Malawi’s Christmas Carols


For years, towards, during and after Christmas day, we have sung, heard or listened to Christmas songs as well as Christmas carols.

In our Churches, this period is dominated by practices of the said songs.

Wikipedia, says a Christmas carol which is also called a noël is a carol, meaning a song or hymn, whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.
The Malawi music industry has failed to take advantage of the hype that goes with Christmas festivities to release either Christmas songs or redo the Christmas carols in vernacular.
Apart from Kapirintia – a duet of Code and Brother Shadre Sangala, there has not been any serious artist who has tried to fill houses with their own versions of Christmas carols or songs.
Christmas in Malawi would never be the same if our musicians would have taken advantage of their mother tongues and equally removed the concept of white Christmas which means is one for the West.
The online http://www.carols.org.com is indicative that as Africans and as Malawians we do not have much to do with these things as the online chronicles it this way:
Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived!
Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In AD 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written, in 760AD, by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church.
Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write carols. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn’t understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.
This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays.
Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.
The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs.
And that they were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! Travelling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were travelling. One carols that changed like this is ‘I Saw Three Ships’.
Surely, based on the above excerpts, we might think we have no place in this Christmas carols history, but I still there is something that we can do about it.
As Malawi we can get creative and have our own Christmas carols and music. In that way Christmas would be purely recognised as our own.
What is more funny is that reggae musicians of Rastafarie practice would tell you that as believers we need to see our God in our own spectacles because we were created in his image.
They also argue that Jesus Christ was black and therefore the Christmas Carols should not be the adopted white songs…
All this is out of question, what is important is that we need to create global unity by bringing together our diversified artistic talents.
Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

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Kuimba 8 – Same Old


Black Missionaries have ushered their audience Kuimba 8, a continuation of a journey started by founder Evison Matafale in form of Kuimba 1.
When Matafale fell, Msamude took over and until his fall as well, he ruled the dancehall with command.
Now, after the death of the two, the Black Missionaries remnants have done two Kuimba albums.
There is a danger though in the way the albums have come…Listening to them, one would not ask any questions at all but conclude that it is Black Missionaries.
This is where a line is cut between the Matafale/Msamude led Black Missionaries and the one led by Anjiru.
There is a feeling with the current Blacks not attempting to stir very far away from their traditional songs.
When you are listening to the tracks from a distance where you are missing out on what the lyrics are saying, you are bound to think this is one of the many old tracks from the blacks.
And yet these are the new songs that are same old, same old.
One thing that is very clear is the clinging to the template that Matafale and later, Msamude created.
Anjiru and kid brother Chizondi, Peter Amidu and brothers Takudziwani and Paul Chokani need to rethink their future with the forthcoming Kuimba albums.
This is the time to dismantle the Matafale/Msamude template and come up with their creativity.
All what is happening now is that they sit down and think of lyrics but when these are mixed with the instrumentation their work is done.
Debate is currently hot on whether Kuimba 8 has reached the mark or is below par. I would not to be a judge but I could look at some related elements.
Everyone who is religious about the Black Chileka boys with a musical mission will still argue that my observations are over sumptuous. I think this would be so, owing to the magical pull that the Blacks have whenever they have organised their shows.
But why people will still flock to Black Missionaries performances is more to do with their pedigree that separates them from the inferior performers, than it has to do with whether they are progressive musically or not.
Let’s look at Evison Matafale:
‘Wolakwa Ndani’ track in Kuimba 2 begins with rallying sound that is ensconced in continuous shedding of sound of lyrics, bass line with a percussive striking of hit-hat and ride cymbal and all this before it switches to the main body with the rit-rit-tat reggae complimented with strong lyrical content.
‘Nkhawa bi’ I am not sure if this is the correct track title, but I am sure that others argue that it is not reggae because of the inter-twining that goes on between lead and bass guitars and continuous exchange of hit-hat, bass pedalling and cymbal.
Compare ‘Malawi’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Wolenga Dzuwa’, ‘Step Down Babylon’, ‘Waseseleka’, ‘Yang’ana Nkhope’, ‘Time Mark’, ‘Some Where or No Where’ ‘Nkhowe’, ‘Umafuna Zambiri’ ‘We are Chosen’, ‘Timba’ and ‘International Reggae’ and you will appreciate how diverse these songs are.
This diverse in Kuimba 1 and 2 is what is completely missing in the songs of the current Black Missionaries.
Kuimba3 led by Msamude with some tracks like ‘Oweluza’, ‘Pobwera Mfumu’, ‘Mungazalangidwe’, ‘Reggae Music High’, ‘Mukanandifunsa’, ‘Undikonde’ ‘Police Hunt Matafale’, ‘Babylon System’, ‘Papita Nthawi’.
Then Kuimba 4 still led by Msamude which had tracks like ‘Rastaman’s Wife’, ‘Angathe’, ‘Ndamusowa’, ‘Never get Weary’, ‘ Akanaziwa’, ‘Alamulire’, ‘Wabwino’, ‘We are the Rastas’, ‘Sapita nawo’ and ‘Mwana wa Munthu’.
Followed obviously was Kuimba 5 with tracks that I am not sure of the real title tracks like ‘Lift up your Voice’, ‘Ndiuze Zoona’, ‘Sindingaiwale(Musandiweruze)’, ‘Mthunzi wa imfa’, I am not sure I can keep guessing the track titles.
Finally for Msamude was Kuimba 6 where he did tracks like one that mentions ‘Milungu yakufa’, ‘Yehova Alinafe’, ‘Tazungulira’, ‘Ndimati ndigone’ is one track I am not sure of the title but this is among many where a declaration is made that Matafale opened a door of success.
In the same album there is a track ‘Salimo’ and Msamude’s parting shot ‘Tigwire Ntchito’.
After the death of Msamude a demarcation was now marked.
Kuimba 7 with ‘Dalo’ ‘Nzakwera m’mwamba’,
In Kuimba 7 there is one ‘Wokondedwa’ or ‘Pepa’ I am not sure of the right title track. This particular track showed some courageous attempt that is required in all the tracks.
‘Sanafe’, ‘Oliver’, ‘Anditenga’, ‘Noah’ in Kuimba 8 are latest tracks from Black Missionaries but are very common songs from them.
Check how the tracks ‘Anditenga’ in Kuimba 8 and ‘Pepa’ in Kuimba 7 begin.
One good day, sit down and listen to the music from Kuimba 1 up to Kuimba 8; without doubt you will create your opinion that will make you plead and remind these guys it’s time to engage another gear.
Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

