Warge’s misplaced talent


Don’t be surprised; Warge Wanangwa Phiri is a music producer from Lilongwe who took care of Mafunyeta’s latest album, assuming you have listened to it.

He has proven to be one of the most talented musical acts going by the kind of music that he has produced. His company, Warge Records, is more into what is known as ‘Dancehall’ music.

Before you crucify me for calling Warge’s talent misplaced, let me give you a background of what Dancehall music is all about.

This is a popular type of music which evolved from Reggae in the 1970s in Jamaica. It was sparked by producers who removed voice from music to remain with instrumentation which was christened ‘dub’.

Later, deejays started singing and toasting (or rapping) over danceable music – ‘riddims’ – and then they made the rhythm in Dancehall much faster than in traditional Reggae. In other instances drum machines were replacing acoustic sets.

Dancehall’s lyrics were crude or “slack”, as it had sexual tones; the subject matters in Dancehall music lean towards profanity, misogyny and violence. Later on, Dancehall turned against homosexuality.

Dancehall’s caustic tones have been rigorously criticised and most notably by artists and followers of classical Reggae music. One of them is Jamaica’s most ardent Rastafarian poet, Mutabaruka, who has emerged as the most ardent advocate of harsh measures against vulgarity and gun lyrics in Reggae.

Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained: “If 1970s Reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”.

Muta has been “Against slackness in Dancehall style Reggae and the fact that this filth is being exported around the world as Jamaican Culture.” He said that it is: “Decadence that is not uplifting to any people.”

Dancehall is the mother of hip-hop and owes its name to the spaces in which popular Jamaican recordings were aired by local sound systems and readily consumed by its “set-to-party” patronage, commonly referred to as “dance halls”.

Dancehall’s precursor, Reggae, was influenced heavily by the ideologies of the Rastafarian culture and was further goaded by the socialist movements of the era. It suggests the institution of an entire culture in which music, dance, community and politics collide.

As an evolution of first Reggae, then Rocksteady, Dancehall draws upon its roots with regard to its stylistic rudiments. However, that, some say, is where the similarities end.

Such a drastic change in the popular music of the region generated an equally radical transformation in fashion trends, specifically those of its female faction. In lieu of traditional, modest “rootsy” styles, as dictated by Rastafari-inspired gender roles, women began donning flashy, revealing – sometimes x-rated – outfits. The trend objectified women as objects of pleasure.

After the emergence of the harder edged, such as Ninjaman, Flourgon, General Trees, Tiger, Admiral Bailey, Super Cat, Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Shelly Thunder, Reggie Stepper, Shabba Ranks, Johnny P, Peter Metro, Charlie Chaplin, Cutty Ranks and Papa San to name a few later their sound was complemented by singjays” with vocal style that evolved out of roots Reggae and Rhythm & Blues, with proponents like Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Admiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks and Barrington Levy.

The genre was so popular that established Reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Militant Barry, Beres Hammond, Johnny Osbourne and U-Roy transitioned into Dancehall.

The years 1990-1994 saw the entry of artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Shaggy, Diana King, Spragga Benz, Capleton and BeenieMan. A major shift in the sound of Dancehall was born, brought about by the introduction of a new generation of producers.

Black-my-history weblog says in the late 1990s, many practitioners like Buju Banton and Capleton, Bushman, Sizzla and Anthony B returned to the Rastafari movement and changed their lyrical focus to “consciousness”, a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of Rastafari.

It further says like anything the “popular culture views as outside of the law or outlaw, Dancehall is forging major inroads into the listening spaces of people around the world to the point where even those who realise the extremeness of the lyrics contained in the music, cannot help but rock to the beat and rhythm.

And this is where we are. And this is where Lilongwe’s Warge Records have taken over the old resented ‘dancehall’ period where the producer is doing a great job but the lyrical content is abhorrent.

I have just started and I intend to continue from here in next week’s entry where I would like to show you the good works that Warge Records is doing in Lilongwe and how wrong they are embracing the kind of ‘negative’ Dancehall Jamaicans are struggling to shake off.

