Tired of writing about MAM

I am beginning to think that I waste my precious time and space over here when I write about the Musicians Association of Malawi (Mam).

Last time, I wrote that Mam has been a big letdown to me as well as to the owners – the musicians – in more than over half a decade that I been writing about music on these pages.

This body, to start with, is supposed to be the big thing that ever happened to music in Malawi; big thing in the sense of being a blessing; but no, it is a big curse that continues to mock Malawi’s music growth.

You might thing I am maliciously being hard on Mam, but let me share with you my experience of last Saturday when Southern Region chapter of MAM organised a musical festival at the Blantyre Cultural Centre, formerly French Cultural Centre.

They indicated that the show will be starting at 10 AM in the morning, but I and my son Vinandi went there around 2PM.

What we got ourselves into there had my six-year-old son surprising me with his observation: “Ada mwangobesatu ndalama zanu” and lord! I didn’t know the young lad’s vocabulary is growing as the society is still busy coining words and phrases.

Yes, he said I had lost my money because they were charging K700 per head and they shamelessly had to get the money under the eyes of Southern Region Mam boss Patrick Simakweli who was sitting right at the entrance.

When I proceeded to the stage there was something that would make you think some little boys in Ndirande or Chilomoni had collected rundown musical instruments that they got from some pawn markets and were trying them to see if they can play.

It was so childish that they had four small ragged speakers, a pair on both side of the stage which were struggling to give out sound not because they were too damaged but because the instrument used were even too rickety to produce any sound themselves.

While I was still looking in disbelief as six people were trying to tune a guitar so that the backline system would be transposed for lack of straight performing equipment, there came Njati Njedede who was expected to be one of the performers.

When I was leaving the venue, he left with us saying he was equally disappointed that MAM can sell ‘Zinthu za Masanje’  – meaning something childish and completely devoid of any iota of professionalism – and expected him to perform.

In the middle of playing the equally ramshackle of a keyboard, they sound could get lost and they would be trying to pull around badly taped wires. Lord! What a big shame it was.

“Band yakuti zida amazitchera pa transpose” was all Njedede said when he indicated that he did not want to be part of the shame.

No wonder, there were about 20 people at the venue and apart from I and my son, the rest of the people were performers and their relatives, which meant they paid nothing.

As I was leaving the place, so many questions started getting into my head. More so, because last time I talked to MAM President Rev. Chimwemwe Mhango I was made to believe that this is an organisation that was professionally run.

Earlier this year, I had a telephone discussion with Mam Rev. Mhango

He said in our talk then that gone are the days when Mam embraced mediocrity by associating with dubious musicians and ignoring well established musicians.

The Rev. Mhango said there was an ongoing process within the musical body that is aiming at regaining trust and ensuring that musicians become responsible to sacrifice not only for the good of their association but for their own good as well.

I dare say that last Saturday, they just lost my trust.

I am failing to imagine that a whole professional body can take nursery school musical instrument to a professional venue like Blantyre Cultural Centre and expect people to take them serious.

I am pleading with the body for the last time perhaps to get serious with themselves.

There are plenty of the youth that have been taken up by the music frenzy that has gripped the country. If Mam were a seriously managed body they would hire professional instrument and invite the many blossoming musicians out there that crave for an opportunity to perform before a crowd and at a bigger stage.

This is because much as the youth are training themselves at the backdoor spots, they only show how good they are when try emerge from studios and are not sure how they can do it on stage.

This is where a serious musical body come in, but it’s a shame when a body reduces its self to mediocre and ridicule as it did last Saturday.

This is not the time that a body like Mam should be showing signs that they do not know what is expected of it when it comes to organising musical shows.


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Live DVD: Ethel Banda way

Granted, we all know Ethel Kamwendo Banda is talent personified. But what I, at least, did not know is the prowess that goes with her stage antics.
Last week I whined about how Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF) gave me a raw deal. And much as I hinted that I did not lose much because the poor showing was compensated by performances of Ethel Kamwendo and Lloyd Phiri, what I did not mention was that Ethel had properly advertised for her show on Mother’s day.
Her BAF exhibit was the first time that I was watching her perform live and I needed a second go to validate her ability to do the acts that impressed me on the first occassion.
Well, one thing I think I benefitted from the show was buying a copy of her 13th Album entitled: “Ethel Kamwendo Banda Live at Comesa Hall”.
This is top quality piece of art despite a few ‘issues’ here and there.
For instance, there is a long sermon at the beginning by Ethel which risks putting off those that prefer the Word sang rather than being preached. But if you endure it to the end, you are going to be given the best of Malawi’s live music video collection.
The picture quality shows that Chipi Khonje producer and co-director has come of age.
And watching the DVD you would really appreciate that when one embarks on a project you just do not pick any other artisan for quality work. The acknowledgement section of the DVD says Cameras were handled by Edson Gunsalu, Lucius Funsani and Edwin Mushani who, in my view knew what they were doing.
They managed to capture the mood in the hall, they were able to present the whole Impact Band that backed Ethel and better still, they brought into being, better shots even when faced with compromising lighting as it is apparent the show was done at night.
Then there is live audio recording which was done by no lesser mortal than Jabbey Nkhwazi, the accomplished sound engineer.
The sound quality is top notch. Meaning; the Impact Band was tight in their performance. Unfortunately the only band members acknowledged as the DVD rolls to the end are Greshan Mokwena on Main Piano, Dickson Kankhunda on Keyboards, Amos Mlolowa on Drums and Omex Chimpeni on Percussion; viewers will be left wondering who the lead and bass guitarists are.
Blessings Banda, the director and Ethel’s spouse says they used 12Note Studios Equipment belonging to US based brother to Ethel, Jack Kamwendo. He says in fact the whole studio was planted at the Comesa venue of the show and this explains the top quality music in the DVD.
Gospel songbird Ethel Kamwendo Banda started from secular terrain before jumping ship to join the gospel fray, she has neither changed nor disappointed. One might argue that she found a more comfortable home with gospel music much more than she did with secular. But I would say she was born a musician.

