Last time I talked about secular and gospel music here, it was in a way that I ruffled a few feathers.
The talk then dwelt on music and belief and a week later, it was followed by a discussion where I looked at what it takes to be a secular or a gospel musician.
Perhaps for the benefit of those that missed the two discussions I can remind you a little bit.
I first tried to look at what started first, between music and religion, and failed to find an outright answer as it was like figuring out the egg and hen enigma.
I could not provide an out-and-out answer as a result, and refused to attempt to be knowledgeable.
The final conclusion then which is still one very clear thing is that music is an integral part of most religions or beliefs.
In the risk of failing to prove its historicity, I had concluded that it was apparent that music preceded religion if assertions that music started when men were trying to imitate birds is anything to go by.
But I had a big headache when I tried to look at how one becomes to be known as Secular and Gospel sections of musicians in the country.
Then the gist of the discussion was the condemnation of artists like Geoffrey Zigoma who were driven by gluttony to move from the ship of gospel musicians one minute, before jumping into one for the secular musicians the other minute.
It was clear and still is that the problem that is killing Malawi’s nascent music industry is the artists’ struggle to do something without knowing what they want to become.
Mentality is of essence when any one person decides to venture into music; lack of it only proves the saying ‘garbage in, garbage out’ unnecessarily true. Let me reproduce what I wrote then:
Songbird Ethel Kamwendo Banda started from secular terrain before jumping ship to join the gospel fray, she has never changed.
I have considered her age and influence from her elderly siblings and the stereotypes that used to haunt female musicians at the time she launched her career – or is it her secular career. These factors failed to prepare her mentally or her mentality was all but botched-up and this is why her girlish credulity decided which line of music she had to belong to while maturity charted her gospel route eventually.
Now exists Mrs. Banda, enters self-acclaimed Honjo inventor San B. He launched his career as a secular artist, and along the way, I thing he did a number of best hits but one I would want to dwell on is what I still consider as a master piece which goes like ‘Mukanena kuti Ha!Ha! Halleluja! Inu muziti Amen, akulu ampingo amve…!” This was however, the turning point for San B.
In the first place, he innocently did a secular song that touched on the gospel and depending on what one wanted to believe, this was either a gospel piece or a secular piece. San B bought the gospel sense and declared himself a gospel artist.
Whether he wants to believe it or not, when he became a gospel artist he lost his music panache. Interestingly Christianity like all other beliefs somehow is enemy to reality. It finds a way to hide truth by bringing in the underhand of Lucifer.
I am saying this because San B and his new gospel followers would think Satan is using me to discourage him from continuing the ‘blessed’ missionary work he has started. But my stand is he was the best when he had secular sense when doing his music than now when he is spreading gospel through his ‘honjo’ brainchild.
However, what could be an interesting aspect is perhaps a little recall to where we are coming from as a nation that came to grips with a penchant for good music. You remember when the Joseph Nangalembes, the Robert Fumulanis used to rule the airwaves, was there any divisions like secular and gospel artists.
Would you therefore say Nangalembe was not doing God’s work? Is being secular pursuit of evil? Do we perhaps realize that God can try to change a person to follow His ways by perfecting the person’s social being by using music to do this? And obviously musicians would be involved to achieve this?
Well, I might seem to be digressing, but my point is that musical talent that is in the artists is endowed as the artists sense it; it should therefore not be compromised to please anyone.
All what has prompted this is that a few months ago some gospel artists refused to perform with the so called secular artists at Blantyre Sports Club on the basis that their colleagues are ungodly.
Was this action justifiable, more especially coming from people who claim to be Christians whose duty is supposed to help sinners attain salvation?
Do they have the mandate to judge? And is it right to categorize our artists as gospel musicians just because they mention GOD OR JESUS in their songs?
I remember when Alleluya Band led by Sir. Paul Banda started performing in beer drinking places, eyebrows were raised. But as Jesus said, they equally said they were taking the gospel right to places where it was never given.
Is it necessary for artists to launch their music albums or DVD’s whilst their music is already enjoying airplay or when the albums or DVD’s are on market?
Are our musicians on top of things when it comes to these issues…issues of releasing albums or singles and marketing and distributing it for the reach of the consumers?
Like I said some weeks ago most international musicians would send press kits to local media, radio stations, television stations, venue managers, record labels and studio executives as a marketing drive.
In such kits, you have the pictures of the artist(s) or bio videos, printed biography, the theme or lyrics of their music, CDs with sample music, flyers and any other necessary information.
How much of this do our musicians know? Is it surprising therefore that they die paupers when they have entertained masses in the better part of their lives?
