Following up on BEAM’s musical equipment

A couple of months ago, Malawi First Lady Gertrude Mutharika donated sets of musical instruments to University of Malawi’s Chancellor College and five secondary schools in the country, namely; St Mary’s, Mary Mount, Marist, St Patricks Academy and Lilongwe Girls’.

The reason the China Africa Business Council (CABC) donated musical equipment worth $10m (K7.2billion) was to support young Malawian musicians to develop and nurture their talents.

This is according to CABC general secretary Erick Wang who made the announcement at a New York event on 25 September last year where Malawi’s first lady was present.

The other details are that the donation was made through the first lady’s Beautify Malawi Trust (BEAM) via Chinese youth initiative called Public Benefit International Challenge (PBIC) where young Chinese students mobilised resources for the acquisition of the equipment.

Where my contention is coming in is the choice made by BEAM on the recipients of these musical instruments. This is so when one considers observations made by the Malawi first lady that the donation will make a huge impact on young musicians.

I want us to look at the take of the two officials thus Mr Wang and Mrs Mutharika. Both said these instruments would go a long way to help young Malawian musicians.

Now, who in their right minds thought these young musicians can be found in these places? I think this was a misallocation.

I have argued before, and I am going to argue now that most of the young musicians that are really struggling to achieve something out of music are in our localities. Most of them completed their secondary school education  and are now making an effort to try their hands on music because they have talent but with no provisions of a place where they can nurture it.

Last time my argument was to include music in the programmes being offered under the technical entrepreneurial and vocational education training system.

I once argued that there has never been one single trade that has generated youthful interest in Malawi at any given time than what music has done. Unfortunately this interest is not at Chanco neither is it at those five secondary schools.

A lot of Bachelor of Arts students majoring in music from Chancellor College have nothing to show for it. They have taken a totally different route. Those that have made it big musically are self-taught and have no Chanco connection whatsoever.

Now upon realising that there is a musical donation coming from China, targeting young Malawi musicians, BEAM should have looked around and ensure that those that would really make something big out of this donation really do get them.

Yes, Chanco has students studying music but they are not musicians and they have proven to us over time that they do not become musicians. If you ask me, the effective music institution right now is the Karonga based Lusubilo Music school.

Yes, secondary schools have music as a subject which is not even examinable and it will be total fallacious to take learners there as young musicians of this country.

BEAM should not have gone further than enquiring who young musicians in this country are and how best they could be reached out by merely reaching out to the Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM).

Not sure if the status quo remains, but long time ago MUM – when it was an association – used to have regional offices with special spaces that had musical equipment where young musicians would go practice or learn.

Better still if BEAM was of the view that in following it up with MUM they won’t score any political point, then Mrs. Mutharika would sure have taken advantage of her husband’s rural community colleges concept.

It is in these communities where one would easily find young musicians. Like I have argued before, this is where an arrangement with those in the administration of courses being offered in these community colleges would be asked to come up with a course in music and made use of this donation.

With a huge hunger in the young musicians to perfect their acts, you will be surprised how beneficial this donation would have been.

But with what BEAM has decided to do with it, then it is as good as not having received any donation at all; it only massages our political egos without necessarily bringing out any positive musical results.



Is Joe Gwaladi music for real?

Most people will listen to music done by Joe Gwaladi and ask out loudly or silently if the dude is for real.

I know two people that I highly respect that listen to Joe Gwaladi music with some seriousness – for lack of a better word.

Associate Professor Edge Kanyongolo and Mangochi District Information Officer Kondwani Ziggy Magombo talk highly about Gwaladi’s music. If you ask me these two gurus have been exposed enough to a plethora of good music – again good is subjective, others might argue, but still find something worthwhile in Gwaladi music.

There is always an argument if Joe Gwaladi really matters at all to warrant a place among the local musicians who matter or even this space. I don’t want to make that declaration but I have some few pointers that will, at the end of the day, inform our position in as far as Joe Gwaladi music is concerned.

When one considers itinerant artists like Madolo (deceased) and at one time Njati Njedede, you will be compelled to dismiss Joe Gwaladi as one of those itinerant street performers whose ambitions for progress is unappealing.

I want to equate the behavior of Joe Gwaladi to one fallen reggae great Peter Tosh. Not in terms of their capabilities to make good music but their temperament in as far as their music persons is concerned. They both come across as very arrogant and unapologetic. This trait is also well presented in their music.

