Accepting Malawi Music and Musicians

There was a time when anything musical or musicians in Malawi was stereotyped as something for the misguided.
Worst still, when reggae artists decided to come on the scene with artists wearing dreadlocks and using cannabis without any iota of shame to declare likewise, the Kamuzu regime did not hide its distaste.
Paul Ngozi a Zambian dreadlocked musician was denied entry into the country once it was discovered that his hair style bore something never allowed in Malawi.
Around the same time most famous world musicians had a connection to usage of drugs and their death was as a result of violence.
The resultant attitude based on these was that musicians were never revered, but were instead pitied.
This is the reasons established artists like Robert Fumulani and the Likhubula River Dance Band remained a solitary voice for sometime in the industry.
Daniel Kachamba was only respected by Europe which was captivated by his guitar wizardly while in Malawi he was just one misguided soul.
What was strange though, was that people loved their music but detested the musician. Just like I read somewhere of people that love beautiful flowers as long as the smell of manure in the flower gardens is kept far away from their fastidious noses.
Evison Matafale and Saleta Phiri became the first musicians to be conferred ‘The Malawi Honours of the Achievers Award’ and to an extent this is a statement that has to send a different message to all and sundry.
Lucius Banda is perhaps one of the few locally bred musical talents that have been seen to prosper by being musicians and musicians alone and this has started offering an opportunity for a paradigm shift in the attitude of Malawians towards music and musicians.
Because our musicians are dismissed as losers by the nation, they toil in vain. Their albums are neither patronised nor are their live performances.
Besides honouring musicians, Malawi has first to introduce the music course in our technical colleges and secondly facilitate the introduction of Entertainment and Recreation Departments in our city, municipal, town and district councils.
Those that said all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy had something carved out.
After doing work for the body and toiling for it, good health demands that the body has to undergo a great deal of relaxation which is the foundation of tomorrow’s progress. It has to soothe the soul and the medication for this can only be found in music.
The aspect of recreation and entertainment has been left out big time; government has dismissed it as useless, while private sector investments are afraid to tread the area for fear of business flop.
But while other governments around the world have understood the need and therefore established Entertainment and Recreation Departments, we do not appreciate the necessity.
But once put in place, the talented youths moving the breadth and length of our city, town and district streets aimlessly can find something worthwhile doing.
If the Entertainment and Recreation Department can have a band that is used to send messages of important events, activities or policies that councils have in the offing or on the ground, the youth will be saved from the ravages of the streets that force them to be masters of mischief.
This is also the time that Malawi would finally give the music and the musicians its deserving place, unlike the scenario at the moment.


Introduce Music in Technical Colleges

There has never been one single trade that has generated youthful interest in Malawi at any given time than what music has done.
It all began with the advent of multiparty system of government and that was in 1993. If my mathematics is perfect that has to be 17 years ago.
It is a shame that government has not realised how to work something out, institutions have come and gone all in the name of representing the interest of the youth in the country including the establishment of the so called National Youth Council whose objective of promoting promiscuity has been achieved and I hear it’s time for its dissolution.
When the first head of state was structuring our education system, he created technical colleges which are supposed to offer vocational courses.
In the wisdom of the time, learners had to be carved to become or based on trades like Carpentry and Joinery, Brick Laying, Painting and Decoration, Plumbing, Motor Vehicle Mechanic, Auto-electrician, Electricians, General fitters etc.
If we look at these trades critically, we would realise that it was meant to build the country.
Take for example, construction of a government office structure or workshop. First to be on the ground would be brick layers before technicians that had mastered carpentry and joinery put their hands to work, then plumbers and electricians would appear on the scene before those in painting and decoration.
The same would happen to our houses; and for the workshops we had the motor vehicle mechanics, auto-electricians, and general fitters etc.
What was also happening was that once the learners had completed a course, they would be given a tool box with which they will use to start small scale workshops or joined established institutions with similar pursuant.
Just like a house, a song is also built with the involvement of different skills.
The technical colleges with music trade has to start with the elementary lessons in music in the first year, while in the second year, learners can choose who they want to become.
Guitarists, drummers, saxophonists, trombonists, percussionists, keyboardists or pianists should be one group while the other group should concentrate on music production, the third on music engineering in terms of studio recording while the other group should dwell on marketing.
Imagine if graduating learners were to undergo this kind of process and given the start-up equipment after their courses, believe you me, we would not have been talking of mediocre music that dominates our market.
There is one major challenge that technical college students face which is the competition from ‘bush’ artisans.
There are bush mechanics, bush carpenters etc. These are people who are accomplished at doing their work in particular trades, when they have never been inside a classroom. The same challenge would still be faced even when music was to be introduced in the technical colleges.
Nonetheless, this is the best way to assist the youth; considering that even initiatives like Youth Enterprise Development Fund is something borne out of political whims and therefore has no plan on how best it has to be executed.
Seriously, government has to make use of Bachelor of Arts graduates from the Chancellor Constituent College of the University of Malawi who major in music but do not know what to do next with it.
If government would invest in music, they would be surprised that many things would be reduced because the youth would have the chance to study something in which they have a passion for and like Jamaica Malawi can start exporting music. Programmes that are initiated to change harmful behaviours of the youth would also reduce.
Conduct a feasibility study to prove me wrong please!

