Wenera Callboys turned Musicians


Towards the end of last year, six call boys who operate at Wenera bus depot brought their four tracks to my attention and it was unbelievable the kind of stuff that they have produced.

Of course they have been heavily influenced by the Jamaican reggae music listening to the four tracks, Kulibe Mdima, Dancehall-Dancehall, Matafale and Africa. As a musical grouping they are now going by the name of Manganga.

For those that have passed through Wenera to various destinations they might have come across of this itinerant grouping with drums of different sizes having been performing the kind of reggae music that is known as Nyabinghi chants that use three kinds of drums which are called “harps”.
The grouping had these harps of different sizes but they still include one that produces bass called the “Pope Smasher” or “Vatican Basher”, that goes together with the other drums; the middle-pitched Funde which plays a regular one-two beat and the bass drum that 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.

The Nyabinghi chants also known as binghi 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

Now the Manganga grouping having performed in different places with their drums decided to enter a musical studio to record their music which producer Uncle Layi has craftily infused with the sound from the drums to form something which is an allure to the ear.

It is an understatement to say that the boys are very talented. They are set to finish recording their album this year and launch it as well. They have made two videos of their released tracks which will indeed coagulate my observation that this is an unexpected music from an unexpected source.

Usually the call boys are associated with all sorts of bad things that one can talk of and listening to the message in their music you will be surprised that perhaps as a society we have been wrong to dismiss these boys and all those of their ilk that their brains have been rubbished with illegal substances and that their thinking would not be considered constructive.

Kulibe mdima is an interesting track that talks of where God dwells where there is no darkness. In the track there is a warning of those who think they can hide under the blanket of darkness to commit crimes arguing that there is no darkness in the eyes of God so stealing at night is as good as stealing in broad day light.

They also have a very strong social stand on issues especially when one listens to their track Matafale. It’s a desperate cry of lack of justice in the way the fallen local Reggae King Evison Matafale died in the hands of the Malawi Police.

With such talent in abundance the boys’ only inevitable pitfall is their tag. As call boys considered uneducated and uncultured it is clear that they move around with this stereotype and therefore live a life of noting giving a damn.

They have been doing band playing sessions in order to be a force that can conduct a live performance but if other members will not come drunk then others will not come at all. The band leader Robert Kanjira is passionate about making it big through hard work doing the music project they are trying to pursue.

But as the saying goes ‘a chain is no stronger than its weakest link’ this could be the grouping’s own undoing. Discipline is paramount to any successful enterprise. If they could just exercise some discipline 2019 could be a surprising musical year for Malawi.

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The remix that was 2018


I would call 2018 as a gigantic musical remix of them all. Many things happened and they did to the pleasure of music lovers. And as is the tradition, Lyrical Pen settles for those who stood out in various aspects of the trade in the year gone by.

Year of Albums

It’s rare for albums to come from our established artists these days due to discouraging marketing dynamics. But once in a while these artists who have resorted to be doing more live performances do realise that fans just do not want to be taken through the same road time and time again.

This is the reason perhaps Black Missionaries had to come up with Kuimba 11, three years after the release of Kuimba 10.

The Black Missionaries

The year like has been the case when Mablacks brings new products to town, it showed that there seems to be people in this country who just love to hate. And if there is one grouping that has grown thick skin because of endless attacks on their works then it is the reggae outfit from Chileka, the Black Missionaries.

Soon after the tracks were released on Friday April 20, 2018 that included Zofuna Mtima Wanga, Umboni, Special Lover and Mbusa and like is the case every time they are about to release an album the noise is always deafening.

People from all callings including some from the media and even from the music industry picked on the four tracks that the Black Missionaries had released in readiness of their ultimate issuing of Kuimba 11 album.

After the release everyone was dancing and singing along and therefore the unwarranted attacks were just that; unwarranted attacks.

Lucius Banda

Earlier in the year, Lucius Banda released his 19th Album which the pain observed was reminiscent of an artist who genuinely stood for the people and ended up branding himself the soldier of the poor until Bakili Muluzi happened.