Slow Down Dan Lufani


Some weeks ago I sang lullabies here for what I called Dan Lufani’s well done work with the album with a cheeky title “No Size” where there are hit songs, ‘Part of Life’, ‘Nsanje’ and ‘Mphete’.
It [my lullabies] worked, so it seems, as Dan went to sleep with it.
I should believe the dedication he showed to come up with such beautiful pieces of art must have earned him praise from many a souls, apart from me.
Now a syndrome of starting to get bigger than his career seems to have crept into Dan.
Afro Nyasa Multi-cultural firm of Mzuzu organised an activity of cultural and artistic activities of different disciplines.
Besides big Northern region names, they also included the stars of the moment Dan Lufani as well as Lulu.
Well, the firm’s executive director, Manase ‘Ostrich’ Chisiza, himself a musician [Ostrich is younger brother to the late Dr. Lizard, one of Malawi’s fallen dancehall pioneers] talked to both.
Both confirmed.
Dan wanted K100, 000 and demanded a deposit of K50, 000.
Although this was done, Dan was appearing on other engagements on the very day – October 30, 2010 – the event was scheduled to take place at Mzuzu’s Boma Park at Sunbird Mzuzu Hotel.
When he was called, he was nonetheless full of assurances that he will show up – wait a minute! These shows were hundreds kilometres apart, one in Mangochi another in Mzuzu around the same time.
Knowing how impossible this was going to be, he told the local media that the Mzuzu firm had just included his name of the list of guests to shore up patronage and that he was not consulted.
Having been on the ground when all this was happening I could not help it, but feel pity and shame for Dan Lufani.
One thing that came out clearly was that, this was not the first time he has handled his business in this manner.
What was more stinking was the disregard and abandon at which he told off the Mzuzu show organisers that he would not be available when he had taken their money.
There have always been such scenarios happening within our musical cycles where artists take organisers for granted for whatever good or bad reasons they have.
What this means is that such musicians feel they are now too big to do whatever they desire, with impunity and that some unknown organisers should be made to realise how primitive they are to deal with stars.
For any career, lack of respect and honest to and for your consumers, is a clarion call for the premature death of your career.
An artist has to be focused even in the face of any magnitude of fame.
Many musicians fail to reach the predestined heights because they achieve success which they do not know what to do with.
Failure to manage success is a bad signal for every artist, for it portends its opposite.
The other weakness that perhaps allows our showbiz kings and queens in Malawi to want to eat their cakes and still have it is our legal systems.
Most people are afraid of wasting time and money pursuing a case they are not sure of its outcome. However, since the feeling is always that there won’t be any success anywhere else they let it go and the culprit scot free.
A multi-talented artist like Dan should start practising discipline when striking deals with clients.
Much as a lot has been said on how our musicians have been exploited, the main culprits in this exploitation are the musicians themselves.
Greed should not be used when striking deals. The Jamaican music industry which now boasts of big money started with limps and bounds, merely because those that were at the helm of making things move, were gluttonous.
Look at what happened during the Lake of Stars festival.
When Lucious Banda and Black Missionaries decided not to partake in the event as a protest against a clear intent of exploitation, they instead organised a musical show at ‘Zithere Pano’ a few kilometres away from where the so called Lake of Stars was performing.
Dan chose to go to the Lake of Stars but he made sure that once he finished his performance he dashed to where Lucious and the Blacks were performing and flamboyance pushed him on stage only to be stopped in midair blinded by overzealousness.
Dan has to slow down if he must nurture his talent to earn him the success and accolades he deserves.
Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