Ben Michael Mankhamba

If truth be told I started following dread locked Ben Michael when he was playing with the Acacias band that used to practice in the top floor of Larji Kulji building in the heart of Blantyre City.

His story though, is that he started his musical career with the Ethel Kamwendo led Wepaz band to whose he owes his musical development.

Of the many reasons that first drew me to Ben is the genesis of my music passion. Amongst the music genres that has fascinated me half of my musical experience, half because I suspect I have chewed almost half of my longevity, reggae seems to have taken a central stage; I will explain the reasons why reggae musicality has been more appealing.

Then, anyone in dreadlocks with a guitar or a drum used to draw my attention and on top of that Jupiters used to match the reggae performing prowess of local reggae at the time and therefore it was not surprising that Ben got my interest.

What I do not desire at the moment is to bore you with myself.

I want us to dwell more on Ben and see what a selfless Malawian he is. Unlike many of our musicians whose route is rote and their idea is making quick bucks, Ben took a halt in the middle of his educational journey at the University of Malawi’s college of Polytechnic and decided to start a musical journey.

This is very courageous because during his days, parents and the nation as a whole used to look at music as a non-starter and painted education as heaven and earth for one pursuing it.

Well still have some people that I have ever discussed with about Ben who are very convinced he would still have made a great musician had he first completed his university studies; and this is a subject for another day.

Besides his music, Ben has made a name in the West for his role in a film ‘Baba’s Song’. You have to realize that it is his musical talent that opened his door to the film industry. Most famous actors like Will Smith and Ice Cube first made a name in the music industry which catapulted them into successful film stars.

If you must know, in the said film written and directed by Swiss film director Wolfgang Panzer, which also features famous German film actress Franka Potente who also features in the Pirates of the Caribbean Ben featured as one of the country’s biggest music stars.
Well, Malawians have been spoilt with the approach our musicians have taken whenever entertaining them and this is the reason anything that is not danceable to them is not music.

Look at how less Ben would attract the Malawian audience compared to Lulu, Lucious Banda or the Blacks and yet this is a man who has to his credit seven international and national music awards.

Our local entertainment pages have covered Ben on his awards decoratively and I would not desire to waste time giving you repetitions.

As a nation I think we are noisy when it is Isaac Chilemba the South African boxer we all try to turn into a Malawian because he has shown the world a clout that we think has Malawi written all over it, but when artists like Ben do likewise we burry our heads in the sand.

The musicians association of Malawi, the institutions that are involved with our music and even a nation as a whole has to give a special recognition to artists like Ben Michael Mankhamba.

We have to take into account his successes and how he has managed to achieve it and how budding musicians can tap into this success and on where they can also build their own.

At least the pen has drummed this out, and let’s takes it up…


Blocking the Rising Musical Stars Due to State Innovation Absence

Peter and Silence Kahowa are brothers that have patience which at the moment has paid them on one side.
I know all of you are wondering who Peter Kahowa or Patience Kahowa are because in as far as those that have strutted our musical corridors are concerned, they have never ever shown their noses yet.
But I want to promise you here today, that in these two brothers, Malawi has stumbled unto other musical geniuses that are on the verge of taking the musical world by storm.
I want these to be a case for our lessons, I mean for the people that have joined the music industry and trying to succeed undeservedly.
The brothers realised how talented they were and while resources were limited and disabled them achieve their success; they exercised a great deal of patience when they finally got assistance as they took close to two years recording nine songs which they have compiled into an album they are calling “Usazitengere”
Of course as is the case with many musicians in the country, they have displayed their ability to juggle around with different genres. The local reggae beat in the album is a floater, it has a classical blues, and of course what all of us have agreed to call ‘traditional beat’.
By Malawian standard, all those that thought Skeffa Chimoto’s ‘Nabola Moyo’ coming was all what they were expecting will have to re-think their position because the Kahowa brothers have one weapon that sold Chimoto to the musical lovers which is their voice.
The crisp voice is ably made to easily take a cavort through the well thought of instrumentation that proves once again that it is never the place where the studio is situated that can chart success for the budding musicians.
Now when all is said, there is now a chance that Peter and Silence Kahowa, like many other talented young boys and girls are faced with the threat of not even gracing the corridors of the country’s music industry because they do not have what it takes to make the next move.
A lot of talent in the country has died at a hatching stage because what would have been star-studded musicians have ended up becoming a pimple on a skin that is unwilling to allow it to flourish like hair does.
As a country, for how long should we allow talent to die at an embryonic stage just because we have no structures on the ground that can open up windows of opportunities for the young people with talent.
Initially, the country positioned itself to be producing graduates at secondary education as well as tertiary level who would be doing white collared jobs.
For whatever reasons, even when the University of Malawi’s Bachelor of Arts has a musical aspect, there is no musician worth his or her salt that has graduated through the ranks and become a star.
What it means therefore is that since the university’s offer of arts is just a mere necessity where scholars are only fulfilling the billing that they ever strutted the corridors of a University is it not time to look at something else?
Look at our Technical Colleges, is it not time that musical subjects have to be introduced in these institutions as well. I will discuss about my idea of this at one time.
It is therefore clear that Peter and Silence Kahowa would make a name in music if only there is a sponsor who would come up to their rescue since the authority that is entrusted with our tax cannot think better ways of making them stand up and survive on their own. My Malawi!