Rightly called ‘Crimes’ the album took Government to task exactly the same way he used to do with the Government of the first multiparty President Bakili Muluzi. While everyone was clapping hands for Lucius for speaking on their behalf, like a bolt from the blues, he made a U-turn and befriended Muluzi after a special invitation to the kingly walls. Nevertheless what the pen declared over the years is that Malawi has never had a consistent musician more than Lucius Chicco Banda. His music has been the most loved even by those that do not love his person due his political choices.

Lucius Banda has suffered a lot. If it was not his music being banned or censored then it was his entourage being denied venues for live performances. He has even suffered jail sentence, merely because he stood for something that ‘the powers that be’ did not agree with. They had to look for something that would justify his arrest.

Anthony Makondetsa

Another artist of repute that brought us an album in the year is Anthony ‘Mr Cool’ Makondetsa. Otherwise also fondly called ‘Adolo’. His latest album Ndagwira Mbendela is a continuation of the protest that Makondetsa says is now characteristic with his albums talked about.

Ever since in 2013 when Anthony Makondetsa released his seventh album Fuko Lokondedwa  told me that at the rate piracy is happening in Malawi he had realised that an artist can entertain the people for the rest of their life but still die a pauper.

Makondetsa made a decision after releasing Mbumba ya Abraham album that he will sing religious songs which will take him closer to his God in protest against lack of progress despite fame and more musical products.

Skeffa Chimoto

In the year Skeffa Chimoto brought to the fore his sixth album which he christened Masomphenya.

The pen thought this album was a statement that compellingly speaks volumes of his benefaction that is all visibly evident and audibly perceptible in his career.

It seems to suggest it is his career that chose him, unlike many who chose the musical path when everything else stands against their choice.

It was a bountiful year of albums, some of which I have not mentioned here!

 

The UNESCO’s Reggae Music


The specialised agency of United Nations known as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) just declared reggae music, a global treasure that must be safeguarded.

Reggae music was procreated in the womb of the Carribean Island of Jamaica in the poor neighbourhoods of its Capital Kingston in the 1960s.

At the time of its creation reggae reflected hard times and struggle but could also be joyous dance music with its distinctive off-beat drum and bass.

Reggae started with a high tempo sound called Ska which metamorphosized to Rocksteady before finally settling to become reggae.

What is not agreeable to date is on how the name reggae came to be known to describe the new found Jamaican music style.

The superstar who popularised the genre, Robert Nesta Marley otherwise simply known as Bob Marley – the King of Reggae himself – was once quoted claiming that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for “the king’s music”.

The liner notes of To the King, a compilation of Christian gospel Reggae, suggest that the word reggae was derived from the Latin regi meaning “to the king”.

A brief from a website called The Palms Jamaica which states that “Reggae” comes from the term “rege-rege” which means “rags” or “ragged clothes”, and this gives you your first clue into the story behind reggae music.

When it started out in Jamaica around the late 1960s, it says reggae music was considered a rag-tag, hodge-podge of other musical styles, namely Jamaican Mento and contemporary Jamaican Ska music, along with American jazz and rhythm & blues, something like what was coming out of New Orleans at the time.

Some literature states that a 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, “Do the Reggay” was the first popular song to use the word “reggae,” effectively naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience.

Well we are not interested with how it got its name but what it became.

Besides Toots and the Maytals being amongst the pioneers, the Wailers —Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and reggae’s biggest star, Bob Marley – who recorded hits at Dodd’s Studio One and later worked with producer Lee (“Scratch”) Perry took it out of Jamaica to the global heights.

We also have names like that of Duke Reid and Sir Coxsone Dodd who in the mid-1960s directed and produced Jamaican musicians by dramatically slowing the tempo of ska, whose energetic rhythms reflected the optimism that had heralded Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1962.

The evolution of reggae is quite interesting because right in the 1960s dub reggae is born out of an accident leading to spurring into several innovations that brought about a whole new range of musical styles.

As the story goes, sound system operator Ruddy Redwood headed over to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio to cut a mix for that evening’s sound system party. Engineer Byron Smith, by mistake, left out the vocal track, but rather than do another pass left the instrumental mistake pass and this was the birth of dub.

More so when the crowd’s response was electric and before long it became a standard procedure to have instrumental ‘dub’ versions on the b-sides of 45s. The dub gave birth to coming on the scene of artistes likeU-Roy and I-Roy etc.