Musicians Charge Exorbitant Gate Price?


Today, I will honour you with the right of entry into some very protected discussions that a group of very intelligent and wizened colleagues of mine discuss and see if you share what they think about our music or not.
One such colleague completely failed to understand how some big and well organised musical shows, and at very expensive venues, only demand pea nuts from prospective patrons.
One example is a show that was staged at the Blantyre Sports Club which has an uptown price tag and only wanted anyone entering into the show to part with a meagre K800.
He wondered a further when Makhirikhiri from Botswana lined up against Lucius Banda and Zembani but only charged K500? The question is, ‘are our musicians this cheap?’
Many responses then started pouring from all and sundry one was that the charges that our musicians place against their shows is equal to the kind of songs they play, the equipment they use, the frequency of the shows which have since had their value watered down because it has fatigued its patronage.
The argument is that our musicians release albums on yearly basis besides holding shows weekly and therefore all they do has no form uniqueness.
While discussing the issue, some wise man shot out this conclusion that “Malawian music isn’t growing. It’s increasing.”
Because according to another old hand in these matters Billy Ocean, had a big album called ‘Suddenly’ released in 1984. He came back in 1986 with ‘Love Zone’ before the 1988 album ‘Tear Down These Walls’.
The there is late Michael Jackson who first emerged with an album ‘Off the Wall’ that enjoyed centre stage until another one emerged four years later in 1983 which became a chart bursting ‘Thriller’. Jackson waited for another four years to bring to the fore albums: ‘BAD’ and ‘Dangerous’ that were also separated by four years later.
The name of Mtebeti Wambali Mkandawire was also discussed where it was observed that he has had a sell out with MK3, 000 charge per head. The argument is that even if he can today up the stakes to as high as MK5, 000 he will still pull many ‘a crowd’.
But another school of thought is that K800 per head is a decent pay day for a musician in Malawi. This according to a contribution from an equally accomplished musician is so, considering that Malawians paid around K3 when South African musicians like Lucky Dube, PJ Powers, and Brenda Fassie performed in Malawi in the early nineties. This was the time that our musicians were charging between K25 and K30 per head if one had to join their performances.
In South Africa, where the musical market is way ahead of Malawi in terms of organisation, talent, management and technical aspect in terms of recording and all its attendant requirements, charges between R100 (MK2,200) and R150 (MK3,300) to watch their artists.
Then there is a question of why Lucious Banda will not attract as many people as Black Missionaries would do?
A lady of immense knowledge observed intelligently though that ‘The Blacks’ [as Black Missionaries are fondly called] are performers while Lucius is a musician.
The Blacks can play ten songs back to back with no break while after four songs; Lucius would be seen struggling to complete a live show and therefore she would rather have ‘The Blacks’ performing but just listen to Lucius’ music as they both are masters at their own speciality.
As you can see, Michael Bolton’s March 19, 2010 concert was pegged at €25 per person an equivalent of close to K6, 000.
What is unique about these shows is that they are prepared months before the actual performance date and by the time such performances are hours away, artists do not spend sleepless nights on whether their shows will be patronised or not.
Then there is the tendency of watering down of the musician or his or her band’s stature because of over performing where with a month a musician would have performed ten times. What is funny again is that while musicians of international repute have several shows during a single tour, they ensure that each venue has its own musical instrument set that has undergone testing for weeks before the actual date.
Here in Malawi an artist travels from Nsanje to Chitipa performing in all the places using the very tattered instruments that do not even fit in a hiace minibus…Do the musicians in Malawi therefore deserve the money they charge on entrance into the venues they are performing?
Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com