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The Folly of Political Songs


When we talk of political music in Malawi, what fast comes to mind is Joseph Nkasa’s ‘Mose wa Lero’ and of course ‘Yellow’ by Lucius Banda, that came before it.
When you look at the relevance of this music then, and what remains of them now, then you are given the codes to such musical maze and right before your eyes you clearly see the folly of such compositions.
There have been such compositions, in fact the United Democratic Front (UDF) and former President Bakili Muluzi had plenty of such music that filled the air play of his radio station.
Music, I mean good music, is supposed to be eternal. Take piece of art, like compositions of Mozart and Beethoven for example you will agree that bear testimony to this if you consider the time they have existed.
Full name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, who lived between 1756 and 1791, composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his death. He is said to be among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence on subsequent Western art music is profound
The same would be said of Ludwig van Beethoven who lived between 1770 and 1827. He is considered a crucial figure in the transition between the classical and romantic eras in Western art music; he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. Beethoven’s best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets.
The reason I am writing in 2013 about people who composed in the sixteenth century is because of the musicality of their productions, the eminence that it was then, still oozes now.
Malawi as a country has so many opportunities to create a musical art that can last and there is no ways it can be done otherwise when it comes to stuff that are composed to get political favours.
Take the 2003 ‘Yellow’ for example, Lucius Banda himself realised he had made a mistake to do the track, not because he thought it passed through mediocrity machine that did not do it justice but because he fell out of grace with one of the persons he hailed in the track, the late President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Mutharika ditched the party that, probably with the help of Lucius’ track, put him in the state house. When Lucius as Member of Parliament tried to move a motion that was meant to put in place procedures of impeaching a President, while targeting Bingu, government ransacked Lucius’ person and discovered that what he presented as his Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) was in fact not his. As they say the rest is history.
After helping the same Mutharika win elections in 2009, with his track ‘Mose wa Lero’ in 2012 Phungu Joseph Nkasa, regretted doing the track.
When you consider why Nkasa would regret doing the track, you will come to the same conclusion as mine that he was never happy with how much he yielded from the track.
Many people including Mutharika himself acknowledged that ‘Mose wa Lero’ was a masterpiece, which is to me, a misplaced adjective.
Of course Nkasa has not learnt anything from his past experience with releasing of such tracks as he has now commoditized his talent by now composing different political tracks in disregard of what beliefs he stands for.
During the DPP Convention he composed a track for Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda which was meant to raise his candidature against Peter Mutharika. Now he has released a number of tracks for PPM.
Evance Mereka, Symon & Kendal are also said to have put together a team that will be singing tracks that will praise President Joyce Banda in readiness of the 2014 Presidential elections.
One of such tracks is called ‘Adzakhale’ which is currently enjoying unprecedented massive beaming on state owned MBC television.
Just to show that greed for some windfalls is the driving force behind such compositions; Mereka also did another track immediately after the MCP convention elected Lazarus Chakwera as its torch bearer for the 2014 elections titled, ‘Lero Chakwera’.
There are tracks like ‘Angwazi Senderani’ a campaign single that promoted Mutharika’s candidature alongside tracks from Billy Kaunda, Mlaka Maliro, Joseph Tembo and Bauleni Mana.
Clustering all these tracks together with one done by Monty Lewis ‘Mundibwezere ma voti anga’ which was meant to protest Mutharika ditching of UDF, it is clear that what we call our musicians are doing the planet of art a disservice.
The proof of my proclamation comes from the fact that event Monty Lewis came back and reworked on his track and called it ‘Musandibwezerenso ma voti anga’, later on.
In a way this is abusing the art of music to achieve one’s personal goal; musicians want to make quick money while politicians hope to get fame that can trap a vote in the long run if the music sales, but later after everyone has or has not reached the desired end, the music is left to decide its fate.
And look at where all these tracks are and gauge them if they are still relevant. You will be tempted to describe them as bubblegum music that has to be spit out the moment it has been chewed enough and robbed of its sweetness.
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Morgan Heritage challenges Malawi


On August 29, 2013, at around 1841 hours, Gramps Morgan wrote on his official facebook wall that it’s official: “We are coming to Africa, the dates have been cut out any ‘Experienced Promoter’ can link us or if you know ‘the best promoter’ in your country have them contact us Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe.”

