‌Ndirande as a cradle for musicians


There has been talk presented in engraved tones about Balaka and Chileka when it comes to music. I know I have celebrated the musicians from the Lhomwe belt because of their immense contribution to Malawi music.

In fact at one time I even declared that the Lhomwe belt has entertained Malawi more than any other in as far as generating music is concerned and therefore needed a special award.

Then I thought it strange though, that on one hand we had coined the Balaka beat [Paul Banda’s brainchild] and on the other hand touted Chileka for all the music goodies, but we always came short of writing a deserved story for the Lhomwe belt productions.
There was a special kind of innovativeness that was employed in producing music of Michael ‘Mukhitho’ Phiri a.k.a Michael Yekha and Alan Namoko. This is the reason why, to date, if their music is played in entertainment joints, it keeps sending patrons unto cloud nine.
There are also names like Joseph Nangalembe, Mikoko Brothers Band, Murimwa Brothers Band, Diamond Kudzala, Namakhwa Brothers Band, Fyson Ngwezu & Mulanje Mountain Jazz Band and Chimvu River Jazz Band to mention but a very few, but would send patrons into a trance using locally made instruments.
The Lhomwe belt has also not been left out when it comes to usage of modern day instruments. Joseph Nkasa, Thomas Chibade, Collins Bandawe, Moses Makawa to mention but a few…have soared with such equipment.

For Chileka there is Singano Village, clipped between Michiru Hills in the West and Chileka Airport to the East where the Kachambas started being heard as early as the 1940s. But Daniel Kachamba went on to get a doctorate degree in music from Germany because of the unique way he produced his music.

Daniel Kachamba’s father, his elder sister Anasibeko and his young brother Donald and many of their colleagues were also musicians of note. After them, Singano produced Robert and his younger brother Arnold Fumulani before hell broke loose where we now had/have Evison Matafale, Fumbi Dance Band, Anthony Makondetsa, The Blacks, Kachamba New Breed and Davis Kapito who was part of the Christ in Song Quartet…

While mulling over these three places; Balaka, Chileka and the Lhomwe belt  one good afternoon something just hit me when I realised that Ndirande –  the most popular and populous location of Blantyre –  has neither had its share of respect nor has its contributions been noticed enough.

Remember Hotel Chisakalime and its resident Love Aquarius Band in the 1980s? It had its band leader in Stampie Kamwendo – a Ndirande resident.

Then talk of Saleta Phiri, The Jupiters, Kapirintiya of Code and Shadre Sangala, and of course with their elder brother Wallstone Sangala doing his musical indentation in minds of many with his musical jingles.

The modern musicians of Ndirande also make up a very attractive array of Sangie, Nepman, San B, Sally Nyundo, Ndirande Anglican Voices and Ndirande Anglican Melodies to mention but a few.

It is therefore clear that Ndirande cannot only take its rightful place when the narrative is political but it has produced enough artists to also claim a place in the musical hall of fame. It’s indeed ‘Kwathu ku Ndirande’ as Kapirintiya touted the place as the cradle of music and musicians.

 

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Musical Competitions – No defined future


On Valentine’s Day this year Mibawa Entertainment Limited TV announced what they called a ‘grassroots music competition for the youth’. The Prize for winners: A DVD and audio recording deal.

From the onset I have to disabuse any hostile critics of any preconceived ill intentions – that I hold against this initiative – as I know I am allowed to have misgivings of its effectiveness.

I have high respect for John Nthakomwa one investor that the Malawi music industry has immensely benefited from ever since he came up with Mibawa.

My biggest problem is that these competitions are mere marketing gimmicks that are staged to hoodwink unsuspecting youthful prospective musical artists.They gullibly think time is nigh for them to command the stage once such competitions are announced, which proves to the contrary.

Competitions that I remember to have ever took place in the country include Kuche Kuche/Malawi Gin Music Award, Chibuku Road to Fame competition, Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ and Airtel Music Competition, to mention but a few.

Going by what actually happened to those that won such competitions one is left with a bad aftertaste as the face of exploitation is more prominent where the end justifies the means. None can point me to one that has graduated from these competitions and are now riding high, musically.

In September 2014 Airtel mobile company started its Music Competitionwhere the winner carted home a whopping K14 million by our musical standards.

From the onset, what I discovered was that the devil was in the methodology used, as for subscribers to join all they did was to call the Airtel Trace Stars numberand sing through the phone while the machine at the other end will be recording.

Once done, voila! The winner emerges and takes home the opportunities as stated above.

Around the same period that Airtel was launching their competition I was privileged to beone of the judges at Chibuku Road to Fame competition where twelve bands from the Northern, Central, Eastern and Southern regions competed for the grand prize of K1 million, plus a K400, 000 recording deal, as well as a trip to the regional Chibuku Road to Fame in Botswana.

There used to be E-Wallet as well, aimed at searching for music stars,around 2013-2014 was called Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’ and aped the South African and US Pop Idols, although without being a complete replica when it came to what accrues for the competitors.

Look, the American Idols, for example, since it began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, has not only become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television, but has also spawned 345 Billboard chart-toppers besides producing what have become top international stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jordin Sparks.

Of course, the South African idols has its fair share of controversies through the television show on the South African television network, M-Net, as until its eighth season the contest only determined the white competitors as best young singers in South Africa until KhayaMthethwa became its first black winner, ending the dominance of racial minorities.

The good news is that Mthethwa took home a prize package worth almost R1m, including a recording contract with Universal Music, South Africa.

