Malawi media and the allowance conundrum

In an ideal world the media companies are supposed to pay for everything that will go towards investing in a story.

When these organizations bring invitation letters or make calls inviting the media to their events, all the gatekeepers have is to consider whether or not they feel obliged to publish the story. This assessment is informed by interrogating the invitation and see if the end result is making business sense as an entertainment or educative/ informative piece. The other aspect taken into consideration is whether the piece falls within the media company’s corporate social responsibility. Once the gatekeepers weigh all the pros and cons they can decide not to invest in the story or not. This is the ideal situation.

Rarely would you find a media organisation declining to carry out a particular assignment based on the invitation and this is what actually happens in the real world.

The real scenario however is where the media organization does not have a budget to carter for lunch/transport/incidental/communication allowance for their journalist for a particular story, as investment in a story for our media bodies is rarely a priority. Meanwhile they have a newspaper to fill with stories, bottomless airspace to feed with pictures and audio as well as online void to be filled with latest stories and pix. For a resource constrained media organisation, therefore they compromise ideal arrangement as earlier examined.

Some NGOs think construction of a pit latrine requires media coverage, and this is where the problem starts to emanate. Donors of such project will need proof that the money they gave the NGOs has been used for the intended purpose. Politicians will also want to show their superiors that they are working and therefore abuse the space especially in the public media. Politicians will slaughter a goat for their constituents on the Christmas day and want coverage where they will thank His Excellency the State President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika for the goat meat; they want this covered. We also have organisations like CEDEP and IPAS for example which are ‘taboo mongers’. They are trying to inculcate in the audience, but through the media, that safe abortion and homosexuality is okay.

When all these NGOs/Politicians and of course other so called newsmakers consider the constraints experienced by the media when it comes investing into gathering of material then they start competing for the media attention; not because they want to help the media get stories but because they have different motives. No wonder, while other will dangle ‘a mere’ K5000 for attending a press conference others will pay triple as much or 500 percent more.

Now when you consider all these factors which are just a tip of the iceberg, and having reservations about giving the media allowances for doing their job and how the media discharge it’s work is not only a mockery to the profession but it far much gives the media a window of what different sectors of the public view it from. It’s like there is a ‘mercenary approach’ as we discharge our duties across the mediascape.

The question remains, when all is said and done, do we live or operate for allowances or we indeed operate in penury and only survive because of the handouts. Most media practitioners hate to be told of their love for allowances. Believe you me most of us cannot survive the socio-economic demands considering the take home from the monthly salary which does not even come close to the breadbasket assessment by the Centre for Social Concern …

When all these issues are considered, then talking about giving allowances to the media becomes complicated matter.

At the end of it all one cannot blame the media for complying when there are institutions out there who are desperately dangling these so called allowances for the media practitioners to take, not because they are needy but because the benefactor know they cannot achieve their goal if money is not going to exchange hands, after all they already budgeted for such, according to the budget proposal they submitted to the donors; after all what the media gets is just one tenth of their entitlement if you go by what the financial proposal of the project suggests…

In conclusion perhaps only the media can guard against such opportunists by investing more in story productions and telling off those that are bent at abusing the media to achieve their end to miserably fail to do so. The solemnity that ought to be the benchmark of the profession, the dignity and honour as well as the veneration that it ought to exude when journalists are discharging their media duty needs to be protected.


Sam Simakweli’s attempt at resurrecting Chaphuka

Paul Chaphuka remains an enigma because he came at a time when there was the rebirth of Malawi music. His one and only album ‘Ndichiritseni’ released at the time he had just died on May 11, 1997 was only made possible by legendary brothers Paul and Lucius Banda. What would have become, had he not succumbed to skin cancer is a subject of conjecture.

But his album is marked in the all highly treasured archives as one of Malawi’s classic music production, albeit going with the equally pioneering all famous Balaka genre.

Chaphuka’s career started – or it is better known to have started – when he played with Mte Wambali Mkandawire and as an instrumentalist he used to play the bass guitar a departure well registered when he joined Alleluya Band where he was now playing lead guitar.

