Reggae has a Malawian Story – Part I

Reggae in Malawi owes its foundation to the crumble of the cold war, whose ripples through Malawi left a kind of fruition, which among other things, served in severance of the manacles of human bondage to an oppressive and despotic rule of the previous regime.
During this era, Reggae in Malawi was a palatable subject of vilification. The Malawian race saw reggae through its oppressive spectacle as a song of a wicked man, who demonically kept long hairs, took drugs, promoted violence and hence reggae on its own was a ‘well’ of all the evil.
What aggravated the situation was her oppressive government warning of stiff consequences in the event of any found involved with reggae characters.
The result was, those (not so openly though) listening to reggae were regarded as unbalanced or with a pathological conviction to smoking cannabis, utilizing it as a drug which would induce a fearless resolve that would push them into acts of evil, destruction or violent proclivities.
While the situation was at this though, sooner than later, it took a single and well-knitted song in the name of Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Solder’ to shake vigorously hard, the Malawian audience from this dogmatic slumber and reggae stereotyping, awakening it into a different realisation and that was in the early eighties.
Although, initially Jimmy Cliff and Bob had appeared on the scene with songs that people used to enjoy in the 1970s it was this particular track that changed everything.
The hit which became the most played song on the local radio was so ‘ground – breaking’ that it uprooted people’s bottled up emotions which went crushing and they started looking for more.
It led to a thing after another. First, it was a discovery of who really Bob Marley was and it was like a gnome opening his treasury tabernacle.
People’s interest, now fully provoked, made discoveries of other reggae artists like Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Toots Herbert and Jimmy Cliff.
In the seventies, a track like ‘No woman no cry’, which was furrowed on plastic plates that used to be the LPs available in Malawi at that time indicated as done by Bob Marley and John Nash, found a new understanding in people minds, because of the ‘Buffalo solder’ influence.
To epitomize how popular Bob’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’ had become, a local traditional artist Joseph Nangalembe using locally made instruments, did a Buffalo solder version in Malawi’s National Language ‘Chichewa’ and besides this, both the young and the old sang it around all places; streets, churches, markets beer halls, working places etc.
Other artists of influence, besides Marley’s unflagging influence who made Malawian audience look at reggae from a different dimension were stars like Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller, Burning Spear and vocal groups like Jolly Brothers, Half Pint, Culture, Twinkle Brothers, Israel vibrations Steel Pulse and the Cimarrons.
All this time the reggae influence was a deep and dark undertow due to the un-conducive political atmosphere, until the laws of the Country were reviewed to suit the political change and put in humanly order.
The results of the shockwaves, ‘Buffalo Soldier’ had in previous years sent through the country’s spine, sneaked out to the open a decade later.
Before this though, a Malawi star Robert Fumulani, one of the Malawi’s heroes, came up with some traditional drum beating, bass lines and some regular lead striking tempo and taking after a traditional dance, he called it ‘Khunju’ reggae.
His songs, however, was just a form of entertainment but carried no striking message that would move political players adjust their neckties. It was only one artist who challenged the former regime through his songs; his name was Wambali Mkandawire and whose poetic tracks attracted a foreign market without being reggae and its meaning without being discerned when one listened to it for the first time.
One of Malawi’s upfront Musicians who became famous when he fused Malawian traditional beat with reggae, Lucious Banda, towards Malawi’s second republic agrees that for thirty years, Malawians were oppressed and abused, and could not even speak.
Banda pioneered the music revolution when he released the first Malawian all reggae album ‘SON OF A POOR MAN’ recorded in South Africa, full of his political wit and had an inclusion of a Malawian Dancehall version of ‘Get up stand up’ originally done by legendary Bob Marley and the Wailers, of course.


Musicians that sing Gospel or Gospel Musicians?