Locally, I don’t think there is anyone that I can compare Joe Gwaladi with. He is on his own. In his class he is the pioneer and I hope more of his ilk will eventually join him. But if all the years that he has been around no one has joined him yet then perhaps he is a musical genius in his own right.

The highs of Gwaladi music that separate him from the rest is his no-pull-back-punches attitude. The biggest main stay of Gwaladi music is his somewhat crazy lyrical punch that is dovetailed into a beat of choice that ranges from what would be our local beat or Afro beat.

Gwaladi tackles sex and sexuality with no apologies. He talks about HIV and Aids without mincing words. He talks about exploitation in view of poor social status with authority of a self-appointed in-charge of the victims of societal, financial, cultural and religious exploitation.

If you ask media practitioners in the arts and entertainment industry, they will tell you Joe Gwaladi does to entertain interview from anyone, unless money exchange hands. He thinks they are out to exploit and enjoy a windfall out of such dialogs when packaged into stories or any other media products.

Whether one likes it or not he will sing about women who are bleaching their skins and without mincing words he will cut deep to the bone by describing how they have turned out to be; “to achieve beauty, they are using bleaching chemicals and are now looking like tomatoes, they appear as if they have been burnt by electricity” sings Gwaladi. He is also controversial where he argues people who goes in and out of marriages are not wrong because they are experimental.

His unorthodox approach is uncommonamongst our musical artists.  He sings to effect behavioral change in his own unique style which is rare and unique.

He discourages people to waste time taking other drugs when they do not feel okay when they can as well just go for an HIV test. “Musalimbane ndi Thumbocid mungopita mukayedzetse,” sings Gwaladi.

Michael Yekha was another itinerant musician but just like Gwaladi, his perceived illiteracy took precedent when people were passing judgement on their person and works. For Gwaladi, I think he has perfectly used this little exposure to diplomacy, decorum and modesty to appeal to the heart when he composes and sings.

He also talks of that social scourge where people pour in a lot of money to assist during funeral of the dead. Gwaladi sings that he needs all that which will get to him as condolences when he dies now; “Mundipatsiretu chipepeso ndidyeretu”.

Using homemade instruments has been his trademark since a tender age.But lately Joe Gwaladi has been approaching his performances differently in order to be able to sell his music in his own way.

In 2012 I wrote about how Joe Gwaladi employed marketing techniques by mounting a big speaker, music player and a car battery on a bicycle and he used to go at marketing places, especially within Limbe, where he would be playing his music and easily attract curious by passers to buy his music.

Who can just be Joe Gwaladi if not Joe Gwaladi himself?



International tours for local artists

Fellow music lovers, I have observed that our local musicians are trying hard to make it not only on the local scene but also on the international scene.

Granted, being ambitious is a good thing. But I feel the way some of our musicians are going about their ambitions is wrong. Why am I saying this? Because some of our musicians are rushing things. Many are rushing to have ‘international shows’ or exposure before they have even earned respect of local fans.

Local fans are crucial in helping local artists adjudge if their music is tasteful or not. If an artist fails to command a following locally, his/her music does not sell and his/her shows do not attract impressive crowds. To say without beating about the bush what it means here is something about that particular artist’s music is not right. At times it can be about the artist branding, how his team (if any at all) is managing and selling him to the music consumers.

But of late we have seen a number of our local artists rushing to stage international shows where they are least known. Most of the times it is at the invitation of a handful Malawians who are, say, staying in Ireland and have missed home music. They make collections of some monies that can be used to organise the artist’s travelling and upkeep while there. As you can see here, the musical aspect is already defeated.

If it were that these are musical tours I would say there is nothing wrong with trying to expand one’s fan base. But I believe before doing it, an artist need to do their ground work so that they do not embarrass themselves or the nation.

And when one studies the venues where the so called international shows take place in the foreign land, one can agree with me that it is usually small rooms filled with Malawians living in those countries that attend the shows!

If one can call this an international show then I am afraid, our local artists have a long way to go. Last year one of the country’s local stars Patience Namadingo told The Nation newspaper that he is in no rush to start tackling international market because there is a lot that he has to explore locally.

