You have heard of Chez Ntemba in the Capital, Pa Stereo in Blantyre and Sport Cafe or Paris in Mzuzu. These places have been made famous because of not its beers, or prostitutes or revellers that patronise it; it has become famous not because of how majestic the infrastructure looks…
If you want to listen to latest songs around, you just have to visit these places. What are common in these joints are the larger-than-life speakers that threaten to force out your innards due to heaviness of sound that pound out of them.
There is ‘Mafunyeta’, a Youngman from Capital Lilongwe who has hit the musical scene with his ‘confused’ but populous music, especially one track ‘Yellow’ where he just storms and enthuses about a girl in yellow. There is also one track by a man calling himself ‘Lawi’ called ‘Amati andikawe’.
Do not be surprised; long before radio stations started playing these songs, I first heard them in one of these places.
If you must know, there are some revellers that will heavily patronise specific joints, specifically because of their knack for local latest music, musicians that are in their twilight have made it big somehow through these places.
Then there are live band performances from our very own local artists. Much as most of the artists play low quality music when performing live as compared to their studio productions, they still deserve some rewards befitting their toils.
Lately, other artists are getting to put their price on the table before they can be hired to perform in different joints unlike in the past and other pockets of resistance in the owners of some joints who still want to pay artists based on the gate collections.
I want to look at the issues from a two-way position, one where due to poor quality of music, artists expose themselves to exploitation, because no one will approach them at all, for their mediocre output. The other one is whether artists like Lawi or Mafunyeta that I mentioned benefit anything at all from their playtime that entertainment joints expend using their music.
Let me start with the first position, quality begets quantity but top quality begets hefty quantity. Meaning, if musicians playing in the joints practice a lot and produce quality music then they will place themselves at substantial price tag.
What happens when musicians beg entertainment joints to play live music is that either they will share 50-50 or sometimes if owners understand, they will get 40 per cent while the performing artists get the remaining 60 per cent.
Likely most artists do not have resources to own musical equipment so they will hire at say K10,000 and not only this they will also need to hire a vehicle at K5,000 to transport the equipment from wherever they have hired it to a venue they are supposed to conduct their performance.
But already if a band is this struggling, you do not expect it to conduct themselves to a level where the audience will be satisfied and therefore even if they say gate charges will be at K200 per head you find that only 20 people have turned up for the show.
My poor mathematics tells me this will come up to K4, 000. Now if the joint owner is the 50-50 kind, then the band will remain with K2,000 out of which it has to pay equipment owner K10,000 while the vehicle owner wants his K5,00 and I am not mentioning the hard pressed performers who are looking up to the collections for their survival.
Now while the audience of 20 has enjoyed themselves, whatever the quality, what do the artists take home with them? More misery than when they were living home.
You might think their Musicians Association is not aware of their plight but you are wrong because they are. They love to hold positions but they are so headless that they can come up with innovations where they, for example they purchase equipment or develop infrastructures where the artists can get to and train or borrow equipment.
Now on the second point, where other joints will play music or artists; strangely we have Copyright Society of Malawi COSOMA, a body that is so opportunistic and suck from thin cows, who are the artists themselves.
There is neither intellectual property protection nor any enforcement of copyright issues. I remember at one time my cousin and I were running an entertainment joint; somehow, we could get to some people with music on their computers and burn them into compact disks.
We would take the music and have our clients entertained to the maximum and even share it with other customers. There has never been any visit from anybody that demanded anything from us, for playing the music produced by both international as well as local artists for commercial purposes. Something this is, is it not?