 

I have no problems with other countries because such musicians of repute visit and perform in those countries times without number. But I have a problem with how the local entertainment industry is going to handle this offer.

 

It’s a challenge that will speak volumes of how organised or mediocre our entertainment industry is. For someone who has been writing about music since 1993, I find it sad that if Gramps Morgan were to contact me to find him the best promoter in the country, surely I would not point at anyone.

 

I know another musical star, the Jazz connoisseur Earl Klugh, will be visiting Malawi soon, but it will be courtesy of the Standard Bank’s ‘Joy of Jazz’ project.

 

Well, I might assume too much that each and everyone here knows who Gramps Morgan – or The Morgan Heritage – is.

Denroy Morgan is the patriarchal genesis of the Morgan Heritage. He fathered 17 sons and 12 daughters. Denroy is famed as a Jamaican reggae artist who was born in May Pen in Clarendon, but left Jamaica in 1965 at the age of 19 and travelled to the United States to become a musician.

He was part of the formation the Black Eagles, a New York City reggae band, in the 1970s before launching a prosperous solo career in the 1980s onwards.

With his Black Eagles, Denroy won the New York Reggae Music Festival in 1977 which set of his rise to fame which continued into the early 1980s. His most successful release “I’ll Do Anything for You” in 1981 reinforced his fame as it peaked at Number 9 on the American soul chart. It also peaked at Number 7 on the dance charts and these successes helped to launch his solo reggae career.

His 29 children were all musical growing up and have since formed two separate bands; The Morgan Heritage and LMS.

Morgan Heritage is reggae band initially started as an octet featuring eight of Morgan’s 29 children. Morgan Heritage began recording with their father in the early ’90s.

Their father produced their debut single, ‘Wonderful World’, in 1991 followed shortly after by an album, ‘Growing Up’. Morgan Heritage’s first break came the following year when they performed at the Reggae Sunsplash.

Morgan Heritage is known globally as the “Royal Family of Reggae” and the “Rolling Stones of Reggae” owing to their electric stage antics.

Now the reggae band is made up of Peetah Morgan, Una Morgan, Roy ‘Gramps’ Morgan, Nakhamyah “Lukes” Morgan and Memo “Mr. Mojo” Morgan. On the other hand, LMS is a dancehall and hip hop band made up of the trio Noshayah Morgan, Otiya ‘Laza’ Morgan and Miriam Morgan.

Now Roy “Gramps” Morgan who posted about their possible trip to Malawi is also a solo reggae singer whose debut album entitled ‘Two Sides of My Heart’ earned him a number of nominations for awards. He also made it big in 2009 when he featured in India Arie’s track ‘Therapy’. He has his second solo album to his name ‘Reggae Music Lives’ released in 2012.

After recording several successful albums that included ‘Full Cycle’ and ‘Three in One’ among others, Morgan Heritage took a five-year break but this year they have they have released their latest studio album ‘Here Come The Kings’.

Now if you look at the resume of Morgan Heritage – or better still Gramps Morgan – you will realise that they are not a small music unit.

 

And their expressed interest to perform in Malawi cannot be taken lightly.

 

Now I am not aware of how this is going to work out. If you must know, apart from Standard Bank, the other firms that have brought artists to the country include the telecommunication company Access which brought South African’s Freshly Grounds to Music Lake of Stars festival in Mangochi.

 

There was also Total Malawi that used to bring Western African stars like Salif Keita, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Angelique Kidjo, Ismael Lo among others with their collaboration with the defunct French Cultural Centre.

 

Now considering that these are not promoters but were only doing so with an interest to promote their business profiles, I am still left with the question: if Morgan Heritage wants an ‘experienced promoter’ or Malawi’s ‘best promoter’ to link them with their tour if they have to perform in the country, are we really going to get the better end of the stick in this deal?

 

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Mafunyeta, death in crystal ball


There is something about death of musicians that beggars belief. It seems musicians always hint about their own death.

Take Vic Marley, for example. A few days after his track ‘Ndikazamwalira’ where he was wondering whether he would die in an accident or after some illness, the ‘Hi-Ho’ creator died in a road accident in 2005.

