The Lhomwe Musical Award

The Lhomwe Musical Award
Those who know about the Professor would think I am biased towards anything within the Lhomwe belt because that’s where my umbilical cord fell off and got buried.
I was born at Chonde Health Centre near Thuchira River and therefore wrong conclusion would be that I biased because I am a Lhomwe by birth and therefore my view on the matter would be tainted.
But I would still stand my ground. The declaration I am about to make has well placed proof.
That the Lhomwe belt has entertained Malawi more than any other in as far as generating music that has soothed, left people jumping out of their skins in some dancing antics is concerned is something none can dispute.
What is very, very strange though, is that we have coined Balaka Beat, for example; we have touted Chileka for all the music goodies, but we have not written a deserved story for the Lhomwe belt productions.
I would not desire to take you further away from your memory by mentioning the all greats; Michael ‘Mukhitho’ Phiri a.k.a Michael Yekha and Alan Namoko.
Their music if played in places of musical entertainment, keep sending those listening to it spell bound, due to the innovativeness that is employed when on play.
To put you into perspective, I have to mention here Joseph Nangalembe, Mikoko Brothers Band, Murimwa Brothers Band, Diamond Kudzala, Namakhwa Brothers Band, Fyson Ngwezu & Mulanje Mountain Jazz Band and Chimvu River Jazz Band to mention but a very few.
Most of these bands were using locally made instruments but they would send you into a trance, nonetheless.
The Lhomwe belt has also not been left out when it comes to modern day instruments usage. There is Joseph Nkasa, Thomas Chibade, Collins Bandawe, Moses Makawa to mention but a few…
They come with a kind of innovation never heard before. Yes some bring bubble gum musical stuff, but more linger longer, while most have cut a permanent place on the musical assembly even when none of them can’t read music but are merely rote musicians.
In fact, the rote status is not exclusive to musicians from the Lhomwe belt, 99 percent of our music is done by rote musicians and this include those that are categorised as the best of Malawi.
Now the Inc Media has brought what is calling the Malawian Music Awards 2011.
I do not want to go attacking the initiative; it would be daft if I take this route considering that such initiatives are wanted hundred folds if we have to create a robust music industry in the country.
I would say these guys would best be encouraged to show appreciation of their effort by us writing them words of encouragement.
But when I observed, that like has been the case all the time, we have no special mention of the Lhomwe Belt musicians who have filled most seats in our hall of fame, I sensed that something was amiss. I was like, you mean on 24 JUNE the awards for great work will not include them as well.
More so when the criteria will include quality of production, popularity – air play / requests among others. These people would not come in categories like Best reggae, R&B, Hip Hop etcetera, but would perhaps make a challenge for the awards in Best Local, Folklore, and even acoustic.
Of course it is comforting when those Best Local nominees include Symon & Kendall, Wilson Mwale, Lawrence Mbenjere, Thomas Chibade and Moses Makawa. If you look at this category, you realize that out of five nominees three there are a representative of the Lhomwe belt.
There is none is Best Folklore nor in Best Acoustic.
Not that the LIFETIME ACHIEVER AWARD which has Lucius Banda, Giddess Chilamanda, Mjura Mkandawire and Flora Jolly Makonyola has missed anything, but at least Alan Namoko should also have made the list posthumously.
But if it would be seen to be asking too much, then let the Lhomwe grouping, Mulhakho wa Lhomwe – I hope this is how best we spell it – will realise that it is not only Tchopa that has made the Lhomwe people looked at as entertainers for the country.
The musicians have superseded most, it not only entertaining Malawi as it were, but has also perpetrated the cultural belief of the Lhomwe people through diverse subjects that have been discussed in their music over the years.
Youi look at Nkasa for example, he is the only musician so knowledgeable that what most artists pack in a 12-track-album, he packs in a single song.
It also explains how Lhomwe elders train their young ones to be great thinkers, you look at small boys like Chibade and Makawa and appreciate the subject matter in their lyrics.
So, if all can not be done, at Chonde where I was born, where Muhlakho commemorate the Lhomwe culture, I want this special category to be introduced… Bring up several Lhomwe musical awards that need to recognise the contribution that musicians from the Lhomwe belt have made towards Malawi’s entertainment industry.
If this could also be part of a permanent fixture on display at the Lhomwe Museum at Chonde, then it would help more as it could be the scent that would attract tourists form the length and breadth of the earth. Remember we are in need of forex.


