I was privileged to have been one of the judges at last Saturday’s Chibuku Road to Fame where twelve bands from the Northern, Central, Eastern and Southern regions competed for the grand prize of K1 million, plus a K400,000 recording deal, as well as a trip to the regional Chibuku Road to Fame in Botswana.
To start with, it was a disappointing encounter because, from the word go, it looked as if those organising the event – the Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) and Chibuku Products Limited – were taken unawares to put the event together.
By noon, when everything was supposed to have started, the organisers were still mounting the stage. To make matters worse, this continued even when bands started testing instruments which was a distraction to both the performers and the audience.
At the end of the show, I, together with the other panellists – veteran broadcaster and musician Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma and music lecturer at Chancellor College Andrew Falia, who was the Chief Judge – agreed that the competing groups should have refused to go ahead with the mediocre musical equipment.
I am not sure why the High Table was reserved for Sports and Youth Minister Grace Chiumia and her officials when the reason we had assembled at the venue was to let the performers play music and be judged.
Because of such a bad decision on how and where to set the stage, a number of things were clearly improvised. So the make-shift stage was clearly that – ‘makeshift’! No wonder it kept mocking the K15 million that was billed for the event.
Just to demonstrate how haphazard the preparations were, while the competition was still on – and having realised that it would be past dusk before the charade would end – the organisers came on stage and started setting up lighting, something that would have been done at the time the stage was being constructed.
In the end, I was not surprised that one band disputed our judgment that its performance was ‘below par’ because it played in the dark.
Then there was the question of the poor output of the equipment which made voices hoarser than the normal voice of the artist. Or, in a number of instances, the bass guitar would eclipse all other instruments leading to a cacophony of disorganised noise.
I wonder why a competition worth K15 million could fail to hire top-class equipment like that of the calibre of the Mibawa Open Air Music Equipment or indeed the one belonging to Mr. Entertainers Promotion.
It is clear that due to lack of good quality bands that brought other elements like Nyau, Beni and other traditional dancers managed to distract better musical judgement from the audience. In the end, a commendable initiative from Chibuku Products was reduced to be reduced as ‘one of those things’ that have failed to promote the growth of music in Malawi.
The idea of throwing light on talent that is hidden in dark corners of the country for us all to see and appreciate is really what the local music industry badly needs. However, when badly done, we should not allow ourselves to be shut up for fear of scaring away the potential sponsors.
If Chibuku Products Limited and MUM think of putting K15 million to good use, they need to be well organised. They should not be afraid to approach those that have music equipment that matter for the sake of the competition. After all, it is going to be a musical competition.