The album had many captivating tracks like Nkhoswe, title track Ndichiritseni – which of course is a Chichewa rendition of Alpha Blondy’s song ‘Heal Me’ found in the album Dieu. Just like Alpha Blondy who suffered a mental breakdown that prompted the release of the track in 1994, Chaphuka too, having realised of his ill health sought God’s healing power. As they say the rest is history; while Blondy survived, for Chaphuka, it was never to be.

Lucius and Paul had to finish the album and together included a tribute Tsalani in the album. This is all to give you a picture of the priceless sentimental value that this album has.

Now why I am all rumbling about Chaphuka today is because Sam Simakweli has taken a ‘leap of faith’ and done a rendition of one of Chaphuka’s great hits in the album called Mavuto Tawaona.

It is this one that has brought us to talk about Chaphuka in light of this production from Simakweli who currently brands as Sam Smack.

When you understand the pain and richness of this song just like the rest of the tracks in the album, you realise that it would require a special reason to do a rendition.

The place to look for such a special reason is obviously in the released newest production and my effort to look for one in Simakweli’s Mavuto Tawaona did not help matters as it left me with mixed feelings.

To begin with, this is a classic that, much as effort would be made to modernise it, there is still need to preserve its touch. This without doubt should have been achieved with Simakweli’s golden voice. But for whatever reason he decided to sound like a Nyanja speaking Zambian.

Smacks is one of the six-pointed stars in the local urban genre and if any attempt was made to do a Chaphuka rendition everyone would give it to him if he so decided to bring in the urban elements. Now he does so by bringing in a guy I am hearing for the first time called Michale Es.

My problem is not because I have never heard of this guy before. But here is my explanation:

There is a ring to all the classic tracks that are redone by modern artists. They tend to resurrect the old, by making it to the top of numerous charts. The reason Simakweli’s effort on this Chaphuka track has not made necessary noise is because it has not brought any fresh impetus to the resounding following that the initial track attracted.

Most of the old folks who fell in love with Chaphuka’s original toils feel short-changed especially with the rapping which, as most of our rappers do, did not bother to make sense and bring clarity to own lyrics thereby degrading itself to the levels of noise.

In short, with the bar that was set by Chaphuka, any attempt to redo his work should be well thought of and should not come in half measures. Unfortunately this one has.

Atoht Manje rising from the ghetto furore

Ellias Missi known in showbiz cycles as Atoht Manje is one self made artiste. I first saw him as an opening act in the Warge produced Itchoke-itchoke medley riddim video which also features late Mafunyeta’s ndikanakhala nyerere .

Well, honestly I just dismissed him as one of the confused youths that had just crammed the entertainment spaces and at the same time mentioned in the same breath as Binge, Tikka, Malinga Mafia, Bingolingo, Big Ta, Chizzy, Blaze, Matia Killa, and Khekhe or is it Khekhi Matia.

Such a musical din, seemingly seen as experimental with the Mabiringanya Empire, also had its contribution from Namasina, Gibo Lantos, Dawn Damage, Roy View, Teddy Muva, Kapadocia Futali, Ceaser, Benjie, Azizi, Phada-Man, Khacoolbah, Bwi-Man, Tamnyata, Trata Dmus, P-Star, Ababa, Tony C, King Gebuza, Senior Gz, Blasnet and Chaddy D among plenty of them. They would all vocalise over one long riddim.

While a few above names can now be counted as having musically excelled, not many really considered Atoht as one to make a mark amongst them until he started dropping tracks like Majelasi, Lululu, Tizipepese, and etcetera.

Atoht is endowed with a crackly voice which is suitable for dancehall or ragga genre. The tracks like Majelasi and Lululu really came riding this genre until Tizipepese, which his fans call Mabvuto came in. It’s fast pace borders on something that can best be equalled to a Congo beat or merely a local hurried up beat like fast paced Manganje as he would love to call it.

Then his songs go with a signature tune of gun blazing sound which he produces with his voice other than computerised programmed sound.

When one listens to Atoht’s productions with a trained ear, you would easily notice that his lyrical structure is messed up. He literally follows his heart, the result of which is a general appeal to his fans but an immediate shock to music teachers.

Every time there is national commemoration during Mother’s Day his track Lululu controls the airwaves. Majelasi on release was also the tune of the moment for radio stations as well as entertainment spots which favour Tizipepese more because of its prowess to force all listening to it to take to a jive.

His music videos have its unique mark that is built around his personal figure but this does not mean in any way that it has to be turned into anything academically acceptable.