A Singing National Budget

The only singing aspect in this year’s National Budget was how on song Finance Minister Ken Kandodo was explaining a number of measures government hopes will help improve the malaise that has bedeviled our country.
Perhaps the lips have not stopped singing along the zero deficit budget first released by State President Bingu wa Mutharika in his state of the nation address.
Well, I scrutinized the budget in the hope that something somewhere would mention music, musician or the music industry.
There are several issues that I have raised in the past about how the country can embrace the music industry and benefit from it; apparently all my efforts seem to be falling on deaf ears.
We have tried tobacco and we all know what has become of it. We have talked about tourism industry but we seem not to have tourism products. We have talked minerals but we are a kind of country that cannot account for the work done and how much we can rake into our national purse.
I want to try again in the hope that the 2012/2013 budget will have something about music industry.
Let’s say the country wanted to take up tourism as the in thing for the economy; then it would be useless without involving music as tourism deals with national heritage and culture which can not go devoid of music. While you and I can claim that we do not smoke tobacco, at least we can not say the same thing about music.
Everyone, rich or poor, political or apolitical, atheist or believer will not do without music in one way or the other.
Perhaps this explains why after failing to pursue different courses or even getting jobs, the youth resorted to producing musical albums that are more laughable than they are entertaining, educative or informative.
This is the reason I have and will keep on preaching here, that government is supposed to seriously venture into music on several fronts.
The first and primary one would be heavy investment into musical education through the already established technical colleges.
There for the umpteenth time we can train vocalists, guitarists and all players of instruments. These can be trained alongside studio engineers and producers. There is already marketing courses being offered which can be made with a bias towards music marketing.
The second place of government intervention would be to economically empower institutions like the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) to really do its job.
Many musicians that have made music that all and sundry have said are oozing quality have lost revenue through unscrupulous means of bad marketing policies and distribution which expose them to either raw deals or piracy.
The current music distributors are more abusive and exploitative than they are supposed to uplift the musicians. They are a typical example where you find that gluttony in them is red in the teeth and they would complain that they are not profiting anything through the music industry and yet they have been doing it for the last 20 years and are not even ready to jump ship.
Instead of making my mother stop eating her favourite meat offals dish because it is now heavily taxed, finance Minister and team should have settled for realistic avenues of generating more revenue for the country.
You would ask questions like how much does Jamaica rake in revenue through music.
This is how it works in other countries; just last year British musicians saw a 10.7 per cent increase from the public performance of recorded music despite the recession.
According to PPL, the UK music licensing company working on behalf of record companies and perform which had an AGM on June 8, 2011 revenue growth, was mostly down to more countries sending music royalties back to the UK via reciprocal agreements. New Zealand and Jamaica were new this year.
US enjoy worldwide popularity of its music seconded by the UK and only three countries have a net surplus when royalties going in and out are added up.
There is money in licence fee, Public performance income, broadcasting and Online International revenues
Entertainment in Jamaica is a multi-billion dollar industry, and Stanford University study estimates its value to be in the legion of US$350m an annually which is 52.5 roughly billion kwacha. Tax authorities in Jamaica enjoy with such an industry.
The Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in June 2005 said Jamaica’s Music Industry noted that worldwide sales of reggae recordings in the late 1990s were an estimated US$1.2 billion per year, with approximately 25 per cent or US$300 million flowing to Jamaican musicians, producers, and songwriters.
Next budget let our national budget sing real songs with an allocation to the music industry.


There is one clear thing with Skeffa Chomoto’s latest DVD called ‘Ndife Amodzi’; there will be losers and winners, and Mourners too.

He has clearly wailed that he will not benefit as much from this DVD as he should have.

To start with, the design of the DVD which is being marketed and distributed by Dolphin Electronics is a piece of innovation while its contents is by Malawian standards a household-must have.

The dirge for his mother in-law ‘Ulendo’ which is second in appearance of the nine tracks that have been packaged in the compilation has been made even more sombrer than in the audio track.

What with depiction of mourners carrying a coffin with lips following the track’s chorus. If one with unprovoked emotions never got shaken by the lyrics of the audio track the visuals are pity evoking.

