Where is the musicality in Mbewa Zanga?

There has been a wave of madness in entertainment joints and on air thus radio stations and the Malawi Television with a track ‘Mbewa Zanga’ by Wilson Mwase.
Whenever I listen to this particular track, I have always asked those that I am listening to it with, especially those that I see jumping up and down the moment the track starts playing, what moves them with the track.
There has always been one honest answer that has been always coming in two forms, lingual form other than musical though: “Ndimangoikonda” is one form the other one is “Nkhuitemwa waka” meaning “I just like it”.
Whenever I ask a person why they like a particular song, this is always the response they always give out; I have also heard a number of people on radios saying they love [or is it like] a particular song just because they like or love it.
Now back to Mbewa Zanga; would anyone care to remember what his or her first reaction was after getting a glimpse of this song?
Mine was like aah! So we have another comedian on the musical market…It more reminded me of the fallen musical dramatist Kennedy Ndoya a.k.a Modolo.
Madolo was an excellent flute player who used to mix his talents with comedies just like ‘Njati Njedede’.
You cannot gauge the popularity it has achieved better than looking at the copies sold officially so far, 19,000 copies! But you are aware that some of you who have this album got it through a flash disk and never spent a penny.
To cap it on the fame the particular Mbewa Zanga track has generated, just last week, right on these pages, it was announced that he has even clinched a deal with Citinati Music Company where he is no longer the rights holder of the video album where this track is; by the way, this is his debut album.
I will not be talking yet about the dynamics involved with such arrangement, but I want us to rather look at this particular track and appreciate its musicality.
In the first place, how did it become a favourite? Is it because it is a nice track or because radios and entertainment joints jumped on it and gave it enough audibility, the moment Wilson Mwale released this album of the same title track.
Then we would say yes, it is a good track, because we have many songs being released around, all the time but we rarely find it going on top of the well-established tracks.
To start with, the subject in the song, which is funnier than the technicality of the song, in general is what first attracted audience.
The husband goes out there to hunt for mice and successfully brings home two. Now when it is time for the meal, he is shocked to discover that although he was salivating to have a go at this delicacy all he sees on the plate are two ‘tails’ of the mice, now he is demanding his two mice back lest the marriage will break.
This tale alone will make you frown with disbelief, this is what is selling the track, and it is what is the flagship for its popularity, the subject matter in the message.
Technically, the musical aspect of the song is low quality; it is the usual rushed stuff that has besieged the market. The sound arrangement is monotonous; the message is further lost on the artist as he can clearly be seen to be searching to link the demand of the mice and what he has to sing.
A good song should have all the instruments speaking the same language. Where all, the bass, drums, percussion, the guitars and even the trumpet and/or saxophone all speak English. However, the moment each instrument speak a different language, then what one has is a different story all together. This element makes a track achieve its musicality.
If one were to take up the same instrumentation but let it carry a different message, believe you me the track ‘Mbewa Zanga’ would not have been as popular.
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The Shame Costen Mapemba Causes at MAM

Yes, Mr. Costen Mapemba, the President of the Music Associations of Malawi, abbreviated as MAM is a shame to the music body.
Those that follow Drumming Pen will remember that long before the Chibuku Road to Fame Competition commenced, I dwelt on the requirements that the body set up for entrants.
As misfortune has it, the Professor was also one of the three judges during the northern region competition that was held on March 20, 2010 at the Mzuzu Stadium.
At the Mzuzu feat 11 bands were scheduled to compete, two chickened out and nine bands were the ones that fought for the two northern region spots.
Body, Mind and Soul emerged victorious followed by Kula Band.
As judges, as I said last time we had spent hours watching and assessing different performances of the bands in competition and when we established that the two winning bands had won we were about to go on stage and announce the winner, Mr. Costen Mapemba told us that we needed to disqualify Body Mind and Soul which had won.
Why? He said because the band has already an album to their name.
Before the competition, there were 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 were automatically ineligible.
In the posting, which I made after the Mzuzu competition, I trashed the reasoning of Mr. Mapemba who said 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.
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.
It is a big shame when we established that in the mind of the whole MAM president, a drummer leaves his or her set to take up the leading vocals then this is talent exposure.
Mr. Costen Mapemba once again decided to disqualify the Body Mind and Soul on the premise that they already have an album. It is a shame that Mr. Mapemba applies competition conditions in reverse.
Body, Mind and Soul Mr. Mapemba was supposed to be disqualified the first day they expressed interest to partake in the competition. The band claims that they do not have any album but when they won the Music Cross Road Competition two-years ago, they were assisted by the organisers to produce and compile five or so songs that was used to promote their shows in Europe as is the case.
Art is a form of expression that cannot be short-changed because one person has to advance personal interest. Good music, which is a piece of art, is something that needs no one’s advertisement. It is self-expressive.
Strange that others now think the way Mr. Mapemba organised Chibuku Road to Fame Competition means that the requirements were that one has to be very bad in music to succeed.
It is a shame that an association that was created to assist musicians is merely there to frustrate them. Mr. Mapemba should start thinking as the head of a musical body and stop bringing disrepute to the association.