Apparently Atoht is also not into music full time as he is into motor vehicle mechanics, meaning he cares less whether or not his music will bring him fame and dough. It’s like he just loves making music, right from back there in 1999 when his uncle and brother took him down the art of playing a guitar.

What is strikingly noticeable is that he is self taught in the aspect of producing tunes that have come to be liked by music lovers. He adds drama to his videos while his lyrics have lines that can best be suited in a Winiko play script as they border on jocular jibes.

Perhaps when all these are rolled into one they make Atoht stand out from the din of noise emerging from the ghettoes and makes one to listen attentively.

It’s not a subject for debate on whether Atoht is talented or not. What I find in the young man is raw talent that needs not only to be guided but nurtured as well.

Therefore, I await the day that this ‘mechanic musician’ will meet a serious music manager who can take care of this talent and move it to another serious level.

You cannot rule out the fact that Atoht is contented that he is making good money out of his music but I dare say that such money even by South African standards are just crumbs.

He needs to conquer all even without jumping the borders and earn his place.


Malawi urban music takes over

A seemingly simple question this one might look considering the genesis of what is now known as urban music. Not that it provides us with the opportunity to define what it is or is not, but it is all clear that Lucius Banda will be considered as the traditional archetype of our local music.

That it is on one hand, but on the other hand, Tay Grin exemplifies what ought to be known as the urban type of music.

Now what is bringing me into this talk this week is observation made over a period of two subsequent weekends.

There is a new joint in town – Blantyre – called Dusk to Dawn where one Friday, Tay Grin decided to organise what he called Afrima nomination party. He simply used the social media without going to the traditional advertising platforms to announce about the event. What followed is the jam parked dance floor where patrons parted with K2000 to gain entrance.

It should also be mentioned that performances started from midnight to morning and patrons kept trouping in all this while. There was lack of parking space outside the club and it clearly shows what this means when we compare it to this.

Come the following Friday, Lucius Banda and Zembani Band also performed at venue and the story was different as it failed to park to its capacity.

There are different schools of thought that are emerging in order to explain away this disparity. But I should say from the onset that this does not mean Tay Grin is better off as others are arguing.

I think it all goes down to the niche audience that these two artists separately appeals to. It is becoming an extremely painful reality that the urban audience is taking over the space.

Because the urban is more appealing to the youthful population which is becoming a dominant force it is clear as they say in marketing that ‘consumers of niche products become product advocates more often because they feel more connected to the product and realize it was made for them’.

A good example is the free Ndirande show by Fredokiss. He parked a venue in a way that no meeting, be it political or religious could achieve. With politics and religion you know their manipulative power where they will try to profess popularity by parking vehicles with people that they ferry to such spots for obvious reasons. For Fredokiss it was just consumers of his niche products walking by foot to the venue.

What it means for traditional musicians is that this is the market to explore. Lucius has tried to feature hot musicians every time they are taking the music industry head on.

Recently, Fredokiss who is also known as Ghetto King Kong released latest hit song “Njira Zawo” which features Lucius Banda. This is the rendition of Lucius’ “Ali ndi njira Zawo” and if anything one would think that it should have been the other way round.

What is happening right now on the market shows that a very big boundary is developing, on one side there is the urban niche audience and on the other there is the traditional one. Again the venues also matter because it looks like the way Dusk to Dawn is designed it makes urban music lovers identify with it more than the traditional music followers.

If it were at Motel Paradise for example, would the Lucius Banda, Tay Grin comparison remain the same? At the risk of being wrong I would want to believe otherwise. It does not at all compare the two on the strength of their musical talent but it rather speaks of the shifting in fortunes for various reasons.

Unfortunately the urban niche audience has internet while the traditional remains there in the past where newspapers and radio announcements mattered.

The industry players perhaps need to rethink.


Stella Mwanza’s mismanaged career

Malawi’s music has some subsets within its wholeness. Within these subgenres we have its influential players. If I mention Black Missionaries for example, then what will quickly come to mind is that these can be lumped together in their own subgenre with Wailing Brothers and Lilongwe based Soul Raiders.

If I mention Joseph Nkasa, then Thomas Chibade, Moses Makawa etc will join this subset. The same way Mlaka Maliro and Billy Kaunda will form one subset.

