When churches adopt Nyabinghi chants

There was some hype last year in December when Men’s Choir St. Johann of Basel in Switzerland performed three Nyabinghi chants.

Many questions arose as to why a church should use something from another that do not in a way subscribe to their belief.

Although we talk of Nyabinghi chants, even when Nyabinghi is one of the mansions of Rastafari which are branches of the Rastafari movement, the chants are done by all the mansions, including the Bobo Shanti, the Nyabinghi themselves, the Twelve Tribes of Israel and others.

Of course, the mansion term is taken from the Biblical verse in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

And many individual Rastas are only loosely affiliated with these mansions, or not at all, according to internet information. This is in keeping with the principle of freedom of conscience, a general distrust of institutionalism shared by many, and the teachings of Haile Selassie I as Emperor that “faith is private” and a direct relationship requiring no intermediary.

Now let’s talk about the Nyabinghi chants also known as binghi. This is a kind of music that Rastas use when they congregate during their celebrations which are referred to as “groundations”.
Rastas say the rhythms of these chants were eventually an influence of popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music.

Nyabinghi chants use three kinds of drums which are called “harps”.
These ones include one that produces bass called the “Pope Smasher” or “Vatican Basher”, which is a means to denounce Catholicism and Babylon.

The other drums are the middle-pitched funde which plays a regular one-two beat and the bass drum strikes loudly on the first beat, and softly on the third beat (of four while the third one is akete which is also known as the “repeater” because it plays an improvised syncopation.

Count Ossie was the first to record Nyabinghi, and he helped to establish and maintain Rastafari culture. Ossie, born Oswald Williams around 1926 in Jamaica and died on 18 October 1976, formed a group called “Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari” as a renown Jamaican drummer with whom he issued two albums, one of them Tales of Mozambique.

Nyabinghi drumming makes basis rhythms for reggae music and it has revolutionised Jamaican music by combining the various Nyabinghi parts into a ‘complete’ “drum kit,” which combined with jazz to create an entirely new form of music, known as ska, which was the precursor of the reggae genre.

Ossie is attributed as the creator of Nyabinghi rhythms as he incorporated influences from traditional Jamaican Kumina drumming with songs and rhythms learned from the recordings of Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji.

Ossie combined Jamaican traditions with newly acquired African ones from the Nigerian master-drummer Olatunji.

Olatunji, born Lagos, developed his music while in the US after reading in Reader’s Digest magazine about the Rotary International Foundation’s scholarship programme and applied for it. He went to the US in 1950 but released released his first of six records on the Columbia label, called Drums of Passion, in 1959 which became a major hit as it introduced many Americans to world music.

Nyabinghi drumming goes along with recitation of the Psalms as well as well-known Christian hymns hence Nyabinghi chants which was popularised with the recordings of Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, as well as the Rastafari Elders.

It is, therefore, a wonder that such a seemingly Rastafarian music is finding its way in white Christian churches which chanted ‘No Night in Zion’ alongside the other two chants.


MUM’s Chimwemwe Mhango

Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) must be a very lucky institution to have the Rev. Chimwemwe Mhango at the helm. To start with, when he was starting, I dismissed him as just one of the many heads of the then Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) who have come to confuse things even more.

Just last month, the grouping of the musicians saw something in the good reverend and retained him as their president.

When I talked to him in March last year, he told me about the vision that he and his executive had in running the affairs of musicians in the country.

The body has been a shame and I have written enough on my misgivings with it not to waste time to repeat the same here.

The body that was MAM was failing to be an affiliate of the Federation of Professional Musicians because, as the requirements demand, it was not a union.

What it means now is that no one will just wake up one day and claim to be a musician as there will be a Code of Ethics and Conduct that musicians will have to follow to the letter.

Likewise, no institution, corporate, religious or otherwise will not just wake up one day and make musicians perform at their events without signing the dotted lines of binding contracts.

The industry has now gained the semblance of order and soon the body, in collaboration with government, will come up with a mechanism where all foreign artists that come into the country to perform must pay temporary affiliation fee.

When I talked to Mhango then, the reasoning was that this is because foreign artists come here to work. Besides, the local body will be raising an alternative income.
Slowly the musicians’ body is getting rid of the mentality that was inculcated in the musicians that MAM’s duty was to be begging on their behalf.

And where it was failing, the musicians would ask for alms themselves, which was a defeatist attitude that was helping them to embrace mediocrity.

The reverend has now made every musician in the country to be counted and earn respect.

I know the advantage with unionism is that there is always a saving culture which will remove the situation where when our artists are down on their luck they should be going around with begging bowls looking for alms. This tendency brings ridicule to the profession.