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When Men Defy Culture to Bow to Women

By Vitus-Gregory Gondwe
Ruth Shaba of Khosolo in Mzimba was divorced from a 12-year marriage. However, when this 38-year-old woman returned to her parents’ home, she found herself in the same circumstance she was in when she was a girl, long before going to her marriage.
Despite being a mother of four now, she still could not demonstrate to her children the authority a mother is supposed to wield in providing for them. Every time she wanted anything or when her children demanded anything from her then she would go to her father to ask for that help.
“It was demeaning because sometimes I could go to my father to ask him for something that my children had asked from me, he would sometimes tell me he couldn’t provide it and it was always embarrassing to go back to my children to report back,” she said.
The northern region of Malawi practices a culture laden with patriarchal values that sideline women. Marriages in the region involve payment of dowry resulting into the woman leaving her home to stay in the village of her husband, which becomes her new home.
The general feeling by husbands is that their wives left their maiden homes and joined them in their respective homes and it is therefore unheard of that they should have any say over land-related issues.
Mzimba, the biggest district in Malawi has strong patriarchal values and has practises that consider women as second-class citizens.
“We are trying to completely stop this,” says one of Mzimba’s traditional authorities Inkosi Mzukuzuku.
The chief though, concedes that since Ngoni culture guides Mzimba, for long, promoting patriarchal values that includes the dowry system in marriages means the woman would still play second fiddle for a while.
He said he had resolved a number of cases where all over sudden people would start saying a woman whose husband has died is no longer welcome in their village not to mention where there is a divorce where culturally men have insisted that a woman is not supposed to get her entitlements.
“Access, ownership and control of land for women is severely limited and restricted because in our patrilineal Ngoni belief this is in order,” said the chief.
Another tale is that of 35-year-old mother of five, Rhoda Jere, of Yolamu Village, Traditional Authority Khosolo lost her husband in 2006 when he died in a car accident.
“We married in 1996 and he never paid dowry as tradition demands and when he died, my husband’s relatives said they could not recognise me as their wife as a result,” she reminisces.
She said her in-law; a sibling of the deceased husband grabbed all the land she was farming on with her husband.
“Since he now rented the land out while some part of it was sold, I returned to my mother’s place where my uncle gave me one hectare of land which was very sandy and I could not produce high crop yields,” she said.
Sixty-two-year-old Margret Nyati who comes from Inkosana Mkhuzo Jere’s area did not lose her husband to neither divorce nor death. She however, could not enjoy life as it were, because her husband was exacting domineering on her that left her no breathing space.
“I had big problems in my family where it was only my husband who used to take control of all the proceeds even when it was me who was doing the work since my husband is sickly,” she recalls with shame with poverty that used to gnaw on her as a result.
This story could pale into a trifle life misshapen to many other stories women in the district have to tell. Fortunately, most such stories seem to be history of yesterday since they have today’s different tales.
The Ngoni culture would have perpetuated the plight women in Mzimba district were facing had Action Aid International, the global anti-poverty agency, not come to their liberation.
The agency started a project it calls Women’s Land Rights (WOLAR) which is using a system known as Regenerated Freirian Literacy through Empowering Community Technique (REFLECT) to transform the women to realise that they are right holders who only need to demand it.
This system is an innovative approach to adult learning and social change, which fuses theories of a Brazilian educator Paulo Freire with participatory methodologies.
