Do Musicians’ Showbiz names sell?


World over, musicians and writers have used names that are not theirs. These names have been created either from nothing or from something while others have just been adopted for reasons known best to the bearers of such names.
Musically, people have said, “I am Patrick Magalasi but in showbiz cycles, I am known as Mafunyeta.”
Well, Mafunyeta and the late Victor Kunje who called himself Vic Marley settled for showbiz names when they launched their musical careers because their parents had not sanctioned their musical talents.
If we go to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, it will be difficult to ask for Winston Foster when you can easily find him when you say Yellow man, the same for Alan Hope who is Mutabaruka or Sizzla Kalonji whose real name is Miguel Orlando Collins.
While in Jamaica, change of names is a sign of protest over the slavery names that their ancestors were forcibly named and carried through generations and therefore this an effort to kind of Africanise them, in the US, the story is different.
Take for example Jay-Z whose his real name is Shawn Corey Carter or Lil’ Wayne whose name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. When changing names, most American artists have in mind what fancy name will push their music to stardom.
To date, many people will not tell you who Chiyanjano Muhezuwa is, journalists using this name when doing an entertainment piece will not attract any readership unless they say Anne Matumbi.
Reasons why Matumbi decided to change from his real name is something that I intend to discuss today suffice to say Anne Matumbi is a household name while Chiyanjano Muhezuwa is a total stranger.
I remember when lawyer Ambokire Salim started singing, he used to call himself Chapter Priest and from the look of things, it looks like he has abandoned it.
Human Rights activist Chris Chisoni became famous with Lancelot Goblet a track he played and not a name he adopted for his musical career.
Nonetheless, the question that is still standing out stubbornly is; do these names change anything in the careers of musicians. Or can a name really bring big bucks or is it just an effort to separate the musician from the person.
I have heard other musicians saying I do not mix my showbiz life with my private life; can a name really enable someone to have two different lives?
Then who has to enjoy the wealth that one name is bringing into your life, the musician or the person? Are they still two different people?

Feedback: drummingpen@columinist.com

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Reggae Lyrics and the Yesterday Youth


There was a time when legendary Wambali Mtebeti Mkandawire jokingly told a group of us that had he been playing reggae, no one around would have been his match.
Then I have heard artists like Tiwonge Hango saying they have to do a lot of groundwork in order to break the market for the kind of traditional music, which they play, while there seem to be a ready market for reggae to those that know how to do it well.
Why is it that reggae has managed to find room in the hearts of a many music lovers in the country?
When the youth that are middle age now were growing up, there seem to have been a proliferation of reggae music to an extent that those that had many a lyrics in their songbooks earned themselves respect.
One other aspect that also helped a lot at that time was the philosophy and positive teaching from reggae music, which to an extent helped or traumatised the duty of parenthood.
To an extent, music moulded the quality of education that was on offer then. Have you heard grandparents whining that their form four grand sons and daughters cannot stitch a sensible English sentence while at a Standard six level of that time our grandparents could advance an English debate that could carry the day.
The traumatising part with reggae, which I do not desire to dwell on today, is the question of ‘International Herb’ in the reggae music, which is encouragement to the smoking of Chamba.
Those that fell for it either succeeded with their studies or fell by the wayside, while others found themselves preaching senselessly along the streets while naked while the lucky ones found themselves at Zomba Mental Hospital, St. John of God Mental facility in Mzuzu or Bottom Hospital in Lilongwe.
Those that took the positive meaning out of the reggae music that was available then triumphed because they were good at the English language, which sometimes would be a barrier to all other subjects that the school was offering.
Reggae, like most music is transmitted alongside a lyrical content that needs full attention for anyone interested in message other than the accompanying instrumentation.
Take for example the track TRUST ME from the album of the same name by the late Joseph Hill who later in the days used to play under the name of Culture. Below are the lyrics of the song Trust me.
Reggae Music for a reason
You see you can play it under Jah season
I play reggae music in the middle of the street
Play reggae because it’s our beat
Play reggae music because it was ordered by the Messiah Marcus Garvey
Trust me, trust me, trust me
Why don’t you trust me, trust me, trust me
Allow politicians to fool you again
Allow a lawyer to plea your case
Allow the doctor to poison you
And even the minister to indoctrinate you
You trust the teacher to teach your children
Trust the mechanic to build your car
Trust the carpenter to build your house
And yet you don’t trust your brother at all
You don’t even trust yourself
Please be yourself
You trust the media to give you a news
And my simple words you do refuse
You don’t trust Rastafari
You won’t even listen to I and I and I
I stand up for the rights of every man
Just lonely as long as I can
We can win the victory
To fight on for humanity
Nine holes are in the human body
Seven of them are in your head
So why don’t you clean up your life
And try and live just like the Congo Natty Dread
One mother you’ve got
I must remind you
And you must respect her to the highest level I say man
Although the lyrics in this song cannot make you change your religious belief but it will at least give you a positive reason to fight for your cause.
In general in the song Hill who was of Rastafarian life had problems with people who could not trust him as a musician with his counsel but could listen to politicians, lawyers, doctors etc.
If you look at how reggae spread throughout the country at that time you could tell why even when bands like Kalimba, Makasu came on the scene this the route they took is, remember ‘Sometimes I Wonder’ or ‘Let’s Talk it Over’.
Even when Alleluya Band came on the scene, reggae was the route they took and I do not need to tell you about stories of Joseph Nkasa and friends whose locally blended reggae beat has made them get riches that even surprised them.
Reggae, which originated from Jamaica, influenced the reasoning of the Malawian youth then and to an extent now. Because even when American Gangsta music has come over, the violence message that is its major theme has not moved any sensible youth, but to an extent it has killed youthful interest in reggae, which has resulted into a number of negatives including poor educational performance.
Music is an influential aspect to life and it is not just any other music but particular genres have particular influence due to its style and to an extent its lyrical authority, which is very perceptible in reggae music.