A small boy – it is a boy in the video, not a girl to depict his wife, the composition is dedicated to- who tries to shake his mother to awake her, but to no expected results.

Then a group of mourners sit around a supposedly dead body to match with the lyrics questioning why a crowd is gathered around the mother.

It further captures a graveyard scenario where the body is lowered in the grave.

Then another track ‘Ali Mbali Yanga’ shows a man breaking stones – not as in the art of stone masonry – that are used for construction while soaking in a heavy down pour.

Then he moves on to become a rich person.

As I will keep on saying, by Malawians standard, this is one DVD project that had all the hands involved and seriously investing their all in it.

When the DVD is showing the extra videos, that’s when it dawns upon the viewer how much creativity was employed.

When I first started watching the DVD, I had a number of questions. How did he convince a bereaved group like this one, first to allow him shoot them in their sombre state? And Secondly to even allow him use the material for his video. How could he convince the pall bearers chorus along the ‘Ulendo’ track when one would think this is no joking time?

But after showing how all this was just staged up, you are left with no doubt but to give credit to people like John Nguluwe who shot, edited, and produced all the tracks but ‘Tinkanena’, ‘Umutenge’ and ‘Sindilora’ for MC Studios.

You can’t take anything away from Kumbukani Kachimanga of Mwayi Studios who with the directions of Bong’a who shot, edited and produced these tracks.

At the back of the DVD, when Skeffa decides to declare under the headline ‘Special thanks’ that “I dedicate this album to my wife who lost her mother when she was only 3 years old” then you understand what he means.

He proves this dedication again in the track ‘Thandie’, the name of the wife, when he uses the lyrics of the song with real pictures captured during his wedding.

All in all the album serves the purpose, as it does not only help Thandie in mourning; it also makes her a winner in that in Skeffa she finds a man all women would yearn for.

Skeffa becomes a mourner and a loser when he realises that he is not going to enjoy 100 per cent turn over of his toils as it is selling at the mercy of those into piracy.

I attended his musical show some three weeks ago at Summit in Lilongwe where he stopped his performance for a good five minutes just to impress upon the audience that he is not a rich person that people can steal from him through piracy.

He lectured how piracy can kill off artists and how authorities are failing to protect them.

He says the DVD copies that were being sold at the show were the genuine ones and this compelled me to buy one at K1000.

But he ‘mourned’ heavy loss in revenue as he said he is aware that others have the DVD replica in their computers, flash disks and have burnt them and are selling them for three pieces of silver.

Not that this is a perfect DVD as a big let down is picture quality.

I am not sure of the competencies of those that made final copies of the DVD because mine would sometimes freeze while still rolling out some tracks which is frustrating as it gives you a sense of loss and an aftertaste that you have been robbed.

Nevertheless, it is better to be robbed this way than to be winners through piracy over some work that showed total dedication, creativity, selfless and desire to present what the lyrical content of the album has been churning out to make it the best seller so far.

At least choose to be Skeffa’s mourners or winners in this project of dedication!

Music Stumbles unto Gold in Maskal

Some two week-ends ago I decided, for the first time, to patronise Summit Cultural Centre in Lilongwe’s kwa Biwi location.
Several local names were lined up, Dan Muyaya, Stella Mwanza, Moses Makawa, Nthumwi Piksy, Maskal, and Skeffa Chimoto.
As you can appreciate, this was a galore of talent in exhibition and faces of fellow patrons glowed with appreciation; meaning those artists did not disappoint.
Nevertheless, there were several issues that I observed; ranging from stage management, vocal usage and general demeanour and presentation during performance.
Take for example the new rare secular musical shoot, Stella Mwanza, I am calling her a rare secular musical shoot because she is a woman. Remember some weeks ago I lamented lack of secular female musicians, but now she is around trying to spruce up the face of this fading category.
I should however, hasten to say I was deeply disappointed with her performance. Stella Mwanza was timid throughout her performance; there is a need of an urgent assistance in this respect because she just has too much potential that if left untapped will waste away.
Perhaps you would dismiss my timidity assertion off-handedly, saying – given the freshness this is allowable, but what about her failure to know we she can come in when instruments start playing. Stella Mwanza was not even sure where to start impressing with her vocal contributions that every time, she would fix he gaze at the drummer to get a sign to cue in.
She has a colleague who also dances for her, if anything she steals the day for her as she has no control over anything that is happening on her stage. She just does control anything, from players of instruments to ‘her’ dancers.
Moses Makawa who came next afterwards has become of age. He touches where the fans want to be reached and this is perhaps what one has to do when a vocal artist. Khuzumule Band that plays for him is an assembly of young talented fellows who showed that they spend more time practising.
If Makawa sent a few dogs to hunt for entertainment starved fans in the audience, then Maskal brought a kennel for each individual patron. Those that rarely show any signs emotional provocations were left drooling for more. This is how talented Maskal is.
In Maskal, Malawi has stumbled unto gold; you could see how he engages the audience and sends them spell bound.
He could sing impossibly, like where he suddenly goes off key and when everybody else will be thinking he has lost it, he would get back on the road. Such playfulness could burst the oesophagus open, but he dares it.
At the moment, on the musical market Maskal is not very far away from Skeffa Chimoto.