“Reflect is a methodology that aims at empowering the people themselves to identify their problems and find solutions under the guidance of the laws that stipulate what their rights are,” explains Action Aid’s WOLAR Projects Officer for Mzimba district Wongani Mgawa.
The project rolling in the district’s four traditional authorities of Mbelwa, Mzukuzuku, Khosolo and Mabilabo is reaching out to over 575 women.
In the areas women have placed themselves in 23 groups that are known as reflect cycles and each cycle has about 25 women that meet three times in a week. During the meetings they discuss about their rights, they manage what they call village savings and loans as well as those that are illiterate acquire literary and numerical skills.
Knowing the challenges with cultural authority that reign supreme in Mzimba, Mgawa says they first trained the traditional leaders using available instruments like constitution so that the meetings women were holding in their cycles should bear fruits.
“We can proudly say we have managed to break cultural values within two years. However, the major challenge is that these are practices that have been going on for time immemorial and it cannot happen that we change the mindset completely,” he said.
Eventually, due to pressure from the women who had now realised their rights, one’s father and brothers and the other one’s husband relented and offered them land.
Patrick Shaba, brother to Ruth, says it was difficult to have their sister have her own piece of land because as it is culturally expected, they had already had shared the land amongst men folks within the family.
“The reason we gave her land was due to her plight and the new demands that started coming,” he said.
Prywell Jere, a Ngoni man who is husband to Margret Nyati, said they first thought that the project had come to destroy families.
“But after they explained to me in details, I ended up understanding and I think to an extent it is a relief because initially I used to think for her and now it is up to her to decide what we do with resources,” he said.
“I can now see that she is a very happy person, years of marriage with her have not elicited big smiles that I see on her face now, ever since she took charge of getting control and owning her own land,” he added.
Jere said men have to bow down to some of these cultural beliefs because eventually as a family, everyone becomes a beneficiary of the woman’s exploits.
Inkosi Mzukuzuku said the paradigm shift in how to treat women that Action Aid brought to Mzimba has also given him authority where he is now able to resolve cases based on the new knowledge, which is in line with the law.
“I have summoned all village and group village headmen within my area and I have reminded them what we agreed from the onset that women who cultivated tobacco or soya beans should be left freely to have their money and use it in the way they want,” he says.
Inkosi Mzukuzuku says initially, per month he used to resolve 10 cases related to denial to allow women use land as well as unfair use of proceeds from farm produce by the husbands and now he resolves a maximum of four cases a month.
“The most common ones were those where a woman was widowed and relatives of the husband wanted to snatch it,” he says; “it looks like we used to draw on our cultural beliefs more strongly than we would employ the law due to ignorance.”
Inkosana Mkhuzo Jere of Engalaweni who is the right-hand-man of the Paramount Chief Mbelwa says they are now working together with government to ensure that women exercise full rights in this democratic practice.
“We have now realised that we are equal to our women, and this necessitate that women access, control and own land and that they also have full control of the produce and its proceeds,” he says.
Ruth Shaba of Khosolo says as a proud landowner now she has cultivated maize and soya beans and she feels elated that she will not look over her shoulder when harvesting and there is already a market for her soya beans.
“Land can really give you power and save you from embarrassment,” she says with smirk that never left her face the whole time of the interview.

