.

Just to show that he has indeed mustered the reggae art he can play roots reggae with the all revered one drop, go the rub-a-dub route, he can do massive dancehall tunes. As if that is not even enough, he has some productions done in old reggae beat at that time called ska which fits into the present state of things. In the album called Escape from Babylon to the Kingdom of Zion, Alborosie has a lead single titled Mama SheDon’t like You which is a humorous up-tempo ska track.

It is for this unique artist that I decided this week to dedicate this space as part of my reverence to a reggae performer who defied the odds and is now living beyond anybody’s expectation as an accomplished reggae emissary who is not fully honoured because of his origins and his skin colour.

Regardless of not accepting him, in full or otherwise, Alborosie has served the reggae genre well and he stands to even achieve great, regardless of the struggle within the reggae industry. He is unlike Gentleman for example, who tilts more towards commercial reggae while Alborosie has been a conscious root reggae man who – despite his Italian roots – has even sang against the Pope as most reggae artists of Rastafarian culture do.

The resurrection of Billy Kaunda


Sometime in September of 2011 when I was a tenant of the title across the street, I wrote something to the effect that musical star Billy Kaunda was ‘The Fading Musician’. Oh Dear, you should have seen how he reacted.

I still blame the gatekeeper of the Weekender at the time for I was writing as Prof. Zungwala but this did not stop Billy from getting hold of me – this is a story for another day.

Billy was deputy cabinet minister at the time and I really do not understand whether his not taking my perceived ‘attacks’ on the chin was bolstered by this fact or not.

It is not for any fears of similar attacks that I come again to proclaim of Billy’s resurrection having watched him perform at M1 Central Point in Lilongwe recently. This was a musical show organised by Skeffa Chimoto who brought along the Zambian acrobat chief Dalisoul who masquerades as a musician.

Billy was the last to perform and from the onset of his performance up until over 150 minutes later when the curtain fell, he never disappointed.

Billy has a band called Armageddon but on this occasion I was surprised to see smartly dressed young men who I later learnt are members of Lilongwe Baptist Church Band which Billy plays with.

I have never been impressed with such adroit display of a band that never lost it in any way save for one occasion when one of the three keyboards – 3 keyboards you heard me right – went off key and Billy went right there to assist putting it back in order.

What is interesting is that the one behind that particular keyboard was Billy Kaunda Junior, his own younger son who is part of the band. Of course this mishap cannot take away the fact that the boy is equally very talented considering that he is into music as a pass time activity going by his father’s explanation. He just had sat for his form 5 exams at Kalibu Academy and is set to pursue his studies elsewhere.

Let me borrow from my last entry to say matter of fact that ever since music ‘revolutionalised’ from the era of Robert Fumulani to that of Paul Banda in the early 1990s, the coming on the scene by Lucious Banda followed shortly after by Billy Kaunda changed the music landscape.
‘Mwapindulanji’, an album by Billy Kaunda stormed the industry with, helped to give a fresh impetus to the euphoria of having kissed goodbye the dictatorial rule, ushering in the multiparty democracy that had been ignited by ‘Son of a Poor Man’, a South African recorded album by Lucius Banda.

 

My argument for thinking that Billy’s career is fading took us back to the early days where lyrics in songs of Lucius Banda and Billy Kaunda were all but political and it was of little surprise that the two ended up doubling as politicians.
Again Lucius stepped on the political terrain earlier and from this time he started experiencing a divided following; others that followed his music thought the United Democratic Front, a party he had vilified in his songs but later joined, showed that, in principle, he is more worst than the politicians he musically castigated.
When Billy followed, the public swipe he faced was not as bad as the one Lucius had politically.
While both entered parliament and pursued political careers alongside the musical profession, Lucius had to be brought down politically and his music managed to clean up the political egg that smeared his face.
Love him or hate him, Lucius managed to survive because regardless of his political involvement he still had time for his music and every time he entered the studio to do a piece or two he brought out that which keep people debating.
Unfortunately for Billy Kaunda, ever since he joined the political fray, he never gave the seriousness that his musical career deserved and therefore while Lucius suffered political backlash it is Billy’s musical career that had to contend with some hostility due to the raw deal the industry says it was getting from him.