And again engineers like Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock and Lee “Scratch” Perry began to experiment with effects such as delays, reverbs, and phasers, all the while keeping a heavy emphasis on the drums and bass.

These dubs were infused into many other popular genres, like hip-hop and rap.

What is very captivating is that fact that we still have players and artists in every corner of the world playing that authentic, roots reggae like it was when it started out in Jamaica over 50 years ago.

Back to the Dub accidental birth. Because reggae was not allowed airplay in accustomed outlets the people resorted to moving about large, thunderous stacks of speakers powered by custom-made amplifiers and car batteries means called the local sound system.

Because of competition at the time each system competed for fans and fame by getting the freshest and biggest new song that would get the crowd fired up.

Lucius Banda is the most deserving


We have never had a consistent musician in this country that can beat Lucius Chicco Banda. His music has been the most loved even by those that do not love his person due his political choices.

Lucius Banda has suffered a lot. If it was not his music being banned or censored then it was his entourage being denied venues for live performances. He has even suffered jail sentence, merely because he stood for something that ‘the powers that be’ did not agree with. They had to look for something that would justify his arrest.

Despite such tribulations, he has been popping albums since his inaugural son of a poor man in 1994. In fact it is his body of work that were opening gates to hell for him. When he released Fifteen-Fifteen back in 2012 the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) decided to give Lucius Banda free advertisement by banning his music on their two radio stations, which in turn catapulted the album sales.

His other album ‘LIFE’ awakened the censorship board bull dogs.

All his 20 plus albums have one track that takes after a trademark that Lucius impresses upon in all his albums this far, which in reggae business is known as ‘Dub Reggae Poetry’ styled after the Mutabaruka or Linton Kwesi Johnson productions in this regard.

Now that organisers of the Urban Music People (UMP) awards have unveiled him as the recipient of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement accolade, there is just a lot more than this that Lucius deserves.

If performing for 32 years cannot be consistent then tell me what it is. His music company Zembani which is the stable for his backing band has also been there since 1997. Who can really equal this feat?

This is where many successful and famous local music artists graduated from and now his children are taking over if not complimenting his efforts. He once confessed that he cannot match the musical prowess that is engrossed in his youngest son Mapiri Bakili, long before his elderly brother Jonny also shown the world the musical aspect of his life.

The UMP organisers call Lucius Banda the epitome of music in Malawi and probably the biggest musical act Malawi has ever produced.

What I even found funny was when the UMP organisers were trying to justify why Lucius was chosen, describing the process as a comprehensive analysis by a panel of local music experts. Why did even anyone doubt this?

When we talk of Malawi music, the name Lucius Banda is mentioned with veneration. He has done it all. He has had the best hits. He has had one of the longest surviving musical bands, Zembani. He has also shown us the other side of his music promoting competence when he has managed to bring into the current some big international musical names.

Malawi’s Constitution empowers the President to confer honours on eminent Malawians and other individuals for their dedicated service.

It is called a national system of civilian honours and decorations that established what is known as the Malawi Order of National Achievement.

At least late President Bingu wa Mutharika has ever used this facility to honour musicians including Ethel Kamwendo Banda who got a Senior Achiever award.

At the time where all was rosy between Mutharika and his Vice Joyce Banda he also ushered in the award of the Principal Achiever to Assistant Superintendent Gray John Stewart Mtila who happens to be Joyce Banda’s dad.

Another Grand Achiever is late Mr. Michael Fredrick Paul Sauka, the composer for our National Anthem.

In 2009 Mutharika decorated 15 fellow politician only to improve the following year as the Late Evison Matafale got an Achiever of the Malawi Order of National Achievement alongside another fallen musical giant the Late Saleta Phiri. This was also out of 15 names.

In 2011, things apparently improved as Mzuzu Stadium was set ablaze when President Mutharika determined that eight musicians out of 22 eminent Malawians and a Japanese national, both living and departed, be honoured.

This is the time that Wambali Mkandawire. late Allan Namoko and  Frank Vincent Ndiche Mwarare and Joseph Nkasa each got a Principal Achiever accolad.

It is therefore clear that its politics that has left out Lucius Banda in most of such honour that he deserves.

 

 

Sangie needs to keep pop pot hot


When Sangie real name Angel Mbekeani released I Do it all for Love back in June of 2014 not many thought we would still be here talking about her. We had seen enough one hit wonders that disappeared as quickly as they appeared.