Seeing the good work that Rev. Mhango and his team are now doing at MUM I thought I should dedicate this week’s entry to them so that they are encouraged to steer the musicians’ ship to clear waters and finally earn the respect of all and sundry.

Piracy resurrects Ned Mapira

Pirated Ned Mapira CD

This week on Monday my brother, Ephraim, called me from the grounds of Hyper Store in City Centre Lilongwe. Apparently, he was in his car at the parking lot waiting for my in-law, Clara, who had gone inside for some purchases, when vendors selling different wares approached him.

What attracted him were music CDs which had my face on them and he was taken aback thinking that I have ventured into music – meaning not writing and critiquing the performances of our artists as I do over here week in week out, but the actual singing that has culminated into an album.

On close inspection, he discovered that in fact the CD indicated that it was the work of the fallen musical great Ned Mapira whose album ‘Chosatha’, a traditional music album, sold over 63,000 copies posthumously.

The vendor demanded K1, 500 for the CD but using his negotiation skills my brother got it down to K500.

My brother called me instantly to meet him having bought the CD. I drove to City Centre where he gave me the CD and, indeed there I was, on the cover of Ned Mapira’s pirated work.

When I reached the parking space of the Hyper Store the vendors, including those selling the pirated music, swarmed around me. My heart bled when I discovered that the extent of producing and selling pirated work has gotten worse.

Well, the first feeling was that of anger, and questions started welling up within my psyche for I thought this was the prize those in the business of piracy have decided to give me, finally, for crying out loud!

When I had taken a Ned Mapira CD, then it dawned on the vendors who I was. I was Mapira’s ghost and they all vanished, and not before snatching the CD from my hand.

It’s a pity that for a mere K500 or K1000 one can buy a single CD with Lucius Banda’s all 17-lifetime-albums. The vendors are putting all the Kuimba albums, all the lifetime toils of The Black Missionaries, in just one CD for a K500.

People have argued before against the tendency. The artists have complained loudly that piracy is killing them but those that have the powers to control it have either failed or they just don’t care.

For argument’s sake, one might say people still love Ned Mapira and, since our music marketing and distributing system is mediocre – if not  nonexistent – then those that need the music can do with the provisions created by those pirating. But what would you say about Lucius Banda or Mablacks’ music which has also been denigrated in the manner I have described above when it has well supplied distribution system?

There was a time when I asked the question on these same pages on how the dead musicians get their royalties where I looked at the big difference between doing something in Malawi and doing similar thing in the West.

There was a time that I wondered on this very page why Michael Jackson’s riches are increasingly making him posthumously richer when there is no penny to show for Malawi’s fallen reggae hero Evison Matafale.

Without bothering to look at a well-coordinated system where musicians outside can release just a mere single and hit gold and continue making more money even after they die, I want us to look at what happens to music of our dead musicians.
We still hear songs on our radios that were done by the late Robert and Arnold Fumulani, Alan Namoko, Daniel and MacDonald Kachamba, States Samangaya and the list goes on and on. Where are the royalties and how different is it when vendors are cashing on the work of the dead?

This might look as if it is the problem for the dead, but, as I faced it this week in Lilongwe, believe you me piracy is the cancer that will kill the living artist.

Where are the Sunbird stars?

So, the Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ is now in eviction phase which is a sure way of trying to ape the South African and US Pop Idols, although without being a complete replica when it comes to what accrues for the competitors.

Look, the American Idols, for example, since it began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, has not only become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television, but also has spawned 345 Billboard chart-toppers besides producing what have become top international stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jordin Sparks.

Of course, the South African idols has its fair share of controversies as the television show on the South African television network, M-Net, as – until its eighth season – the contest only determined the white competitors as best young singers in South Africa until Khaya Mthethwa became its first black winner, ending the dominance of racial minorities.

The good news is that Mthethwa took home a prize package worth almost R1m, including a recording contract with Universal Music, South Africa.

It is apparent that someone watched both the US and South African pop idols, both of which base their format on the British series, and thought of replicating the same back home.

The Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’, other than the marketing ploy that it is, is but a mockery of the ‘stars’.

Adrian Kwelepeta fast comes to mind. He won the last season and it’s just now that he has been able to release an album. He says this is the case because he was searching for resources.

Apart from promoting the Sunbird brand, the country’s search for a star really also needs to ensure that the stars are not just fading.

The initiative is commendable because it is the best when it comes to isolating the stars from the crowd. My opinion is that it, however, needs to take a mile further by finding the stars institutions that should train them to become professional musicians.

At the current trend, it is all clear that these youths, who are hungry for fame and swayed by the belief that what their vocal cords can project is sweet sound that can stand the musical test, will remain being used as pawns in this marketing promotion game.