Most of these are dominated by men artists. But while the other subsets have had female players coming in and going the Nkasa, Chibade, Makawa subset has rarely entertained any female challenger until Stella Mwanza came on the scene.

Tracks like Musandilaule, Chidodo, Chimbayambaya, Mdanitsa, just to mention a few took the music world of Nkasa’s ilk by storm.

Her music and music videos were being produced by Harry Kazembe of Rhem Records as well as John Nguluwe of MC Studios Entertainment. These have produced all the greats including Skeffa Chimoto and Lucius Banda.


Now Stella Mwanza has gone into hibernation and perhaps like Mirrel Nkhoma she will never come back again.


There was a time when she had a manager, someone whom she entrusted to manage her career but it all ended up into a disastrous ending.


According to a write up by lawyers of creative arts, there are four different kinds of representatives that may represent recording artists, performers, and songwriters in the music industry and these are personal managers, agents, business managers, and attorneys.


Of course I know with the Malawi scenario none of these are there to show the way. One other female artist that I know relies heavily on her manager is Sangie. Like Stella in her time, she is never allowed to speak or strike deals only when her manager says so.


Now back to the said write up, it says Personal Managers are there to advise and counsel the artist on virtually all aspects of the artist’s career.


Thus the duties of a personal manager may include dealing with the artist’s publicity, public relations and advertising; assisting in the selection of the artist’s material; devising plans for the artist’s long term career development; choosing the artist’s booking agent, road manager, lawyer, accountant etal and overseeing the artist’s relations with each of them.


The personal manager’s other duty is also to provide counseling to the artist on what types of employment to accept; in some instances, acting as a liaison between the artist and the artist’s record company.


For all this to work personal managers are usually paid a commission of 15 percent to 25 percent of the artist’s gross receipts from all of the artist’s activities in the entertainment industry (recording contacts, publishing contracts, endorsements, television and movie work, etc).


Of course this commission, which may increase depending upon the artist’s success, is in addition to reimbursement of the personal manager’s travel and out-of-pocket expenses incurred in representing the artist.


If you check the above duties, there is no where written impregnating or sleeping with the artist because in the music industry worldwide this often happens and to an extent end up killing the budding career.


Now when you look at how, for example, Miracle Chinga is struggling at the moment, would you say she has a personal manager that is looking after her affairs? Are we going to be surprised if two years down the road she will still remain a shadow of her late mother?


Now if the music industry is not going to reorganising itself and start validating who becomes a manager of our artists we are going to end up with a lot of Stella Mwanzas in this world.

Eliza Mponya’s dalliance with the devil

I was at sixes and sevens when I bumped into a video by Eliza Mponya on GBS television one good afternoon. My misgivings popped up when I saw how the music video had dramatised the abduction and killing of people with albinism – I hope this is right as there is a raging debate on how best to address brothers and sisters with this condition.

The issue of people with albinism has left most of us with no better explanation on what really is the driving motive behind their persecution and not surprising colleagues in the music industry have tried to come up with a few compositions.

But one effort done by Eliza Namponya is an attempt to do justice on the plight of people with albinism which is not vain.

If you have an opportunity watch Eliza’s track titled ‘Muloleranji’ from the album Ndili ndi Mulungu.

There is a story line that centres on a teenager albino boy who is leaving school premises or is it his home. While walking along a tarmac road a saloon car pulls over and two heavyset mean jumps out and grabs the boy whom they bundle into the boot of the vehicle before speeding off.

They later take him to some gangster looking men while tying his hands. The video shows the bartering of the boy between them after money exchange hands. He is left to his fate that leaves the watchers guessing.

I do not know who this abducted boy is; what arrangement or consent was made to allow for the video production to come out the way it did.

What I find abhorring is the choice of production concept for the music video which is a clear dalliance with the devil and does not manage to leave the bittersweet after effect that it intended.

In steady it is reassuring those that believe in the selling of people with albinism that this is how it is done. Whether these macabre acts lead to financial rewards as the music video encourages or not is not for me to say but it now brings me to question the television stations that would really broadcast such kind of production.

To say the least, this is careless of highest order. The media is crucial in relaying codes that can be decoded differently by the consumers. This is the reason journalists undergo a very strict training on ethical reporting. Musicians are an integral part of media products and what they package ought to also follow strict ethical considerations before getting carried away with excitement in the process of production.