Greedy and Exploitation in the Industry

Music is supposed to be the most sellable commodity in Malawi. However, the seemingly persistent poverty, striking the artists – creating and making this music – can rightly be comparable to penury of a mouse that dwells in the local village church.
Distributors and marketer are the only beneficiaries in the industry, reaping Gold and making themselves ‘stinkingly’ rich and riding high with success of the others.
Fortunately or unfortunately the distribution and marketing part, is solely controlled by the ‘greedy’ Asian businessmen who not only have they not left the industry to be untrammelled for it to justly flourish; but they also have heavily affected it by disgracefully spewing exploitation germs into the industry.
While the artists raise no alarm, one may ask why? Employment in Malawi is hard to come by. The job market expurgates a larger rate than it is supposed to take aboard. Youth from colleges found themselves roaming in the streets, as Malawi’s pocket like employment holdall has no space for them.
Result: those ones who feel can sing just leapt into the musical bandwagon. Studio owners did the juggling, either on some ‘termed’ credit conditions or when the supposed singer stumbled into a sponsor.
If the music struck a chord of luck and managed to sell the little the supposed singer gets gives him or her, a sigh of ‘half loaf is better than loaf’ relief.
Therefore, being ripped off by the Asian distributors, to the presumptive singer is lesser evil than facing penury devils in the streets, thereby giving this Asian a roller coaster ride of fortune.
Amidst, this frantic ‘greed littered’ music industry, Malawi has managed to produce talent that has transcended borders and the popularity of her musicians outside Malawi – though without a basis of justification – speak volumes of what a miscalculation a marketing personnel’s sells projections can be.
Piteously though, musicians and the industry as a whole do not know what it means when one say, “This track was released on Beckett Records’ for example.
They do not know what it means when you talk of a label, a music label. It is totally Greek to them when you talk of signing musical contract with ‘RAS’ or ‘MCA’.
As a result, the bottom line is that Malawian music goes into foreign lands by ‘God Forbidden’ means of piracy. Much of muchness as Jamaican or world reggae floods Malawi’s local music market. Damn the quality and stuff, any copy is copied, covers photocopied and stuck with Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA)’s seals of benevolence.
Now look at how music industry is done in Malawi. A musician makes a ‘demo’ and goes with it to a studio owner who samples it and makes a decision.
If it passes the values of his satisfaction, he arranges for a recording deal with the musician depending upon whom and how many are on the waiting list. Be it on credit terms, which is a rarity or by sponsorship, the studio goes into gear and records a single or an album for the musician who then emerges with a master copy.
This, however, does not even mean the job is halfway done. Out of the studio, the musician now gets back into the folds of the street, armed with his master copy, this time round not troubling the miserable job market, but looking for a distributor who usually is also the guy to market the final product.
This area also depends on the taste of the distributor though. For if he is not happy with the products, then he won’t take the master copy, meaning it rots right on the lap of the musician. But in the event that the master copy has won the heart of the distributor cum marketing personnel, the artists has to now process cover designs and its printing in readiness of the would be album.
Now his only helpless control over the distributor, in as far as multi-copying or duplicating the master copy is concerned, lays in the face covers or sleeves.

Reggae has a Malawian Story – Part III

While reggae music was taking roots in Malawi proving itself a cardinal player in its socio-political status and almost a cultural stakeholder, it nevertheless met a strong army of critics who dismissed its players, musicians and the songs as bent at tarnishing the country’s political image.
Politicians, who were the first ones to cry foul, jumped on the musicians’ necks, belittling their powerful songs – especially those that chastised the political hypocrisy of government – as being just mere squabbles and blame fixing.
They did not only threaten that such approach will mar the nascent music industry, but they also rankled accusations that Malawian artists were a scurrilous bunch, attacking individual personalities or institutions directly or using innuendoes.
In some circles, Malawian reggae songs were blamed for only projecting people’s sorrows, anxiety, compassion, poverty, moral degradation etc, without carrying forth people’s hopes, love, aspiration, dreams and ambitions.
The musicians themselves argued that if the real joe publics who do not have a chance to ascend unto a rostrum and analyse the songs, were appreciating what the songs were doing, then it meant the songs were a fair portrait of truth, justly presented and in so doing bruising the egos of the people in authority resulting into their outcry and spelling out their vexation.
One reggae artist Billy Kaunda responded in one of his tracks that ‘we have to be vigilant and never to be oppressed again’.
He said neither should people be procrastinating nor ignoring tackling problems at stake without looking for solutions in time. He said even when people were bleu pencilling his lyrics as being always mourning, the next they usually realises, late though, is that AIDS scourge or political manipulation has taken away the better of human’s creamy resources, he argues that the songs will hence remain a constant reminder.
Another reggae artist Master Tongole was all-upbeat in an interview. He said musicians are aware of the critics who blame local artists for singing too much about social problems; Tongole describes this as lack of understanding.
‘Such critics’ he said, ‘must recognise that our wailing songs are a fit vehicle to instil a spirit of hope in the dispirited souls.’
Tongole says as the country’s social standards stand, why should he sing something like telling a woman to touch him softly, when his people are in deep problems of social injustices’
As if this was not enough some sectors of critics sprung another surprise when they described reggae a ‘foreign’ style of music, which by using it so much, Malawian culture through traditional music, instead.
One of the few local artists to take traditional Malawian music to the International level, Wambali Mkandawire defines traditional music as an expression of customs and values of a particular society, he says then it qualifies as traditional music.
Even though reggae expresses customs and values of mainly African societies both at home and in Diaspora, Mkandawire prefers calling Malawian reggae songs as a contemporary traditional music, because he says even the local artists themselves admit that they cross the authentic traditional beat with a modern blend and he says it would be benefiting definition if it has to be seen from that angle.
But Tongole strongly believes, Reggae is on its own an African Heritage. He says though reggae the (musicians) are trying to unite different tribes by engaging on issues that concern African culture.
He argues, ‘what is contained in our songs should be the issue, not whether reggae is traditional or not. Which are traditional songs after all, if we are to consider the instrument used which are themselves not traditional’.
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Reggae has a Malawian Story – Part II