Music influences all that are interested in it or anyone who has never liked music ever since they arrived on this earth. This is the reason it has a biggest bearing on Malawi life even when the country was undergoing autocracy up to the time it adopted democracy.
The advent of plural thinking in Malawi, as these pages will never stop reminding you folks, also so brought with it the mushrooming of many things including musicians.
While music that became popular was that which touched on politics, still there emerged another crop of musicians like Alan Ngumuya, Sweeny Chimkango and Wyclief Chimwendo etc. who people – or was it self-regrouping – grouped into what they started calling gospel musicians.
There, a major contrast emerged; while a free-to-sin life characterised musicians that were not into this gospel group, the gospel group was – without having it written down – supposed to be the mirrors of righteousness.
But the gospel group started bulging at the seams due to influx of these musicians some that have brought mediocre music quality that these pages have talked about – very poorly done trying to ride on the back of ‘word of God’, others like Mr. Geoffrey Zigoma never knew where to place their feet.
The joining of the gospel bandwagon by every Jack and Jill has completely changed the first impression each one of us had about our musicians yes gospel musicians.
A number of questions have since started appearing, one of which is whether it is right to call every other musician who sing about God or Jesus a gospel musician.
These pages have also ever pointed out that realising what this entails, Mtebeti Wambali Mkandawire ever said he is not a Gospel Musician but he is a musician who sings on spirituality.
The hogwash that is now dominating the media on countless scandals – or is it just mere activities of living their lives – has forced out one big question; is it Musicians that play Gospel Music or Gospel Musicians.
Lucious Banda, Billy Kaunda, Skeffa Chimoto, even Black Missionaries have and keep singing songs where they mention God and Jesus but do we call them gospel musicians.
Dustan Kapitapita, George Mkandawire, Grace Chinga are musicians who sing about God and Jesus in their songs and we call them gospel musicians.
However, if Kapitapita, Chinga or Mkandawire were to be viewed from a different perspective, would it be wrong to first appreciate that they are musicians who sing music that spread gospel and not gospel musicians?
Gospel Musician or a Musician who Play Gospel Music are these mere semantics or is there indeed a difference in the two?
Wikipedia, that internet version of an encyclopaedia defines Gospel Music as music written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life besides giving Christians alternatives to mainstream secular music.
It further says like all other forms of Christian music, the creation, performance, significance and even the definition of gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes and as an entertainment product for the marketplace.
The theme in such gospel music is obviously praise, worship, or thanks to God, Christ or the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Trinity stands for has to be professed in the way such music is performed as well as the way the players of such music comport.
Without trying to complicate the matter, I pose a question do what we refer to as Gospel Musicians, Musicians that sing Gospel or indeed Gospel musicians?

The Role of Radio Presenters in Music Promotion

I have ever said that I have problems calling Malawi radio presenters Disc Jockeys or fondly shortened to DJs based on the knowledge that I have of who a DJ is and what the radio presenters who call themselves DJs do.
Nonetheless, the Professor today is not bothered with whatever names, titles, ranks, designations or positions radio presenters bestow upon themselves. I am here to wonder aloud if these people know their role to make Malawi music what it needs to become.
Forget about the question which one is the Malawi music. But one statement that I have to register from the onset is that Malawian Radio presenters or Disc Jockeys as they love calling themselves are a huge disappointment.
This is not because of the way they live their lives with their spouses and other extramarital activities as it were, but this is to the choices they make when playing music on the radios.
I have no problems with a radio like MBC Radio II or Capital FM who have declared that they are bent at promoting music, which is music. Meaning the foreign music all of us strive to emulate.
However, radio stations like Zodiak Broadcasting Station and other religiously inclined broadcasters their interests has been cast around locally produced and sang music, call it gospel or secular.
The general complaint is that we have talent when it comes to music and musicians. We also have outlets that suit us but fail to satisfy us all.
Back to the radio presenters, the positions these dudes hold is very privileged and in some countries like Zambia they have used it massively to promote their local music. Someone was telling me there was a time when a decree was imposed where all media outlets in the country were asked to only play Zambian music; I doubt its truthfulness though.
Not that I am suggesting that we do likewise in the country; because we risk clamping down sources where we can learn from.
In that way, we will not have anywhere to assess ourselves as a country to see if we are indeed doing what we should be doing as a musical nation or whether or not we are stepping on the same spot or moving either forward or backward.
However, given that we also impose a similar decree, do you see ourselves achieving anything? Considering that even when the radio presenters have the opportunity to play our local music, others creating programmes that have local music as the only input it still raises a number of questions when you see how these radio presenters comport themselves.
You find that they will stick to a track or an album of a musician who everyone who has an ear for music is condemning due to his or her mediocre feat and yet the so called DJ will be heaping praises that you who is listening fail to see its justification.
In the process, the questions of corrupt radio presenters which has ever come up in this regard pops up again.
While other presenters will do likewise due to naivety, others largely seem to have a hidden interest that is not even well hidden…
If the Malawi music has to grow and glow, its fate, to an extent, also lies in the hands of these people.
Radio promoters or DJs, as they would like me to call them, are promoters of sorts. If they play bad music on their respective radios, then it has to be on the back of trying to point at weaknesses in our artists’ music.
May be it is high time radio station started deliberate programmes that look at a particular song or singer and critique their way of performing and final music production.
Patriotism comes in many ways, if presenters give us quality music we promote quality products from Malawi, which can bring us forex before we know it, not to mention catapulting the artist to international stardom.