Feedback: drummingpen@columinist.com

Rules for the Chibuku Musical Competition


There have always been complaints from musical entrants in music competitions, ever since competitions like the Kuchekuche music awards started. The problem that most musicians have is that the Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) does set up rules of the game.
One of such rules is that the musicians are supposed to play a Malawian genre. Well, this might look like a stroll in the park and therefore no cause for any fuss. Just like the pen has ever drummed a question of whether or not Malawi has a music genre, musicians that are geared up to participate are expressing the same concern.
According to Kuchekuche music awards, Ben Mankhamba is the man who plays Malawian genre the reason being as simple as that he had been winning this completion until it folded up.
This therefore brings me the question of what of Mankhamba music, is it a Malawian genre? What constitute a Malawian genre for it to pass the MAM test?
I have heard others saying Stanley Mthenga, Joseph Tembo, Agollosso, Body, Mind and Soul, Wambali Mkandawire, Davis ndi Edgar, Tiwonge Hango and now Peter Mawanga are playing traditional Malawi music. This is not to leave out the old timers like the Daniel Kachamba, Stonard Lungu, and Michael Yekha etc…
Now, if you compare music from the musicians that I have mentioned above, would you tell me that it has one common denominator, which goes into all and fit in as a Malawian-genre-determinant without leaving a remainder?
I will not agree, and therefore I will not support what MAM uses as its criteria to adjudge Malawian music from a group of Malawian musicians claiming are playing Malawian music.
One other thing is that MAM has always been a confused lot, where they fail to pick out drama from music or choreography from music.
If Ben Mankhamba a renown ‘comedian’ according to me mixes acoustic inputs while wearing Ngoni traditional regalia, and arranges choreography performed by women putting on traditional nyakura styled dresses while performing would you still call that a music competition?
Whoever starts bringing some non-musical or far-related musical condiments to his musical contribution in a competition is to me a failure because what it means is that they have understood their shortfalls in such competitions and they bring in detractors who will not be observant enough on their musical aspect but other things.
This is what has been happening to Ben Mankhamba and MAM and Kuchekuche music competition and therefore it should not be inherited in the yet to be launched Chibuku Music Competition.
A music competition has to look at issues like preparations of the band that has just ascended on stage, their musical presentation as well as their stage presentation among others.
On Preparations, what is generally observed during musical competitions are things like tuning of instruments. How the artists will enter and exit the stage, there has to also be consideration on how the artists are communicating with the audience while artists are doing their preparations, which the judges also concentrate at looking at who is doing what, and when during the preparations.
Practically what follows is the actual musical presentation, where judges or the audience look at how the artists are presenting their songs through their music arrangements, lead sing-backing harmonies, solo as well as ‘tutti’ which is the final output that comes when all voices and instruments are played together.
Then there is the aspects of how they break, do their licks and accentuations. This has to go together with interpretations and emphasis on the lyrics as well as how they introduced the song and ended it with regard to musical groove and improvisations etc.
Then while the musicians are singing, there is another aspect, which I suspect, has in the Kuchekuche competition been confusing judges and this is stage presentation.
The primary and basic thing in this regard is to check how the artists are controlling their nervousness or embarrassment, which cannot be ruled out. Then there has also to be a consideration on how to present musical ‘message’ and their type of stage act, and how they are using the whole stage while in action without losing focus.
There is also the aspect of dancing as part of performance, and who stand where during the performance this does not however mean dramatising the whole performance nor bringing in choreographically induced performance that will drown the musical performance, which is the essence of the competition in the first place.
The other confusing aspect is the issue of music originality and personal presentation and interpretation.
To an extent, the judges are subjective by nature but this cannot make one lose sight, because combination of the judges’ assessment bring the objective element to the final verdict.
This is how it has to be done looking at how innovative the performance is, without imposing a specific and an imaginary Malawi genre that MAM itself cannot describe with any amount of words.

