Benefiting from local foreign-based musicians


Two decades ago a Malawian national by the name of Nkhondo Lungu went to the US. While there he married an Ethiopian woman. They now have six children that have formed a reggae musical outfit they are calling Lungu Vybz.

When I read their story in The Nation I went online to check on them in order to have a feel of how much they can really satisfy the tag that they are a reggae band.

Boy! I was really impressed!

One of their videos that I watched was of their performance in Ohio. They did covers of different artists including Aswad, Bob Marley, Inner Cycle, Culture, Garnet Silk, Lucky Dube, Israel Vibrations etc.

The elder sibling Tawonga was very impressive on the drum set and you really, could just appreciate that she knows her way around. The same could also be said of her sister on the main keyboards set, Malcomish. She played the covers as it is. She also did some lead vocals on other songs including a joint one with her lead vocalist brother – a track by Junior Gong called Welcome to Jamrock.

On the other set of keyboards was Sibo, who also did some difficult reggae tunes with ease. There was also a little boy, eight-year-old Muzi who as a backing vocalist showed a lot of enthusiasm for his age. Then there was the bassist Malani who killed it with aplomb and of course the master lead guitarist who is also the lead vocalist Nkhondo Junior, he was a wonder to watch.

Much as they left me in awe I had a sense of reservations that they might be doing it as a past time activity. It is a disappointing feeling because the way one would really get satisfied with their performance you would wish they had made it big. Looking at their skill and the fact that the band was formed four years ago, one would have expected that they, by now, would have their own compositions in form of an album or two.

But as word had it, they are busy doing school and they rarely get an opportunity to be together long enough to be able to accord their fans, at least just a studio album.

This is the more reason I think they are just out there to tease their fans for something that they are not ready to sustain.

Nevertheless, in the event that they decide to get serious and hit big, apart from the fact that they claim of Malawi originality, what more will the local music industry benefit?

There is an artist, formerly of Kalimba Kid Mkandawire who performs in Denmark. Once or twice he has come to Malawi just to show off, without necessarily leaving any mark on the local music industry back home. There is also US based Tony Bird.

There is something terribly wrong with our local market. The marketing and sales system of music is a total botched up job. No direction, no hope, no future in terms of financial rewards for most artists and therefore no progress.

Of course it cannot take one man to change the terrain, but locally artists can learn one or two things about how others are doing it out there. We could be very lucky if those that are doing it out there can come and appreciate where we are not getting it right. This is where after exchanging notes those in leadership positions in our music industry can attempt at transforming the industry altogether.

We have had exports like Erik Paliani, Chris Kelly, and others who have had the opportunity on how it is done on the bigger stages but for sure we as a music industry has not tapped into their knowledge to change our status quo.

This is the reason I am saying yes Lungu Vybz, but really if they succeed do we win too as an industry, let alone if they decide they have enough of their current pursuit and decide to concentrate on something else based on the school they are currently doing, do we really care as a music industry?

 

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Another Chisoni for serious reggae


Another Chisoni for serous reggae

Many Malawians know Chris Chisoni firstly as a human rights activist especially when they consider his works as National Coordinator of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace back in the days. Now he is the head of Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board, meaning he is still on spotlight.

However for me on these pages I know Chris Chisoni as a musical artist following the release an album which had tracks like a Michael Yekha cover of Khuluwani Muche as well as a reggae track Lancelot Goblet.

These spaces have been crying for his come back on the musical scene but it all came to nought until later last week when Chris’ Kid brother Acton Chisoni came on the scene with five reggae tracks.

I must state from the onset that the coming in of Mr. Acton does not mean Chris is off the hook.

Mr. Acton has come hard hitting at this level. Considering that all and sundry of his age are settling for Urban genre it is a wonder when you find young ones coming out with roots reggae genre. They remind me of the other two siblings that we talked about Hellings and Lucky Mvula who have also released a reggae album using a showbiz name Ethics.

Mr. Acton has done serious works with the five tracks he has come out especially with the seriousness and maturity in his message, there is a religious track Mukamasule Nsinga za Satana which is a powerful prayer and providing hope that the good will triumph over evil.

Imfa ndi nkhondo is a tribute to his father where he mourns him through talking to death which he describes as a fair judge when it comes to who it chooses.

