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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