Who is to blame? I mean between the musicians and the private sector…There is nothing musical that these firms in the private sector engage in…All one hears is that they are supporting this league or that league of sports kind of stuff.
Without trying to sound like a killjoy, I think there is more money in supporting entertainment of musical nature here in Malawi at this point in time than entertainment of sports nature.
In this world, companies in other countries realised this and at the moment ‘Akuyimba Lokoma.’
Take the eastern countries for example, for some time; the East African Breweries Limited has been carrying out competition for musicians in the Eastern African Region called Tusker Project Fame – a reality Television competition, which was at a value of 1 billion Kenyan shillings which is an equivalent of 12.8 million US dollars which is about 1.92 billion kwacha. All this money invested in music, imagine!
Chibuku Products in Malawi has ever tried its hands on the same, but they lack the seriousness that goes with such ventures as seen by the other investors in the world.
Let me go back to production and marketing of music. In gun accurizing, ‘bullet dwell time’ is the time between cartridge ignition, and the time the bullet leaves the barrel. Music is like a bullet and depending on its ‘dwell time’ it either leaves an impact or loses it all when it leaves the barrel.
It is therefore important to plan for this dwell time when in music production, especially when you are such an artist full of ambitions.
It is at this point that you can catch the potential companies along the way of hit a blank as it is sometimes called.
One would dismiss this as missing the point. But in truth this is in fact hitting the nail right on the head.
Others would want deals that Access entered with local Urban star Maskal for example as something that has to be done continuously and also happening elsewhere with other artists and other firms.
TNM will always engage artists to do one promotional track for its sponsorship of Malawi’s super football league.
It is not clear what is in the deal, but it has to be lucrative…I am speculating about its being lucrative because I know one time Lucius Banda cried foul when Black Missionaries got their hands on the contract and he was left out.
If indeed such deals are made what is so difficult to do something with music of our musicians.
The major problem lies in the musicians themselves. I know we cannot compare how football and music operate. A club would want to get sponsorship like is the case with MTL with Wanderers for example but will take part in a competition that Football Association of Malawi negotiates with TNM.
Imagine if Nomads had good sponsorship from MTL but no league to play in, would it really make sense?
Think of our musicians in the same way, if Maskal is getting individual support from Access, does this means anything to the music industry?
As an industry are we satisfied with how we produce, launch, market and distribute our music?
Are our musicians doing it right when they launch their music albums or DVD’s whilst their music is already enjoying airplay or when the albums or DVD’s are on market?
The question that is sometimes posed is whether or not music and television relate in any way. Television is the place where one can watch readymade music videos or watch live performances of musicians.
One other major characteristic of music videos is that it gives an opportunity to showcase dancers.
In Malawi, musicians have only started getting acceptance now, unlike in the past when parents would not encourage their sons and daughters to venture into music as it was regarded wayward.
There was just a bad name linked to anyone doing music although ironically they would cherish the art of listening to music and enjoying it as it were.
Now, while musicians were looked at with disdain, dancers were regarded as the worst kind of people. Everyone else dancing in different places, except, of course Kamuzu Mbumba and all other performers at such events were regarded as outcasts.
The coming in of television helped the society to appreciate that dancing to music or performing as a dancer is another form of art that deserved appreciation and respect and not disparagement.
Now if you look at music videos Malawi is churning out per given time, you are left with nothing but helplessness because the system to allow such music see the light of the day is so restrictive.
The sole, so called public broadcaster has left powers in a few individuals who would always want to get a little something every other time musicians want to provide their music to them.
Malawi always complains that her music is not breaking the international market and therefore it is not bringing money on the table.
There are of course many marketing and distribution aspects that Malawi musicians do not know how to handle.
Most international musicians would send press kits to local media, radio stations, television stations, venue managers, record labels and studio executives in order to either create or increase their visibility.
Now, coupled with lack of knowledge to market and distribute our music, Malawi music has no enough media channels that it can use to sell her musicians.
Programmes that are musical in nature are not enough to contain the production that is ongoing at the moment.
The point at which we have reached as a country is that we at least need a television station that will solely be dealing with music or better still we need more television stations that equally and ably deal with entertainment.
This is why to an extent lack of provision by the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to give out television licences to those interested to run them is not only hurting the intended targets, but it is making our music industry suffer as well.
In other countries, television showing of latest music videos boost its patronisation as it has a lot of people buying the copies or even enquiring how best they can achieve more, as it elicit revs from different experts.