Namadingo reasoned that he felt Malawi still has a lot to offer him in terms of a bigger fan base before he ventures outside. “I want to conquer Malawi first,” Namadingo said. So if an artist of Namadingo’s calibre who is one of the top artists can take his time preparing for the giant leap, what more of other artists who fail to even attract impressive crowds locally?

What I am trying to say is local artists should borrow a leaf from international artists who come here to perform.

Before they come here, they make sure that they are popular enough and book venues that are big enough for a large crowd. On top of it all, these international artists come here with pomp and well prepared so that when they jump on stage we feel their presence and special skills. Artists like Jah Prayzah, Luciano and Morgan Heritage come to mind. This is what we call international shows.

But what do we get when our artists go outside the country? Performances in small bars and eateries with Malawians living in that country! I think this is what rushing things is all about. Malawian artists need to take their time to grow, make the right moves to link up with proper promoters, get prepared artistically and then make the giant move.

So far Faith Mussa and Zathu Band have impressed by being part of the artists that performed at the London Lake of stars. For the majority who tell us about their ‘international shows’ I feel it is not only an embarrassment but also a waste of energy……unless if the main aim is ‘kukawona kunja’


Crimes of Lucius Banda

The 19th Album of Lucius Banda is 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’ this is where he is taking 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.

From there on wards, the masses never recognized their soldier anymore. He was reduced to a hand clapper for Muluzi and even went ahead to compose a track Yellow which helped to usher in Muluzi’s successor Bingu wa Mutharika.

As Mutharika dumped Muluzi so Lucius showed his loyalty by standing beside him, something that led to his imprisonment.

As things are at the moment, while his political party, the United Democratic Front decided to become the ruling Democratic Progressive Party bed fellow, Lucius never joined the band wagon and has realized the true colour of politicians, although he is a politician himself.

At the risk of causing debate I would argue that Crimes is an album packed with Lucius Banda’s undertones and frustrations over what has not become of his political career.

And listening to Crimes, it is a typical Lucius Banda album which has a predictable structure. The title tracks for his albums are always a Jamaican modelled dub-reggae poetry beat which he transforms into spoken word production over a Nyambinghi rhythm.

Kulila kwa amphawi just like Chako is a political outcry indeed speaking for the people as was the case then. And there is also Zithumwa which he presents in form of a letter to his uncle which is a sequel to the last two letters the other one collaborated with Thomas Chibade.

Then there are always wedding songs these days. People hire him to produce songs for their weddings and these ones lately find their way into his albums. In this particular project there are two; Andimvetsa Sugar and Tiye.

Whereas in the last albums which he produced when Muluzi was his hero the tracks carried messages of hero worship, now in Crimes, just like the Lucius of the old, there are tracks with implicit messages like Chida cha mtendere.

He however clearly direct his attacks on the leadership in the track Chako where he equates the current national scenario to a Biblical story of King Solomon.

This is when two women were fighting over a living child after one had lost hers and wanted King Solomon to decide the real mother. As the story goes the king proposed to cut the baby in halves where the real mother protested while the one who apparently had lost her child wanted the baby to indeed be cut into two.

In reflection Lucius thinks the leadership is not patriotic enough because they do not belong to Malawi and are behaving like that bad woman. They are on the course to destroy the country because they are set to leave to their respective countries once everything has been damaged since some have green cards.

Remember his promise to be producing tracks like Zulu woman I think in Kuyenda ngati nkhunda, which is a traditional Champweteka chimanga beat which is produced by an expert of such beat Sonyezo, Lucius has ably just killed it.

Like has been the norm Limbikila mwanawe is a piece of advice to his child and this and the rest of the tracks in Crimes have been complement by two Gospel tracks Nkokoma  and Siliva ndi golide to complete a model of Lucius Banda’s album.

The only difference in this album’s structure is the track Touch Me which is a sexual track that would require parental guidance if played within the earshot of those below 18.

At the end of the day, it’s not up to me to judge Crimes as holding a genuine sway over the followers of Lucius as was the case before. I am talking about this in terms of Lucius’ sincerity. But if you ask me I would only say: Once bitten, twice shy!

The Zathu Band Experiment

I had the opportunity to watch Zathu Band perform for MBC’s Made On Monday musical programme in Blantyre but for whatever reasons I could not make it. Fortunately I chanced upon the programme on MBC TV on Saturday.

It is not like it is first time that I have had the opportunity to listen and watch Zathu Band perform. In fact I have been meaning to write about the band from the first time that I came across their music.