The flowing of benefits in the end create a disharmony of sorts as it is one-sided, flowing at the promotion of the corporate firms without trickling down to those players that make the whole event matter.    

Adrian pocketed a K500, 000 prize money but where did it take him to if for a year he had to hunt for resources to record an album?

By the way, where is the second spot winner, Chisomo ‘Chichi’, and, of course, the third winner, Ruth Magona?

Of course, the organisers say the Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ was a success in 2013 and the competition has proven effective as a corporate social responsibility intervention to showcase innovative singing talent among the youth of Malawi.

I know Sunbird has been partnering E-Wallet to implement and manage the show. E-Wallet’s Felix Njawala says, through the show, they intend to enhance and enrich musical talent in the country putting much focus on the youth.

But where is the talent that E-wallet unveiled? Where are the Sunbird ‘stars’ that were ‘searched’ and ‘found’ through last season’s event?

Why Oliver Mtukudzi still matters

Was it a privilege? Yes, I guess it was.

On the night of Wednesday, August 20, I had an opportunity to share the same dinner table with Oliver Mtukudzi, hosted by Latitude 13, barely 48 hours before he staged a sterling performance at the Bingu International Conference Centre auditorium on invitation by Qoncept Creative which is setting some ambitious bars in the entertainment business.

Talking to him on the day, his voice was perpetually husky; you needed to pay close attention to listen to what exactly he was talking about.

Also present on the table were his female vocalists, Alice Muringayi and Fiona Gwena, as well as his drummer Sam Mataure and a youthful bass guitarist, Enoch Piroro.

The one who was taking command of the conversation was Sam who talked a lot about their globe-trotting career which has taken them to almost all corners of planet earth.    

Both Tuku and Sam recalled names of people they have dealt with in Malawi before, including Enoch Mbandambanda and a music promoter from Blantyre called Pedro, whom Tuku described as the calmest Malawian he has ever met.

Both Sam and Tuku recalled how disorganised this promoter was. He was so disorganised that everything that was supposed to facilitate their performance was not adding up and yet Pedro never pressed the panic button as he kept assuring them with aplomb that all was well.

The instruments were poor, they remembered, and that when they reached the stage it was very dark they had to use headlamps from two vehicles that were positioned on the either side of the stage for the show to take place.

Well, this is a story for another day.

At the dinner the impression Tuku gave me was that age was catching up with him although he is only 62. His speech was almost a drawl, twiddling around issues like he was not ready to talk at all.

Even when my colleague Yvonne Sundu and I asked to talk to him away from the dinner table, for him just to rise from where he sat and walk to the place we needed him to be took a lot of effort.

But come Friday night at the Bingu International Conference Centre auditorium, I saw another Oliver Mtukudzi.

Throughout the show I kept asking myself how can one person live two lives that are a total contrast of each other?

From a seemingly tired old man to an energetic musical super star who danced throughout the 16 songs that he played for two hours running, I was left dazed with amazement at his energy-consuming dancing antics.

My fear throughout the performance was that fatigue will catch up with him. I was wrong. His dinner table fading voice was gone, replaced by a booming voice that has become the Tuku signature worldwide.

My goodness, Tuku and The Black Spirits only use five instruments for all the international appeal; the voice, the lead guitar, the bass, the drum and an occasional tambourine.

However, because Tuku is so good at his game, he leaves you with the impression that he has a whole range of instruments, including an orchestra, for his trademark Tuku music.

Learning from the best  

Last week I had the honour to be flown to Jo’burg by Malawian Airlines to interview headliners at this year’s Lake of Stars Music Festival.

These were the Mafikizolo duo, Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, as well as South African Hip-Hop artist Sizwe Moeketsi aka Reason. 

One thing that came out clearly is the fact that being an artist is supposed to be an organised job.

The main issue that was not spoken during the two interviews, but was clearly registered on my mind, is that our musicians have not dared the music industry enough.

There is one advantage that comes with breaking into the international music market, which is to give it out to the audience in line with what you believe in.

Originality is the mother of best innovations and what has failed our musicians a lot is the proclivity to move with the crowd where if people like Joseph Nkasa’s beat, then if Moses Makawa will come on the musical scene then this is the beat to go with.

Talk of artists like Mafikizolo, for example; they came on the scene with hits like Kwela-kwela and had a break of seven years before re-emerging on the musical scene with a track like Khona which is a dare-devil departure from what they have been known for.

Nhlanhla, the female member of Mafikizolo, says change is growth and if you have to succeed in this business you have to be brave enough to try on other genres.

And it does not matter whether such genres were established already or are a product that becomes the artist’s brain-child.