Last week, we discussed about reggae with a Malawi story to a point where Lucious Banda released Son of a Poor Man.
However he opened floodgates of suppressed talents when he released his second album’ Down Babylon’.
This title track was a denture of JAMAICA’S Hardcore Dub reggae poetry, but the album had a rootical hit track ‘MIZIMU’ (Spirits) in reference to the spirits of those killed by the previous government. The hit reached the height no song had managed to in the past.
In the album Banda who calls himself ‘Soldier of the poor’ numbed the clamours of the generation gap and managed to squarely attack and challenge the policies of both the former and present regimes, the masses which included, now would be reggae stars, felt emancipated from both the physical and mental bondage and were ready.
Paul Banda a mentor and brother to Lucius Banda (not related to the former president). A man whom to a large extent Malawian in indebted to, for siring the modern Malawi music, established the first open recording studio in the early 90s – Imbirani Yahwe (Sing for Jah) studio, uncluttered with restrictions and expurgatory and censorship policies.
All those down trodden artists who felt they had stories to tell flocked there and strangely, they all did the telling in reggae, it was a shattering talent exposure, a talent that Malawi was not aware it ever possessed.
It was now names like Charles Sinetre, ‘reggae ambassador’ as he calls himself, who decried the state of the orphans. But not before Paul Chaphuka. (Who passed on to our ancestors) had begged JAH to heal him by restoring his health as at this time he was down with cancer.
Billy Kaunda another star who mixes reggae and traditional music sang against political trickery and propaganda. Coss Chiwalo laughed down the uneven distribution of wealth, the rich getting better and richer, and the poor worse and poorer.
Isaac Liwotcha who strictly plays Malawian Reggae, blasted the marital infidelity and child abuse. Charles Nsaku who has been dubbed king of ‘Mayo Mayo’ (crying) because his reggae tracks wailed louder than the rest did just that and his vigorous life packed performances earned him a title ‘non-stop reggae machine’. Mlaka Maliro scathingly attacked govt’s soullessness to the masses.
It was reggae, reggae and more reggae and for the first time in Malawi the voiceless had a voice and those in sorrow were able to wail loudly.
Vocal groups emerged, ‘Jupiters band’ ‘Young generation’ and ‘the Chosen few’.
The result: reggae music was selling big, amidst the civil liberty which others accused the artist of abusing it.
Other Malawian reggae artists worth this write up’s mention are American based Kwesi Mzumara whose music met an understanding reception back home in Malawi. Then, there was also Zomba based late Muga Mutaya.
Malawi’s own Ras Wazza who has ever shared stage with Jamaica’s greats Mama Rita Marley and Ziggy Marley at Namibia’s independence anniversary celebrations in 1991 and again the first Malawian reggae artist to release an all English reggae album to even be played at Jamaica’s Irie FM, Frank Kalonde.
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