Now that I have heard them talk on the programme now it confirms my first impression.

Whoever was in charge of the auditions to identify the six members of the group that include: Xander (Paul Kachala), Annetti (Nyokase Madise), Mphatso (Theresa Dzanjalimodzi), Chikondi (Esther Chitheka-Luis) T-Reel (Praise Umali) and JP (Jonathan Pangani) did a good job.

These six individuals have talent which is unique to specific personality and the band has offered a platform to allow for its fusion which has further enabled the direction that the production of the band has taken, which is to amalgamate different genres in order to create one identifiable one.

What hit me the first time I listened to the songs from the band was that it was more like a one-stop-genres production where one cannot confidently declare the songs as urban or traditional.

What is clear is that much as there has been an attempt to provide the urban feel, the element of the local traditional sound cannot escape the ear.

The aim for creating Zathu Band was to bring boys and girls together to create a new sound for Malawi and indeed for me this new sound the band has created.

Imagine if let’s say the band is one made up if different talent of the following keel: Xander is Lulu, T-Reel is Macelba, JP is Skeffa Chimoto, Chikondi is Alicia Keys, Mphatso is Brenda Fassie and Annetti is Asa that Soul artist famed for her track Fire on the Mountain.

And all these diverse talents was one group. Ladies and gentlemen this is Zathu Band. Take time to listen to their music. By the way they have just released a 12-track-album Chinzathu Ichichi.

Besides the intentions of this band whose members are also a cast for a radio play that is trying to reach out to fellow youth as they try to hear out their challenges and find solutions for them, the quality of their music is something to talk about in a special breath.

If the youths in this country want to take a musical path, let them take a professionally dignified route. As I complain all the time, we are continuously being given a raw deal by a lot of pretenders.

For me I know very little about the band in terms of its nature of formation. Thus is it a project and if it is, how is it going to nurture these individual talents to reach great heights? Music in Malawi can be so tough if it is meant to provide the bread and butter. The question is how are these members sustaining themselves? Are they on contract? And who is their boss in this case? How happy are they with their package if any?

Again the most pertinent question is that one element that qualified them to be in the group is their youthful status. Unfortunately soon they will grow into men and women and will become less relevant to the cause.

How is the mission going to be sustained? Are they (I don’t know them apparently) going to audition another batch of youthful talent to replace them?

However has answers would really do me kind if they provided them for me and my readers. Otherwise without even any hint of doubt I would declare that Zathu Band is an admixture of super talent that needs to be perpetuated by all means necessary.

The Zathu Band experiment has yielded positive results it’s time to replicate it.

Norfas Nkoma of Walala

Today I want to take you on a journey to a musical place I have always protected. Why so? Well, because it gives me fond and haunting memories. Every time I hark back to this period it shows me the face of music.

This is my personal story. It is one that I believe talks of how my musical gods were revoked and appeased. To date I should believe I am still doing enough to my musical ancestors.

The year should have been in 1988 and I was 14 years old and in Standard 7. Both my parents are retired teachers which meant that we would be at different places. At this time we were at Namaka or Kachingwe. This is a place along the Blantyre Zomba Road in Chiradzulu. You can reach this place by branching off to the right when coming from Blantyre at Nyungwe or Mbulumbuzi, otherwise known as 6B.

My exposure to music, as was the case with all and sundry at that time was at the mercy of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). It was the only available source or through shortwave radio frequency once in a while and this had to be BBC or Radio Nampura of Mozambique. Channel Africa was also offering occasional music every evening.

At the height of this period I cannot recall how it happened, but I befriended a standard 8 dude by the name of Norfas Nkoma. He introduced me to reggae and its associated Rasta livity through provisions of handwritten literature which he painstakingly copied from books. I was also meant to copy and return them.

I remember that day I was forced to travel on foot a distance of almost 20 kilometres from this spot to his village in Walala Poya where he gave me the materials, unbeknownst to my parents and siblings.

From this literature, I read about Leonard Percival Howell, the founding father of Rastafari, the First Rasta and the Original Gong who inspired Bob Marley with his message that ended up gifting the world with reggae music as we know it today. I also learnt a lot about Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a proponent of Africanism and many more.

Now in the absence of music – I mean reggae music – this history could not sink in and therefore I needed music. But as Malawians had no access to music it proved difficult.