Even when you are playing genres like Hip-Hop that are already established, you have to do them better than the existing music because you risk imitating something that exposes not only your mediocre talent but your lack of ambition as well.

Take Reason, for example. He boasts of such a long history with Hip-Hop. He says to a certain degree he got so brave and started experimental approach to his creativity after feeling he had done just about everything with Hip-Hop.

He says Malawian artists must strive to be creative in whatever realm they pinch their beacons in in order to have to have a trans-generational appeal with their music.

He says, for example, he has caught his father listening to his album and he finds it instructive since that is the only way he can have a conversation with his father about his life experiences.

Apart from artists like Lawi, who would give you what is their concept of music, most of our artists lack courage to try out something new that should solely be a product of their imaginations.

My feeling is that unless we dare, we won’t break into the international music market.

Where is Lloyd Phiri’s song?

When you are a gospel artist you risk being dismissively given the rubbish tag that is cynical of every musical talent and endowment on display.

In the past, I have argued on the basis that every religious belief is a closed system and as a result it has its bedrock on a specific dogmatic belief. This is the reason one can neither question nor disagree with church authorities.

While the explanation is that God is Omnipotent, He was there and shall always be there looks like enough, it still has holes which fail to hold together even a child’s credulity.

This is where a belief will use its ‘closed system’ which simply shuts up you by saying it is the evil powers of Satan that drives you to ask such questions. This snaps any desire to ask more questions. This approach is what is usually looked at as a dogmatic slumber where you wake up at your own peril.

This frame is unfortunately one which most gospel musicians want to use. They sing very bad songs, which they are not even ashamed to put on CDs or tapes and call them albums, comfortable in the belief that no one will point a finger at their mediocrity because it is the Word of God.

Artists that are into gospel take it for granted that since it is gospel music then they could get away with murder.

No, as I have disputed before, I am not going to fall for that; this is a big blue lie. God loves beauty, this is the reason even his creations are beautiful, including Lucifer himself although in believers’ depiction he is shown as a badly-horned looking creature!

Lloyd Phiri, one of the country’s best gospel artists, has proven over the years that he is into the game of music not to hide behind gospel, but because he is a multi-talented artist.

Lloyd started his musical career in 1998 and since then he has released eight albums and six video albums.

To show how good he is, Lloyd has been a producer, an engineer and a session artist of different instruments in his studio. Some of the country’s top-notch gospel artists that have gone through his hands in his studio include Allan Ngumuya, Favoured Sisters, Allan Chirwa, Wyclief Chimwendo, Ethel Kamwendo Banda, The Joshua Generation, Thoko Katimba, Kafita Nursery Choir, Maggie Mangani, the late Geoffrey Zigoma, Bertha Nkhoma, Living Waters Praise Team and Princes Chitsulo.

In fact the famous track from Chitsulo, ‘Ndizayimba’, was done by Lloyd. 

And, if one traces Lloyd from 2001 when he released his first album Musagwedezeke – with hit song ‘Afuna Mulape’, you will appreciate how gifted he is. In fact, MBC listeners awarded this track as the Number One song in the ‘Entertainers of the year’ awards for 2002.

The following year he released Ndagwiritsa and another hit track on this album ‘Sindimatsilira Zachikunja’ won the MBC Entertainers of the Year’ award in the Best Song category for 2003.

He took a break when he went to the UK in 2003 where he started with several performances before enrolling with Manchester Christian College for Bible Studies. He returned in 2006 and opened Llohay Sound Control which is contraption of his name Lloyd and Harriet, his wife’s name. In fact Harriet is one of his backing vocalists in the Happiness Voices Band.

The studio has now changed name to One Heart Studios.

The same year he released a third album Nkadangokhuza which he recorded and mastered in his new studio. In 2007 he became the first musical artist to produce a live recorded album at the then French Cultural Centre.

In 2009 he released another album called Sikuthekera Kwanga. He also produced a live DVD Volume II but was duped by distributors and was left penniless.

For three-and-a-half years Lloyd struggled to revive his career by recording artists in his studio until indeed he managed to get enough resources to release a 15-track album Sachedwa Safulumira last year.

This is where there are tracks that have taken the consumers by storm such as ‘Wonkana Yesu’ and ‘Yesu Akubwera’. He has also included Praise and Worship tracks like ‘Yehova M’busa Wanga’ and ‘Inetu Ine’.

He has now released another album just this year called Assaulted, an English-dominated album with tracks like ‘It’s by Design’ which is against homosexuality.

He also did ‘One Love’ which a Lucky Dube total imitation.

Need I say more about Lloyd Phiri’s talent?