The Funny MAM Concept of Talent Exposure

On these pages, long before the Chibuku Road to Fame Competition kick-started, I lamented the criteria used to determine entrants to the competition and something interesting arose at the said event in Msumba.
The Professor was privileged to be one of the three judges during the northern region competition that was held on March 20, 2010 at the Mzuzu Stadium.
Initially 11 bands were scheduled to display their talents and triumph over the other but two cowered when the temperature rose too high for them to handle, so we remained with 9 bands.
The bands included Fitzgerald Simfukwe and the Chitipa Wailers, One Star, Harrisson and the Planet, Mpositoli Vibrations led by the established soldier musician Dave Kampala, Sweet man & The Royal Sons and Daughters, Ma Africa, Kula Band, Paradise Africa, Kamikaze, Body, Mind and Soul and Thomas Nyirenda & Future Kings Vibration.
Kamikaze as well as Harrison, and the Planet cowered and therefore the judges were to look for five elements in the band on stage against a given number of percentage points.
The elements under scrutiny included ‘Originality’ that was carrying the highest marks of 30%, ‘Instrumentation’ was earning the band 15 %, Message or Language was set at a maximum mark of 20% , Harmony 15 % while Stage management that also looked at issues of time and positions was earning the performing artists a maximum of 20%.
Before the competition, there were also conditions that were set for entrants some of which were that the bands that have ever produced an album should not contest while bands that had a member or members that were below 18 years of age automatically were ineligible.
Today, I am not discussing how the bands performed but suffice to say Body, Mind and Soul carried the day along side Kula band.
Now while as judges we had spent hours watching and assessing different performances there came a time when we had to add up the points each performer accumulated and it emerged that all the three judges established that the two winning bands I have mentioned deserved a place at the national finals.
What bothered us as judges when we were about to go on stage and announce the winner, was the coming in on the scene of Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) President Mr. Costen Mapemba.
He told us that before we announced, we were to ensure that a band that has an album to its name be disqualified. We pressed him down to tell us what he meant and then he said Body Mind and Soul, which we had not even revealed to him at the time, that it had emerged victorious, was to be disqualified because they have an album.
Also with albums to their credit amongst the competitors were Sweetman and The Royal Sons and Daughters, Dave Kampala and Mpositoli Vibrations and Fitzgerald Simfukwe and the Chitipa Wailers.
Well, according to Mr. Mapemba the Chibuku Road to Fame Competition aims at exposing hidden talent where a drummer should now leave his or her set or a guitarist should now go on the leading microphone and lead in the singing. To MAM this is talent identification.
Therefore, based on the criteria, Dave Luhanga who trades as Street rat when he is leading his Body, Mind and Soul band, Sweetman and The Royal Sons and Daughters, and Fitzgerald Simfukwe and the Chitipa Wailers were to be disqualified because they all have albums to their names whose lead vocals were performed by them.
Only Dave Kampala and Mpositoli Vibrations were still in contention because Kampala had left the lead vocals for other band members and that he was only playing a lead guitar.
As judges, we declined to enforce this suggestion because we were asked to judge performers that MAM had admitted to perform having satisfied the conditions set before a band could be allowed to partake in the competition.
Secondly, it is laughable for the whole MAM president to suggest that talent exposure is when a drummer leaves his or her set to take up the leading vocals.
This kind of reasoning means two things, first of which is that according to MAM when a band is playing it is only the lead vocalist who is showcasing his or her talents and the rest of the band members have nothing to show. Secondly, MAM has no room to improve talent in the areas of instrument playing.
While we will discuss in later entries on this page on why the decision we made stood, do not you think it is strange especially coming from a President of a national music association on how they uncover hidden talent.