But then she went on to storm this male dominated reggae dancehall genre with a litany of single hits that finally made Sangie the household name before releasing the album Painless which she launched on June 30 last year at Cross Roads hotel’s biggest of stages – The Great Sapitwa Hall.

In August 2015 when her debut track ‘I Do it All For Love’ was riding high she was invited to perform at the 35th Summit of Southern African Development Community (Sadc) heads of state and Government in Botswana.

What has now become clear is that whoever is managing her has decided to take a totally different career approach by engaging corporate world as well as world humanitarian organisations to collaborate with Sangie on different projects.

The results of such collaborations has culminated into different titles like where recently the Unicef has named local her as its ambassador whose main role will be to promote children’s welfare by encouraging them to stay in school.

Unicef Malawi representative Johannes Wedenig said his organisation is delighted to have the musician’s support in its advocacy of preventing violence against children, ending child marriages and keeping girls in school, among others.

“We are excited to welcome Sangie into the Unicef team, where she will advocate on behalf of Malawi’s most vulnerable children. Her passion and energy are inspiring. We look forward to an exciting partnership and to see her continue to raise the voices of  young people she reaches with her music and her story,” Wedenig was quoted as saying when it was announced.

This is also an additional to another role where she was or still is STEP Ngwazi Zazikazi Ambassador. She released a music video titled Ngwazi Zazikazi which was produced by the Skills and Technical Education Programme (STEP)” a project by the European Union, Malawi Government and UNESCO to celebrate women who are bold for change. She featured poet Robert Chiwamba in this track.

The award winning artist has also been paraded on the corporate stage as the face of Airtel internet as well as mobile phone firm Itel.

I observed before that it looks like Sangie is not only breaking the glass ceiling in taking the male dominated genre by storm but has also elected to continually play the women’s rights card.

From there on she has been releasing tracks with similar women’s rights theme like Mkazi Wangwiro and recently Utenge Ndiwe which demonstrates that she is a human right defender, fighting for the rights of divorced women.

I should speculate that this ambassadorial positions that are coming on her way are as bountiful as they come and therefore risk to make her become lazy on the artistic front.

Before she used to pop out tracks that used to make everyone pay attention to her singing and this is the reason the fans endeared themselves to her.

In fact for the corporate world and humanitarian organisations to follow and strike deals with her it is because of her music that popularised Sangie the artiste.  Therefore, while she is taking that career path, she also must be vigilant and still set her sight unto the very thing that made her.

Sangie needs to ensure that her fans are still well fed as has been the case from the onset. If she loses this grip then she will equally be of no use to the corporate world as well as to bodies like Unicef.

………………

 

Sand Music Festival Post-mortem


I have been asking myself whether I need to do a post-mortem on Sand Music Festival or not. My hesitancy to do so is owed to the fact that I did not attend the event. Nevertheless, I have been ardently following it from its preparatory stages right to its performative phase.

One thing which is very clear is that 8 years after it was launched, it has become a mature and well organised annual music fixture. We have quickly forgotten that it was borne out of frustration as a reaction to the manner that ‘Lake of Stars’ festivals allegedly used to ‘abuse’ the local talent.

This year’s Salima event had its highs and lows. However the lows cannot compare with the incident where vehicles burnt down.

Overall it has become Sand Music Festival’s signature to line up local as well as internationally recognised and popular talent that Malawian fun seekers can quickly identify with.

At the moment Zimbabwean Ammara Brown is the name to closely follow with her Club bangers that are frenzying the international dancehalls. The Akilizi star was therefore a perfect invitee to this year’s festival.

Kenyatta Hill, son to the fallen legendary Joseph Hills of Culture needs no introduction. Of course I already pointed out that he was a repeated dosage having occasioned the entertainment spaces both in Blantyre and Lilongwe just last year.

But his performance was electrifying as it was also unbelievable when he performed for 3 and half hours none stop.

This is what I took as another low.

It is not by accident that standard performance duration for professional performers is 45 minutes. Live performances are thus sold or bought in 45 minutes sets. If an artist plays for 90 minutes he/she gets money for two sets.

