Has any Malawian invented a Musical Genre?


Strange! One would exclaim. Strange because someone would just decides to call a genre ‘Dub Reggae Poetry’ or Rhythm and Poetry shortened to RAP and bang! Everybody has no problem with it; others would even start understudying those practising it and start imitating it.
San B will come up with his and call 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 and no one will take them seriously.
An internationally acclaimed music guru Alex Combs says prehistoric man started music when he was trying to imitate birds. With the development of writing, music became more refined and crafted instruments like pipes, flutes, basic stringed instruments, and similar tools aided this further as it helped in the creation of harmonies.
Combs says the oldest known song is over 4000 years old, written in cuneiform, and uses the diatonic scale but he says further developments created more regional sound, as different technology discoveries in different areas led to unique instruments.
He then looks at “classical music” which he says is generally assumed to be the sounds of composers like Bach or Beethoven, it actually refers to any music of this period when music was usually religiously inspired or supported, and usually taught formally as a skill rather than developed through experimentation.

Then comes ‘Folk music’ which he says is generally the sound of the unlearned classes, those that could not write or read and it wa learned orally and often portrayed the concerns of the illiterate class and was usually not supported, but tolerated, by the government and religious leadership.
May before we plunge into actual discussion of creation of music genres perhaps we can look at some kind or style of music that we have and what justification such has over our own locally created genres.
There is one called ‘Rhythm and Blues’ or R ‘n’B simply put as popular music with blues themes and a strong rhythm. Then there is ‘Soul’ that originated from America, which is a fusion of rhythm and blues, gospel and rock elements.
Around 1950s there emerged ‘Pop’ cut from popular and this is regarded as the world’s highly successful commercial music. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is another popular dance-music originating around the same period with a heavy beat and often a blues element and its cousin, which was dished loud and with a pounding rhythm settled for the name ‘Rock’.

Then there is ‘Reggae’, which emerged from the West Indies, and it is usually described as a style of music with a strongly accented subsidiary beat; then you have ever heard of disco, which is merely popular dance music with a heavy bass rhythm.

‘Jazz’ described as rhythmic syncopated or improvised music of Black Americans is another one.

At least black people originated most of these but others would not forgive me if I do not mention ‘Country-and-Western’, a type of folk music originated by Whites in the southern US.

Right here in Africa we have ‘Rhumba’ from East Africa and Kwasakwasa and Soukous created in DR Congo although with big French influence.

In Southern Africa we have ‘Simanjemanje’ in South Africa and the Zimbabwe beat of the John Chibadura and company while in Zambia ‘Chikokoshi’ was it and in Malawi lost our ‘kwela’ to South Africa who now claim it is their genre.

If we are to look at all these genres, would we say they were created from without? I might challenge that no one can prove that these genres were invented independent of the other.

This is the reason I will not talk about Hip-hop but would rather talk about the fusion of poetry with any of genres to create different genres.
Talk of the creation or reggae instrumentation with poetry perfected by Jamaican based Mutabaruka who now hates his real name Alan Hope and the England based Linton Kwesi Johnson called Dub-Reggae-Poetry. Then there is the fusion of R ‘n’B which saw the birth of Rhythm and Poetry RAP.
Do I think any of this has influence in the type of genres that out artists are claiming to have originated? Very much so I would commit.

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 while Lucious has tried to have an Ingoma beat in most of his albums.

Wambali Mkandawire has never called what he plays anything else other than African Jazz whatever this means.

However the questions that still bothers me is that are our artists truthful to themselves when they claim to own or to have originated a unique genre when there are elements of synthesisers, electric drums, keyboards or saxophones and name them in their music?
After all what is African music when most of the world’s genres owe to their birth to African music influence?

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About Gregory Gondwe - Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Gregory Gondwe is a Malawian journalist who started practising journalism in 1993. Until March 31, 2012 he was regional editor and bureau chief for Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS). Gregory is also a media consultant assisting several international journalists pursuing assignments in Malawi. He holds a Diploma of Journalism and an Intermediate Certificate in Journalism among other media-related certificates. He is also columnist for Malawi's first and oldest weekly, Malawi News. He can be contacted on gregorygondwe@gmail.com.
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