Now out of politics Billy’s musical career is back. I will explain why later.

Turning hymns into folly play


Mafo and Gibo Lantos might not make sense to the old school music lovers. In fact, at the risk of being in accurate, both Gibo Lantos and Mafo’s parents might not even know these two boys going by these names are actually their own children.

But believe you me; they have a huge influence on their fellow youths. This makes it worrisome when they put too much effort to turn both gospel music and other compositions from the hymn book into something lyrically unrecognizable, save for the familiar tune or melody.

I don’t desire to go into details for the fear of further directing the youth to such misguided music. Suffice it to say the creativity juices are flowing into wrong places for these boys who so far have changed few such gospel songs into covers that are promoting the very things the gospel stands against.

I am not here to say whether or not these two competing – not complementing – productions are done below or above par, musically, but I am here to discuss the ethical characteristic of musicians and the music they release in the manner that they do.

For Gibo Lantos, already, he has come into conflict with gospel outfit Great Angels Choir for making a cover of the tune and instrumentation of their hit Mundimangiranji.

What Gibo Lantos and Mafo do is to put in lyrics that talk about how good it is for them to be smoking cannabis as well as excessive beer drinking and womanising.

While there is an argument on whether a secular song can be adapted into a gospel song, the fact that these young guys decide to do the opposite by turning everything else to something else, then there is a problem.

Imagine a track that all your church life – since Sunday schools days – you have sang ‘God I can’t survive without you,’ then these boys do a cover that interchange God for cannabis or alcohol and they will now sing ‘cannabis I can’t survive without you,” just because on its own the message can’t sell but it has to ride on the catchy gospel hook instead.

I don’t want to take the route of trying to put out a sermon for the lads to repent but I would rather stick to the issue of ethics as this borders on copyrights which are a tool that is supposed to protect both songs thus melody and lyrics as well as recordings.

 

The owner of copyrights have exclusive rights to a number of acts including making of derivative works which is exactly what the boys are doing with songs that have their copyrights held by others and not them.

Whether or not they get the derivative rights to do remix of these previously done songs as well as the parody lyric sets to these well-known songs clearly show few challenges:

 

There is little knowledge of how these things work and this is the reason the right holders do not know how much power they wield over their works; while those committing the offence do so in ignorance, which of course, is not a defence in a court of law.

There are a number of issues to consider especially when it comes to copyright effectiveness of the hymn songs which have been with us for decades.

The moment these hymns were made public domain and such other attendant issues relating to the same coming into play, it became difficult to protect them from – not only the abuse they are suffering now but also for them to enjoy intellectual property rights protection which covers four Areas: Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks and Trade Secrets.

Music cannot be protected as a trade secret. Since 1886, when pharmacist John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola, the formula for Coca-Cola has remained the longest running trade secret as the Coca-Cola Corporation never applied for a patent.

 

When you consider the rigorous legal processes, all I can ask from the boys – Gibo Lantos and Mafo is to behave themselves and be creative enough to make names without ‘badmouthing’ anything and anyone through the songs they are churning out now.

 

 

When Chaponda enlists Nkasa


If Joseph Nkasa was sent by minister of agriculture,irrigation and water development George Chaponda to douse fires currently burning down his political career, then his decision to take the offer has aggravated his dying musical vocation.

Conversely, if Joseph Nkasa decided to make money by singing about Chaponda’s predicament without his acquiescence then he needs to immeasurably apologize to the politician because this has done him more harm than good.

To keep you in the loop, Joseph Nkasa, the once upon a time befitting ‘Phungu’ has produced a song that intends to spruce up the image of Chaponda who has been embroidered in maize transactions that has been bedeviled by claims of corruption.