What this means is that Kenyatta performed close to five sets on trot. I am worried because his father Joseph Hill died in Germany in the middle of a tour which his son Kenyatta stepped in to complete. I should hope he is watching his abilities and that he won’t be over doing it to exhaustion.

The other downside is the absence of Andrew Tosh, the son to the reggae great Peter Tosh. He was rescued by his so called cousin, little known Ricky Tosh who Google cannot even point as a musician at all.

It is clear that this was a learning point for the organisers. They need to do background check before engaging some of these artists. In fact by just engaging Google they would have known that Andrew Tosh is trouble. Numerous stories on his digital footprint can attest to the same.

Another shortcoming was that an all-stars performance was done in one night when it was supposed to spread evenly across the three days that the festival was billed to explode!

Yes the argument would be 3am to 630 am that Kenyatta performed was on a Sunday technically but this would be a desperate defence that would yield so little to assuage the pain of having to endure such an overload.

When all is said though, on a scale of 1 to ten (1 being poor and 10 as excellent) I would put the Festival at 8. Team Entertainers did not disappoint with their music equipment. Everyone is full of praise of the top quality sound that sent the patrons to this year’s Sand Music Festival spell bound.

As a home grown music festival, it is only fair to commend the organisers for a show well down and console those corporate institutions that procrastinated and were left out. Next time take pride in best buy Malawian and support the home industry!

 

 

 

Nkasa and the Catholic Song


I think there is something terribly wrong with Joseph Nkasa in trying to demonstrate that he is making enviable effort to increase whatever windfalls that happens whenever he sings praise songs for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or the President, Peter Mutharika.

My take is that when one decides to play puppetry for whatever reasons there should be a restraint not to go in whole hog. Or if one decides to jump in nonetheless it is better to avoid stepping on a few fingers along the way.

But in his latest toils, Nkasa has decided to pinch a tune or a chorus from a Catholic Church hymn song ‘Tinene Zaiye’. However where the church song mentions Jesus, Nkasa has replaced him with Peter Mutharika.

Depending on one’s religious standing, others might feel offended while others will take it on the chin for various reasons.

This is however a tendency of DPP zealots when they are drunk with power.

In 2012 when Peter Mutharika, at that time Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, was burying his elder brother Bingu wa Mutharika at Ndata Farm, just as he took to the podium to speak on behalf of the bereaved family, the DPP Youth Cadets started singing: “Tiyeni tinene za Bingu ngakhale ena sanena, tiyeni tinene za Bingu”. They ruffled some devout feathers at the time.

Now Nkasa has decided to even put it in a recorded form in the hope that it will equally have a rallying influence as was the case with ‘Mose wa Lero‘. He now sings “Tinene za Peter ngakhale ena sanena, tiyeni tinene za Peter”.

Which brings me to his adaptation of anything religious to create his political praise songs.

Nkasa hovers above politicians like a vulture waiting to pounce on a carcass. He showed exactly this tendency when composed a song for former minister of agriculture, irrigation and water development George Chaponda to douse fires that eventually burnt his political career to the ground.

In the song Nkasa equates Chaponda to Joseph, one of the 12 sons of the Biblical Jacob who became a ruler in Egypt after being sold there by his brothers due to his closeness to their father.

Like I said before Nkasa is always on the lookout for any political developments to jump on the perceived opportunity and compose a song. Before his latest which is full spewing vitriol towards Vice President Saulos Chilima, it looks like a sequel whose prelude was a track he called Absalom.

I know that past between 20 and 25 years, copyright issues over artistic works stop to matter. But if laws are made to take care about this it can still matter.

There is an interesting write-up jointly produced by The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS).

 

It is titled the ‘Music Copyright Guide for Churches: A practical copyright guide to using music to its full potential’

 

Right from its introduction the write-up acknowledges that ‘just like other organisations that use music, churches need to be aware of their copyright obligations’.

 

It then further stare that ‘there are a number of licences and processes they need to explore to ensure that their music use both in services of worship and other church-related activities are covered’.

 

This is the only way to stop any would be abuse to the kind of work, like music belonging to the churches.

 

Career wise, I have discussed the pitfalls that lay on the way of someone who still thinks has some remnants in his musical professional if they decided to become political puppets. But Nkasa has wholly taken the road that only shows he has stopped caring.