But as fate had it my father happens to be one of the first teachers of Malawi Correspondence College (MCC). Because they had radio programmes they were making provisions of radio cassette players in such institutions.

Besides this, my father had a vinyl record player which was a rectangular box sitting on four legs called radiogram. Well, my father’s taste of music included those of Jim Reeves, Super Mazembe of Zambia and believe it or not Jimmy Cliff, among others.

It was always Jimmy Cliff’s version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ on the LP that really made me move. But then I met another son of a teacher at the institution who was an elder, Grey Mabvumbe who first borrowed me iconic Gregory Isaacs cassette albums which I would listen to by playing them on the MCC cassette players/recorders from my father’s work place.

With exposure to a lot of reggae music as I grew up – briefly in Nkhatabay when teachers were repatriated back to their respective region of origin in 1989 through to my sojourn at Masongola Secondary School in Zomba – my musical life completely transformed.

Therefore for the last ten years that I have been running musical columns in the weekend newspapers of the country, whenever I sit down to write, my man Norfas Nkoma always comes to my mind.

I am still not sure where he is at the moment but I doff my hat to my musical father who took time to explain to a 14-year-old boy of the different genres of music that are there. I followed my ear to reggae music which opened a lot of doors for me to appreciate music in general.

Now this is one of my many personal stories to music that I thought I should share with you this week.


Hearkening unto the wilderness voice

Long at last someone has started talking exactly what I have been saying since closer to a decade ago when I started writing about music. Former Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume told President Peter Mutharika at a rally in Blantyre West that community colleges should start offering musical courses.

As far back as 2009 I argued my case that there has never been one single trade that has generated youthful interest in Malawi at any given time than what music has done.
It all began with the advent of multiparty system of government and that was in 1993. If my mathematics is perfect that has to be 17 years ago.

It is a shame that government has not realised how to work something out, institutions have come and gone all in the name of representing the interest of the youth in the country including the establishment of the so called National Youth Council whose objective of promoting promiscuity had been achieved before its dissolution.

When the first head of state was structuring our education system, he created technical colleges which are supposed to offer vocational courses.

In the wisdom of the time, learners had to be carved to become or based on trades like Carpentry and Joinery, Plumbing, Brick Laying, Painting and Decoration, Plumbing, Motor Vehicle Mechanic, Auto-electrician, Electricians, General fitters etc.

If we look at these trades critically, we would realise that it was meant to build the country.

Take for example, construction of a government office structure or workshop. First to be on the ground would be brick layers before technicians that had mastered carpentry and joinery put their hands to work, then plumbers and electricians would appear on the scene before those in painting and decoration.

The same would happen to our houses; and for the workshops we had the motor vehicle mechanics, auto-electricians, and general fitters etc.

What was also happening was that once the learners had completed a course, they would be given a tool box with which they will use to start small scale workshops or joined established institutions with similar pursuant.

Just like a house, a song is also built with the involvement of different skills.
The technical colleges with music trade has to start with the elementary lessons in music in the first year, while in the second year, learners can choose who they want to become.

Guitarists, drummers, saxophonists, trombonists, percussionists, keyboardists or pianists should be one group while the other group should concentrate on music production, the third on music engineering in terms of studio recording while the other group should dwell on marketing.

Imagine if graduating learners were to undergo this kind of process and given the start-up equipment after their courses, believe you me, we would not have been talking of mediocre music that dominates our market.

There is one major challenge that technical college students face which is the competition from ‘bush’ artisans.

There are bush mechanics, bush carpenters etc. These are people who are accomplished at doing their work in particular trades, when they have never been inside a classroom. The same challenge would still be faced even when music was to be introduced in the technical colleges.

Nonetheless, this is the best way to assist the youth; considering that even initiatives like Youth Enterprise Development Fund is something borne out of political whims and therefore has no plan on how best it has to be executed.

Seriously, government has to make use of Bachelor of Arts graduates from the Chancellor Constituent College of the University of Malawi who major in music but do not know what to do next with it.

If government would invest in music, they would be surprised that many things would solve themselves because the youth would have the chance to study something in which they have a passion for and like Jamaica Malawi can start exporting music. Programmes that are initiated to change harmful behaviours of the youth would also reduce. Conduct a feasibility study to prove me wrong please!

Nothing was said by anyone until Peter Kumpalume. Now I wait for the Government to move.