We have different private firms where we are getting both quality and mediocre production of music videos. Without any set of standards or criteria we get music that is beamed on the television which leaves you with a bad aftertaste.
You are always ashamed of the person performing because you realise that for such run of the mill production to chance airtime it has passed through a number of hands. It does so much damage to the aptitude of those working for the television station.
Government through MACRA has therefore tremendously contributed to the poor quality of music video production in the country.
Because there is a single television station the problem is in two folds; one problem is that the television will beam anything provided such mediocre player has palm greased the one in control.
The second fold is that those behind such productions will do anything in disregard to quality because they know whatever they produce will come out, nonetheless, because it is not about quality but bribery.
This leaves no room for completion because a healthy competition breeds innovation and creativity. Are you surprised therefore that even when our music is struggling to break even on the international scene, our music videos are a notch so low that one can not dare show them to foreign audience?
Is this how we want to grow our music? Do you now understand how irritated I become when you complain that our music cannot sell outside Malawi?
Just 8 tracks, ‘Walendo’, ‘Wamalenge’, ‘Malawi’, ‘Khara Pa Kaya’, ‘Sella’, ‘Sudziwa kuti Sudziwa’, ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Sowera’ sums up an album titled Sudziwa kuti Sudziwa.
For the umpteenth time let me introduce to you the Kula Band the owners of the album above.
Most albums are packed with songs in the ranges of 12 to 15 and what the Kula Band did with this particular album would be deemed laziness if you merely look at the number of tracks.
But once you slot their Compact Disk in a player and hear the sound that the system will emit you will appreciate the kind of work that is loaded in each track. You would nod with positive reception and glee with realisation why it had to be this way.
Each instrument never knew the belly of a computer where drums will be programmed and let the computer mimic a lead guitar.
The instruments were in fact played by the band members and each is both standing alone as an instrument and in unison give you a fusion of African traditional music with Jazz, Blues, Rock and Reggae.
The album which is yet to hit the market is a product of a recording session that was ably done by Gospel Star Lloyd Phiri at his studio.
Kula Band is another Mzuzu based band which can stand shoulder to shoulder with another Mzuzu based ‘Body Mind and Soul’
The difference would be that the latter plays what they call ‘Voodjaz’ while Kula Band fuses African traditional music with some Jazzy feel with sprinkles of Blues, Rock and Reggae.
This band was formed with a purpose of competing in the Music Crossroad Competition and last year they were runners up in Dar es Salaam at the regional finals.
Of course the band leader is Blessings Mudoro who plays the band’s keyboard and backing vocals with leading vocals spearheaded by the deep-voiced Goma Nyondo who also plays acoustic guitar.
Thokozani Mazunza plays bass guitar, Gift Phiri drums and percussions for the band, Kennedy Phiri plays lead guitar while James Piringu is the band’s other backing vocalist and percussionist.
On their apparel of honour there are three awards that are stuck; they are the winners of MAM Music Award 2009, Chibuku Road to Fame Competition as well as the MAM Gospel Music Award.
The Chibuku Road to fame won them 150,000 Malawi Kwacha prize money and also landed them a lucrative recording deal worth 200,000 Malawi Kwacha
But I want you to sample their music through this write up. In music, a transient is a sudden increase in sound output which occurs for a short period of time; sometimes less than a fraction of a second, it is very common in rock and jazz.
The title track ‘Sudziwa kuti sudziwa’ has the art of ‘transient’ just to prove its musicality. There is also a track called ‘Sera’ which is a fusion of jazz, funky and Rhumba with a voice that would be mistaken for the Zimbabwean international mega star Oliver Mtukudzi.
While all the tracks except ‘Sowera’ were recorded by Lloyd Phiri this particular one which starts with an ‘Irish Tin whistle’ was recorded by Christian Aid Mobile Studio.
Goma the lead vocalist who sometimes comes out as Jamaica’s Gramps Morgan says the Kula Band has learnt the art of Music as being multifaceted.
The band says it can produce several tracks without giving a hint of familiarity because they have a musical art that could be described as having a full range of repertoire to pick from.
When you listen to the Kula Band, the Body Mind and Soul and legendary Wambali Mkandawire, you would easily declare that at least the north has stumbled on its genre.
Listening to Kula Band’s music which is yet to be on the market, you will feel proud to be Malawian as here are the young men who are able to make music by knowing that each instrument has its purpose when playing music.
Listening to ‘Sudziwa kuti Sudziwa’ album by Kula Band, you realise, Kula is not only growing, but it is, with age also glowing to become a stakeholder in the country’s music industry. Try to sample it, you will agree with me.