Consider the age at which Ethel Kamwendo Banda started her music career and the influence from her elderly siblings in The Kamwendo Brothers Band 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.

When she first decided to start Gospel Music, no one gave her chance that she could live up to the challenge; it was like a short holiday that would see her back to the Atelala Mundilinge ndi Maso fame. Or does she look at it as notoriety?
Both ways she has made a name; she was a known secular music diva and now she holds the crown of Gospel Music Queen. When she announced her conversion, I remember my colleague Alexander Newa writing that ‘Kamwendo, born into a Catholic family, let music decide the course of her life while her faith took the back seat.
Alexander (deceased) thought that there would be another Epiphany for Ethel when he wrote: “Ethel says she will launch her (first) gospel album, for which she yet has to decide a name…Pity there won’t be any of those famous, suggestive dance steps…perhaps until her next Epiphany.”
Now 13 years later she has 12 Gospel albums to her name.
I wish ‘Zander’ were alive to see how best Ethel has used the dance to serve God. The DVD which has tracks done in local Beni, Tchopa, Ingoma, Reggae, allows for some gyrating to gospel rhythms.
In fact starting from the number 7 track, ‘Alemekezeke’ there is a trio that has done it all.
In short, this is a must have DVD, like Blessings confided in me, the quality work has found a huge market in Tanzania, I wonder why I bought it at K500, its worthy much more than that.
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Cheated by BAF

Believe it or not but last Sunday was the first time that I have ever attended the Blantyre Arts Festival (BAF). Not because I had any problems with it, but every time it was on I would either be outside the country or something really ‘burning’ would crop up.
Likewise, I missed the festival from Thursday, when it started but chanced upon it on Sunday.
My first impression was that of disappointment.
From the time that I arrived at the Blantyre Cultural Centre in the afternoon, I stayed for two hours without knowing what was happening.
At this time what was going on in my mind was something like disbelief that this was indeed the same festival that brought along Mutabaruka all the way from Jamaica in 2010, Zimbabwe’s music maestro Oliver Mtukudzi in 2011 and even Mali’s legendary performer Salif Keita last year.
The main stage for the cultural centre, which government has chosen to pay no attention to, is grass-thatched and apparently due to the rains that have been falling in the city the roof had to be covered with canvas to protect the equipment. This they were doing in front of an audience pregnant with expectation.
In fact what remained was the performance of a Tanzanian band called Afrikwetu, our own gospel artists Lloyd Phiri and Ethel Kamwendo-Banda and, lastly, what was this year’s headliner band from Botswana called Slizer.
The sound system was top-notch but the shilly-shallying to get things moving was made worse with the lady MC calling on stage some cartoons that insulted the whole arts concept. Their poems were half-baked, their jokes so tired they made me almost puke with shame.
At last came Lloyd Phiri and Ethel Kamwendo-Banda after him. And then the Tanzanian act did not disappoint.
But as is the case with typical Malawian mentality, while Kamwendo-Banda was about to go on stage, after the performance of Piksy who had failed to turn up on Saturday, the MC connived with some people and sneaked on the list someone who was not appearing anywhere on the programme to do some antics he mistook for music.
They called him Collins Chitimbe. I had never seen him perform before but what I witnessed brought shame on BAF and I kept wondering why this act was even left to play longer than was necessary. His voice was forced and his body language exuded negative energies due to choreographically disjointed attempts to do what those in the know do.
I thought for one to appear at BAF they are supposed to earn it, but this clown found himself on stage through the back-door. Organisers acted as if all was well as the pretender wasted 40 minutes of the audience’s precious time with his cacophony of noise.
Then there was also some sign that the festival artists did not do enough to practice their stage antics. Right at the close of the festival Slizer (by the way the group was backed by a Malawian band that also backed Kamwendo-Banda and Phiri although they still they called it Slizer Band) wanted to show something that would have ended up in a disaster.
They wanted to get up there on the supporting wooden poles of the stage, not knowing that termites had done justice to them and the moment they jumped on it, they snapped and nearly hit them.
This was just a dance group, not musicians. They shouted hoarse into the microphone so much that when you consider the other headline artists like Mutabaruka, Mtukudzi and Keita before them you just realise that this was a raw deal.
Perhaps I am missing the point. This was Blantyre Arts Festival and not Blantyre Musical Festival. Granted, but these came as a Tswana band. At least they needed to give out musical performance but, nay, the Malawi band did that while they did the dancing performance.
There was nothing to write home about about these Tswanas when you consider that there was nothing highbrow in terms of choreography that was on display apart from the costumes that revealed more than my grandmother would recommend. They did gyrate their waists, however, forcing men with wet loins to rush to the stage with their smartphones to capture the lewd act for keeps.
As someone who was having his first BAF experience, I guess what I got was something that would not leave a lasting impression.
Notwithstanding my being largely underwhelmed I guess the K1000 that I paid for the show was not wasted considering the performance from the two gospel artists and the Tanzanian outfit.
As for Piksy, here is an entertainer who uses voice and right from the start he apologised for having lost it to flu but still went ahead to perform. My foot! This was daylight robbery. This guy struggled and because we are Malawians we still clapped hands so that he could mock us more.
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