Two tracks with lines ‘believe me that I love you’ and ‘Life is too hard’ are lovers’ rock reggae tracks.

The biggest weapon that Mr. Acton has is his golden voice which is complementing well with the serious reggae instrumentation that has gone with it.

At this point in time the only question that remains is if at all Mr. Acton will be able to translate the quality studio work demonstrated in his music when an opportunity will avail itself to perform with a live band. For most artists this has proven to be the biggest hurdle. It took years for Joseph Nkasa to be able to do live performance and even when he first did, it was funny how he was struggling when his music had managed to take control of all spaces.

Before we perhaps even come to this, I hope he won’t be like his elder brother who will only release a few tracks and disappear or is he just hibernating?

Otherwise, Lyrical Pen welcomes Mr. Acton to the musical fray and let the game begin.

Why Ras Chikomeni is Suffering Ridicule


I grew up listening to reggae music. Then I studied the Rastafari teachings to understand some of what reggae musicians sing about in their music. My association with reggae and Rastas has always led to my suffering many stereotypes. Believe it or not, I have never smoked Chamba but I have grown up being labelled as a Chamba smoker.

If you ask me, I have no problems with those that smoke or eat Chamba in whatever forms. Chamba has become a sacred part of religious celebration of Rastas the same way Catholics use wine and Eucharist when celebrating mass.

Much as there are many religious practices worldwide, so are many questions over such practices. I am not here to address the same.

Now, ever since Rasta musician, Ras Chikomeni David Kadelele Chirwa expressed his interest to contest for the seat of president in May this year many things that expose the kind of society that we are have come to the fore.

It all started with one of the major media houses which had a one-on-one interview with Ras Chikomeni and you could clearly see how patronising and demeaning the programme host was towards him. This is but a reflection of the whole country towards Ras Chikomeni and all those of his ilk and those that are perceived to be Rastas.

Those that watched Joab Chakhaza interviewing Ras Chikomeni on ZBS will agree that he is more articulate that President Peter Mutharika.

Unlike many of us, he is well read despite only attaining a Junior Certificate qualification. Only when you try to pick Ras Chikomeni’s brain will you then realise how intelligent and knowledgeable he is.

When I was the Northern Region Bureau Chief for Zodiak back in the days. Ras Chikomeni would come into my office and spend 2 hours – sometimes – where we would talk of the world’s most famous philosophers and their theories.

Even when he shared with me his music, listening to what he sings gives you some picture of how a deep thinker he is.

Many people judge Ras Chikomeni because they say he has brown teeth damaged by Chamba smoking and that he has shabby locks that need some cleaning.

Then there are those running stereotypes that each and every Rasta suffer from people who put themselves above them in terms smartness, cleanliness, ‘drug free’ status, intelligence, Christianity or Islamic belief, education, mental capability and stableness and wealth attainment etc.

Rastas are victims of those snobs that hear none of the saying ‘do not judge a book by its cover’. Since Ras Chikomeni is so funny and is seen to be acting like a buffoon, several ‘clever’ chaps have come up with fake social media accounts where they are posting stuff that those of us who have known him for some time would only feel sorry that this is how sick we are as a nation that we can somehow go to some length just to denigrate those that we think are crazy and stupid than we are.

A while ago Rastafarians were demonstrating against Government’s education policy that does not allow their children to attend public schools if they are wearing locks. The attitude has always been dismissive.

When you listen to Reggae music, what Ras Chikomeni is currently facing is what, for long, the Rasta musicians have been singing against. They sing in demand of respect, equality, justice, love, peace, harmony etc.

Until the philosophy which hold one section of our society superior, and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; until there is no longer first class citizens of any nation, until the basic human rights are guaranteed to all, there will be war so sang the Reggae King Bob Marley the words of Haille Selassie addressed at the UN assembly.

 

 

Why Oliver Mtukudzi still matters


My tribute to the fallen legend Oliver Mtukudzi will be a reproduction of what I wrote about him back in August of 2014.

On the night of Wednesday, August 20, 2014 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 Malawibefore, including Enoch Mbandambanda and a music promoter from Blantyrecalled 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.

This is how I remember the Legend who has left behind a musical treasure trove which we will feed from forever until we join him too…

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.

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.