Across the Atlantic, rap stars Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls (‘Life After Death’) and Tupac Amaru Shakur aka Makaveli (‘If I Die Tonight’) sang about their own mortality.  

Two weeks ago, I mourned Patrick Magalasi aka Mafunyeta. He died at 25 and at that time he was in the studio working on his third album which I have gathered was entitled ‘Ruling’.

The three-year-long career of Mafunyeta was about to make a huge turn for the better going by some tracks recorded under the Warge Record label that I have listened to.

Without becoming something that was not Mafunyeta, the pre-mature ‘Ruling’ album shows that that the dance-hall star had gotten tired of teasing girls as he ably demonstrated in his previous album ‘Ndimakondwa’.

This time round he got so bold. Without being direct in some instances, he took on President Joyce Banda in tracks like ‘Rrrrraaaaaah’ which was addressing the late President Bingu wa Mutharika who he is calling ‘Dad’.

He again pulls the ‘Dad’ banter again in the track ‘Nyerere’ where he is saying had he been an ant, surely he would have burrowed deep into the soil and gone underground and came out through late Mutharika’s tomb at Mpumulo wa Bata in Ndata to asked him if it was true that he was murdered.

“Ndikanakhala Nyerere ine aye, Ndikanakumba Ndilowe…

Ndikanakumba nkulowa, nkusowa

Ndikanatulukira pa manda pa Robert Chasowa

Ndikadamfunsa mafunso kuti: ‘hey man, ndi chani chimene chinachitika

Chonena ife chikutisowa

Kenaka ndikatulukira ku manda ku Ndata

Kenaka ndikanawafunsa wadada

Kuti eti inunso anachita kukuphani?”

 

The lyrics are purely political rhetorical expression as he further says as an ant, he would have entered Parliament during refreshment break and ate all the food to protest that what parliamentarians deliberated on did not serve the constituents.

 

He further says as an ant he would have gone to the seat of authority and ate it off so that the leader should fall through.   

 

Come back again’ is a track where – like ‘Rrrrraaaaaah’ – he announces that his style is evolving from the old. “I have a new style called ‘Come Again’,” he pronounces.

On this track he says when Vic Marley died, he (Mafunyeta) ‘came back’ and when he would die, someone would come back.

“Vick Marley him come

And dead and me come again

After me come somebody else

Come back again!”

He mixed this track with at least three traditional songs like “Sinkupha ndine nkangudya nawo,”; “Musakanene tapeza a Khristu natamba,”; “Mwana akamadwala mfiti namuwona samusiya mpaka atafa”.

The dancehall artist says if he were a witch he would have flown to the World Bank and collected forex for Malawi or better still he would have flown to the Middle East and collected fuel and filled all the automobiles in the country.

There is also ‘Udikire’, which I had listened to before, where he is encouraging a girlfriend he has just impregnated to be strong and not fear her parents.

There are other tracks like ‘Dancing Class’, a departure from his dancehall sound-set rhythms and an adoption of the Kwaito beat. In ‘Ghetto Yute’ he is featuring colleagues Blaze and Chizzy.

Mafunyeta has shown his mellow side on this album by coming up with matured girl-teaser version of the ‘Kangobwela’ and ‘Ndimakondwa’ class in ‘Kakungokamba Mbwelera’ and ‘Pamkeka’.

Those that really got taken by ‘Kangobwela’ and ‘Ndimakondwa’ will now be overly hooked up by ‘Kakungokamba Mbwelera’  which he really did show that Mafunyeta was indeed the master of his own musical style.

With some political shades that he has adopted in the music and the doggedness to tackle social ills, ‘Ruling’ without attempting to sound nice to the dead, would have taken Mafunyeta to another level.

Imagine with a single album he conquered all. When other artists take more than four albums in as long as a decade to make a name, it only took Mafunyeta two songs to gain him fame.

The irony of death is heart-wrenching. Mafunyeta had only to sing that he wished he was an ant so that he could go to the tomb of Bingu to ask him if he indeed he was murdered. But death gave him more than he bargained for; it took him to the world of the dead where he would now have to face Bingu and ask him this question.

And this brings me to where I had started before: Do musicians fore-see their own death?

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