This week as I took a walk around Motel Blantyre I couldn’t help it but notice the numerous posters advertising live performances by Malawi artists. They ranged from secular to gospel artists promising scintillating performances in various venues around Blantyre.
I will say again that my home is a stone throw away from Motel Paradise which is one haven of live performances by artists and this gives me a front row seat to witness just how often Malawian artists do hold live shows.
As a music critic I sometimes wonder if the repeated and numerous performances that our artists give are as a result of passion or a quest to earn a living bearing in mind that music distribution is a challenge with the closure of OG Issa music centre.
I find it pleasing that Malawians can choose to attend music shows of their favourite artists week in week out in the major parts of the country. But as the trend is recommendable one can’t help but notice that it is the same artists who have the privilege of holding such shows albeit at the same venues.
If one asks around, the reasons why certain artists can’t hold shows, the answers range from lack of funds to poor patronage. Yet every week we see posters, newspaper adverts of say Mablacks holding shows or The Great Angels Choir having a series of shows where people patronize such shows.
This trend has two faces; one is that it gives Malawians that much needed entertainment. The other face is that the artists of bands which have resources are monopolizing stage performances so much so that frequent patrons have gone to the extent of memorizing how certain artists handle themselves on stage. Sentences like “Timangopita chifukwa tinazolowela” are common. In other words the ‘wow’ factor is long gone.
But is there a limit as to how often artists can hold live shows? The answer is no. However in order to sustain the interest of music lovers it is important for those artists who hold live performances frequently to make sure that they put in a lot when preparing for such shows.
This includes dressing, choreography and the singing itself. When one put in mind the frequency, one wonders as to whether some of these artists do have time to properly rehearse or they just jump on stage, a microphone in hand and sing their lungs out.
My wife is a huge fan of US pop Diva Mariah Carey and by association, I was somehow persuaded to watch a few episodes of Mariah Carey’s reality show called Mariah’s world. The show basically chronicled her world tour which took her to several countries including South Africa.
One thing that I appreciated about her is the seriousness of her preparation when going on stage. I mean the diva has a throng of dancers, make-up artists, wardrobe managers, floor managers, performance directors and even a hair dresser! I have not even mentioned a team of sound engineers. And when she goes on stage and performs a song let’s say “Hero” which was released over 20 years ago, everyone cannot help but appreciate the artistry being displayed and the great effort put into the performance without considering that the song has been performed on stage for years.
And as she tours the world over and over again, Mariah Carey will still put in so much effort to make sure her looks are on point, her voice is crystal clear, and her back-up dancers are in sync and so on. One can argue to say maybe Mariah Carey is a world class act that cannot be compared to our local artists.
I dare to be different and say, if Malawian artists want to improve then maybe they should reduce the number of shows they hold and improve on the few they can hold. If the outcome improves, they will be appreciated more and they will make more money by increasing the gate fees among others. Rehearsing more and improving other aspects of a stage performance is also a sure way of giving Malawians an experience that is different from the one that we are used to.
The other day someone was asking why The Great Angels choir seems to be popular but music critics have always argued that they do not have the best vocal talent? My response has always been the same; they are the most polished, most organized, most visible choir ever and yes, they produce some great music videos. Simply put, their presentation is attractive and therefore marketable.
What am I trying to say this week? If our artists want to up their game, they have to relook at their game plan. Is it just a matter of holding shows and collecting gate fees? Or it’s a matter of putting in a lot more effort, hold less but classical shows that will improve their image, prop up their standing in society and hopefully takes them on the world map. This is one aspect of the music business that I think in Malawi is neglected. For an artist or a band to be respected, it takes more than just frequent appearances at shows.
The ‘looks’ or appearance have to be an investment, the clothes, the dancing, the vocal arrangement and stuff like that. Otherwise this business as usual attitude where artists give Malawians the same dance moves, same songs, same progression code, same routines is what is delaying the growth of the industry somehow. Food for thought right there!