In the song Nkasa equates Chaponda to Joseph, one of the 12 sons of the Biblical Isaac who became a defacto ruler in Egypt after being sold there by his brothers due to his closeness to their father.

He further claims that Chaponda is paying for his mercifulness to help the hunger-stricken and that people are trying to make him lose ‘his ministry’.

Nkasa declares in the song that the stones that have been thrown at Chaponda with will accumulate to his advantage as he will use it to build a house which will make him the landlord.

In all this the meaning is that Chaponda will use the ridicule currently peddled about his involvement in the maize saga to become the leader of this country.

Anyway, my intentions are not to get the meaning out of this song but to describe the artist Nkasa who has been dubbed as the master lyricist who ingeniously uses metaphors and innuendos to craft his songs.

Of course Nkasa came on the musical scene in the late 90 but it was in the early-to-mid 2000 that he hogged the limelight with the production of his ‘WayendaWapenga’ toils.

When he materialized again with an album that had tracks like ‘Zosayina-sayina’ the acceptance of lyrical packed songs was overwhelming that apart from huge sales in 2003 he got over K1m in Mechanical, Public Performance and Broadcasting Royalties from the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma).

 

This was a huge amount of money at the time and it made him go bananas as he went of spending spree buying property including cars without thinking of how best to manage his resources.

 

By the time he got another cheque from Cosomain 2009which was close to K600 thousand, he had still not learnt a lesson on how best to manage resources.

 

To show that that his popularity has waned, in the December 29, 2009 Cosomapay out, it was Lawrence Mbenjere who set a new record when he became the first musician to cart home money in excess of over K2.5 million in royalties.

 

Nkasa’s hunt for money has led him to many places including begging and even performing with Zembani and Alleluya Bands. But all this has not brought as much money as he wants.

 

In between though, he almost hit gold when he started toying with politicians in earnest.

 

He did a track for President Bingu wa Mutharika called ‘Mose wa lero’ which helped lift his stature as a presidential candidate making Mutharika the first to achieve an over 70 percent landslide victory.

Nkasa has always claimed never to have received ‘enough’ money with the hit single. But this remains disputable because he has now gone to bed with different politicians for the sake of money.

Nkasa composed a song for the then parliamentary Speaker Chimunthu Banda when he stood for DPP Presidency, but it emerged that it was not successful at all as Chimunthu tumbled miserably.

 

After the Chimunthudebacle he went into an agreement with PPM’s Mark Katsonga who allegedly paid K7 million for political songs, jingles and live performances all to discredit Joyce Banda government and prop up the name of PPM’s torch bearer.

 

In fact media reports indicate that Nkasa signed an MOU with Katsonga to produce a five-track album – among the tracks, ‘Kulirakwa a Mphawi’, ‘Wanunkha Malawi’, ‘OpaniYehova’ – at a cost of K1,074,000.00; five promotional jingles at K500,000 and hold 93 live performances to a tune of K5,580,000 coming to a total of K7, 154, 000.

 

While the effectiveness of this project hadnot even materialised, Nkasa joined the PP ranks and did a track for Joyce Banda whom he had discredited in the other tracks.

 

The JB track which was first heard on her Ufulu Radio and state owned MBC presents a litany of development achievements of the President and why she would be voted to retain power.

While I can neither accuse Nkasa for his lack of ethical sense nor the politicians for taking any routes to seek vain glory, one thing that is clearly standing out is that Joseph Nkasa does not believe in what he sings.

It is therefore very difficult for Malawians to even believe in whatever messages his tracks contain, otherwise his message remains a mockery to voters. Imagine if one listens to both the Katsonga tracks and the JB song, would they really make a position based on Nkasa’s position?

No wonder Nkasa has not succeeded as a musician even when he attempted to establish his Zosayina Band because he is into musical prostitution that knows no morals. With such dearth of any guiding principles looking into one’s career, one cannot prosper in any discipline.

To prove my point, if the CSOs that are baying for Chaponda’s blood only gave Nkasa money to do a song against Chaponda, he will do exactly that unashamedly.