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.