Ever since we started reading, listening and watching stories about the albino killings, there has never been one that followed a conclusive discourse that point out to their fate in the manner in which the music video projects. Yes mutilated bodies have been found but it still does not prove the reasons behind this heinousness brutality.

Music is crucial to carry messages for different intentions, but there is supposed to be decency that has to precede the penchant for recognition and yearning to pamper artists’ pride and self esteem.

There are issues of privacy that are also to be considered. The teenager used in the video should not have been enticed with money to appear the way he did. Even if there was consent, still Eliza’s production team should have brainstormed and guided the youthful devotee properly.

The gospel in the lyrics ended up fighting against the picture thus in the eyes of ethically conscious viewers like me. Granted, that Eliza had all good intentions when she decided to produce the video; but it has left us with far-reaching effect which points to a different negative achievement, eventually.

The albino teenager should not have been exposed and disrespected in the manner the video achieved. Yes, works of arts tend to provoke different reactions, but unpalatable is the word for this particular production, especially in the face on the national plight.



Alborosie – The Italian with Reggae DNA

There is a tale of Alberto D’Ascola, born and raised in the home of Mafia in Sicily in Italy. At 23 he left Italy for a journey to the home of reggae music in Jamaica his flirting with the genre back when he was just 15 having spurred him to trek to the Caribbean.

At that age back in Italy and named Stena, D’Ascola who has now adopted stage name Alborosie, which was never given to him in good faith in his early days in Jamaica, started his musical career in an Italian reggae band called Reggae National Tickets, from Bergamo city in that European country.

Kingston, Jamaica is a place where plenty talented native Jamaicans have failed to break through with their music career. It is therefore unimaginable that a white Italian man would survive in such a black dominated space, pursuing a music genre that promotes the black race in the face of white domination.

What is more, from a country that Pope, who makes huge folder for Jamaican reggae music, comes from.

However Alborosie as a multi-instrumentalist – being one who is adept in guitar, bass, drums and keyboard – took the challenge head on. Here he did not only try solo music career – pursuing roots reggae – but also embraced Rastafari culture and learnt Jamaican Patois.

Knowing that it won’t be easy to land in Kingston gun blazing and as they say there ‘mash up the place’, Alborosie started life as a sound engineer and producer.

Funny enough he worked with another of his ilk, this one from Germany called Tilmann Otto, stage name Gentleman who has been travelling to and fro Jamaica since he was 18 years old. He also worked with one of BOB Marley’s sons Ky-Mani leading to his first solo album called Soul Pirate, subsequently followed in 2009 by a second one called Escape from Babylon.

Now with hit singles like ‘Rastafari Anthem’, ‘Kingston Town’, ‘Call Up Jah’, and ‘Rock the Dancehall’ Alborosie who has since started his own record label, Forward Recordings has gone against the odds to be counted. Now he is conquering the world with reggae concerts.

And to cap it all in 2011, he became the first white artist to win the M.O.B.O. (Music of Black Origin) Awards in the Best Reggae Act category.

When one listens to Alborosie’s reggae tunes from his nine albums, 54 singles and extended plays (EPs) you are left with admiration for the inborn reggae talent that he puts on display.

Just to show that he has indeed mustered the reggae art he can play roots reggae with the all revered one drop, go the rub-a-dub route, he can do massive dancehall tunes. As if that is not even enough, he has some productions done in old reggae beat at that time called ska which fits into the present state of things. In the album called Escape from Babylon to the Kingdom of Zion, Alborosie has a lead single titled Mama SheDon’t like You which is a humorous up-tempo ska track.

It is for this unique artist that I decided this week to dedicate this space as part of my reverence to a reggae performer who defied the odds and is now living beyond anybody’s expectation as an accomplished reggae emissary who is not fully honoured because of his origins and his skin colour.

Regardless of not accepting him, in full or otherwise, Alborosie has served the reggae genre well and he stands to even achieve great, regardless of the struggle within the reggae industry. He is unlike Gentleman for example, who tilts more towards commercial reggae while Alborosie has been a conscious root reggae man who – despite his Italian roots – has even sang against the Pope as most reggae artists of Rastafarian culture do.