Feedback: drummingpen@columinist.com

Lucius Banda and the 15 Conundrum


Well, Lucius Banda’s “15/15: My Song” album is a conundrum, not that it is his best, according to me that is, but because it has brought more debate than any of his 14 earlier albums.
My number 1 best album from Lucius is ‘Yahweh’ and second is ‘Survivor’ I will not tell you why today because we are discussing “15/15: My Song”. The pen felt left out in the debate and would now try reflecting and drumming out a number of issues related to the album.
To start with, Lucius Banda is one indecisive artist. Before his “15/15: My Song” album he mentioned two things that I would want to return to, in case he has forgotten.
Mid last year, before this album, he declared that he would go traditional and part ways with reggae. He proclaimed that his trademark would now be songs like the ‘Zulu Woman’ found in his ‘Freedom album’.
Now tell me if “15/15: My Song” is replicating the Zulu Woman track.
He also said he had taken his time in coming up with “15/15: My Song” but the person he entrusted with the production of the album Majumi ‘Maj Beatz’ Gondwe disappeared with his finished work.
On December 4, last year the Prof. tracked down Majumi and asked him why he could do such a thing and this is what he replied: “I did not disappear; Lucius knows how to reach me and how much it will cost to get his music. Plain and simple. They say in business be men. Matter of fact, my number is on my facebook profile so, even the media should know better than to print just anything, just because it came from a celeb.”
You would have expected Lucius to take the matter further had Majumi really disappeared as it were.
Now you are wondering why I am talking all about this, well, ever since the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) decided to give Lucius Banda free advertisement by banning his music on their two radios, which has all over sudden catapulted his sales, a lot has been said.
Other people say Lucius Banda’s “15/15: My Song” is his worst album or is a flop and therefore it should not be selling like a hot cake as it is doing now.
Others are in between, on one side acknowledging that there are some good songs in the new album on the other, feeling that it is one of Lucius’ worst because they say, he tried to copy stuff from American Hip-hop and in the process, it spoilt the Lucius they know.
These people could not believe their ears that Lucius could sing, “I will blow your brains out” which they find laughable.
While others are counter arguing that this album is like most Lucius Banda albums, ‘witty and all that’ others think, liking Lucius Banda’s “15/15: My Song” depends on how you read music – although the feeling that some songs were rushed cannot be divorced.
In his own words, this is Lucius’ all; Life, music, challenges, successes, failures, children, wife, history, politics etc.etc
Well what I know is clear, it is still the question of music and politics; are they separable? If they are not, is it a crime to tow a particular political line?
Lucius himself confessed that the initial “15/15: My Song Album” that he was producing with Majumi Gondwe was an explosive work of art, meaning, it would have captivated those that think he rushed this album.
However, for those that discredit it by looking at its political aspect then they must be strangers to Lucius’ albums. Ever since he started producing musical albums, always a single track imitates the ‘reggae dub poetry’ approach. Those that listen to a lot of reggae like the Professor, will agree with me the Linton Kwesi Johnstone, Mutabaruka, Onuru, influence in these songs.
In ‘Take Over’, he in fact copied the introductory trumpet like swirl of Bunny Wailer’s song called ‘Sound Clash’ found in his album ‘Gumption’.
What is offensive in the track “15/15: My Song” is the political jibes that has not spared the ‘ruling’ ruling and the ‘opposing’ ‘ruling’.
Let me take you back to lyrics like “When I move around the streets of Blantyre and Lilongwe all I can see are children saying ‘Nthandizeni bwana’, when I get home I sit and wonder poverty alleviation is not for the poor’…I am not afraid to say that this nation is still undemocratic . I have not seen democracy all I see is hypocrisy,” this is a line in ‘Take Over’ this was before he became former President Dr. Muluzi’s protégé and he sung against Muluzi’s rule.
“Fear no evil, let evil fear you, defend your democracy. We will survive, what is you? Who are you? What can you do that they did not do? We will survive you” this is Lucius in the album Survivor when he was arrested; … I have seen those that are well connected being pardoned…” Cell 51 album.
As you can see, Lucius has just been the old self in “15/15: My Song” album, which has a predictable tracks structural arrangement. The title track is the one that carries the biting message and always dished out in a reggae-dub-poetry way.

Feedback: drummingpen@columinist.com