Can MBC Band Change Music Terrain?

The music terrain in Malawi has been slippery. To an extent it has been like such places where angels fear to tread, for fear of breaking their backs and become vegetables.
Those that have survived it have had but short-lived glory. Those that felt were enjoying the limelight have been shocked when they realized that they could not pay for their aspirin was illness struck. Despite worth that they left behind, they have ended up dying paupers.
It is for this reason that I find the coming back of the MBC band, which first appeared on the scene in 1973 with the all greats Mjura Mkandawire and Wyndham Chechamba with hands on the deck, not so welcome.
When you would think that Dan Sibale Lawrence ‘Lulu’ Khwisa, Collen Ali and Peter Likhomo can still not stand on their own feet musically, then this is so worrisome.
Let me start with, Dan Sibale, Peter Likhomo and Collen Ali. When Mtebeti Wambali Mkandawire started Manyasa was it in 2002, these made part of the cream.
There are at the moment two known Malawians currently playing Saxophone. Apart from Dan Sibale there is one Sidney Banda who plays the sax in America. This explains volumes of how talented he is.
Peter Likhomo and Collen Ali are the most complete and consistent players of instruments Malawi has ever had.
They remind me of one Country that has thrived economically through her music industry. Jamaica is that country. You have artists say guitarist that are itinerant and ready for hiring.
Because they are so complete and know what they do they are not attached to any band. There is Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for example.
I remember in 1978, Gregory Isaacs; the fallen Prince of Chancery Lane, went around Jamaica and coaxed the best in all instruments playing and assembled one of the best reggae bands in Roots Radics.
There were players like Rhythm Guitarist Eric ‘Bingy Bunny’ Lamont, in Lead Guitarist they had Noel “Sowell” Bailey who was later replaced by Dwight “Brother Dee” Pickney, Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson was playing Piano and was later replaced by Wycliffe “Steelie” Johnson who added Keyboards while Errol “Flabba” Holt played the Bass Guitar and Lincoln “Style or Rotterdam” Scott was on Drum set.
Later vocal groups like Culture or Solo Artists like Prince Farai would hire them for studio recordings or live performances.
At least this is the direction towards which Dan Sibale, Peter Likhomo and Collen Ali should have been moving. It is retrogressive for them to be joining bands like MBC which should posture itself at making the young and budding artist find their feet.
Lulu had (or is it still there?) Mathumera Band and with his joining of MBC what becomes of it? What does it say about his stability and desire to strike gold in the industry?
My fear is that, this is an apparent show of lack of drive to achieve greatness.
MBC Band that started 38 years ago and disbanded in 2001 when I think Brian Sita was now at the helm had different aspirations to the ones being championed by the institution’s CEO.
The CEO Bright Malopa says he wants to transform MBC Band to become a international Group. Whatever this means, it will only be possible unless the industry in Malawi has started making sense.
At the moment a musician cannot produce a single and become an instant millionaire. A musician like Stonard Lungu died in penury and miserably so; all because the system that moves the industry has so many holes.
If all the cream will cram in the government owned MBC Band what messages are we sending out there? My take would be that these would have been standing there alone, and the budding musicians looking up to them for inspiration. I might be wrong.