The Sunbird ‘Search for a Star’, other than the marketing ploy that it is, was but a mockery of the ‘stars’.

Adrian Kwelepeta fast comes to mind. He won the 2013 season and it took forever to release an album because he was looking for resources.

Apart from promoting the Sunbird brand, the country’s search for a star really also needed to ensure that the stars are not just fading.

The initiative for competitions is commendable because it is the best when it comes to isolating the talented from the crowd. My opinion however is that there is need to take a mile further by finding the winners institutions that should train them to become professional musicians as a form of perpetuating their careers.

At the current trend, it is all clear that these youths, who are hungry for fame and swayed by the belief that what their vocal cords can project is sweet sound that can stand the musical test, will remain being used as pawns in this marketing promotion game.

The flowing of benefits in the end create a disharmony of sorts as it is one-sided, flowing at the promotion of the corporate firms without trickling down to those players that make the whole event matter.

Adrian pocketed a K500, 000 prize money but where did it take him to if for a year he had to hunt for resources to record an album?

But where is the talent that E-wallet unveiled? Where are the Sunbird ‘stars’ that were ‘searched’ and ‘found’ through the events and what will happen to the Mibawa winners if it is not only meant to popularize it?

My fear is that such competitions only make business sense but nothing for the music industry and its players.

 

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Is Wailing Brothers already wobbling?


Granted, I might be jumping the gun. But I dare conclude that the reggae band, the Wailing Brothers, is already wobbling just a few months after its revival.

The promise looked full when siblings, drummer and lead guitarist Paul and Takudziwani Chokani respectively, left yet another reggae group Black Missionaries to breathe life into a Wailing Brothers that dripped into comatose immediately after its pioneer the siblings elder brother Elias passed on.

The band, which started long before The Blacks, tried to copy what bands with clout and most considered successful going by round the clock, round the year countrywide shows do. But it looks like Wailing Brothers has run out of steam long before they even started in earnest what their competitors have done for years.

The bands that quickly come to mind are of course The Blacks, Lucius Banda’s Zembani Band, Alleluya Band etc. Zembani has also reduced its live performances ever since boss Lucius Banda went back to parliament.

Without studying the ‘travelogue’ used by these bands it was all clear that not even the single album in the bag would save the situation for Wailing Brothers.

Not that the album is bad and could not carry them through, but perhaps there is a better explanation to explicate their absence.

Listening to Wailing Brothers’ maiden album rightly named – ‘Unfinished Project’ you realise that it doesn’t even waste time to get down to business with the opening track ‘Mwatero ndi Inu’ which I describe as a loaded dice. It’s so allegorical, reminiscent of compositions of their first known leader Evison Matafale – not that I am disregarding the fact that the band was started by Elias.

This tracks leaves you with so many questions whose answers are in the chorus – ‘It is as you say’.

This particular track, like the rest that have been led on vocals by Chikumbutso Simbi, is a revelation of more than one thing; the sibling band leadership of the Chokani brothers has realised their deficiencies in delivering vocal output. I might speculate that this is perhaps the reason they had Matafale in the initial stages.

My observation is not without proof as it has been rightly represented in the tracks that Taku is on vocals which clearly show that God did not provide him with the gift of voice when He bequeathed him with the skilful manner he puts on display when given a lead guitar.

In the track ‘Afritune’ the band has been very naughty with experiment where they play African drums that have been well intertwined with reggae elements coming up with a piece of work oozing refined creativity.  There could never have been any better way to pay their tribute to their fallen brothers and cousins in Elias and Luis, Gift and Musamude Fumulani and of course Matafale, than in the ‘Afritune’.

The track does not demand stringent vocal levels that separate the novice from the elite. It has therefore suited the voices of its lead vocalists Taku and Paul.

‘Levi’ is a track which like ‘Mwatero ndi Inu’ is serious minded reggae track. This is the album’s other best, done by Chiku on the vocals and also inclined towards religious, or is it spiritual foundation. The flair with which the works of ‘Unfinished Project’ has been appropriated is easily noticed in these tracks.

Those who faulted the revival of Wailing Brothers missed it. I still maintain that we really needed a different voice of reggae in the industry.

This is a superlative variety; I would hate to call it an alternative to productions by Black Missionaries because to do so will be playing into the hands of those who are chanting that music is a mission and not competition in reference to the departure from the Blacks by Paul and Taku to reawaken Wailing Brothers.

“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, the highly promoted track in the album is a mixture of the complicated and the simple and not so complicated vocal pitch arrangement.

Of course the mistake has come about with the inclusion of this complicated vocal counter which clearly shows that it does not suit Taku’s natural vocal strength. Even the best instrumentation that goes with this track is failing to conceal this vocal inadequacy. When you have the opportunity to listen to the track especially when being performed live, you will get the perfect opportunity to appreciate my observation.

But the vocals on the ‘I Love My Guitar’ piece have progression that tells us all but one thing; that there is still need of a great deal of improvement. The title of the track is in a way a telling testament that Taku better show his love for the guitar by somehow sticking to it more than his attempt on lead vocals.

Those that are true lovers of music in general, and ardent reggae listeners in particular, will doff their hats off for this particular album.

This is one of the few best reggae albums in Malawi but nevertheless it tells us that Wailing Brothers music mission is an incomplete project that needs to be perpetuated not finished.

But with their disappearance, will they indeed perpetuate the project?

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How long should musicians play on stage?


‘When you walk on stage you cannot walk off unless there is nothing left to give’ this is according to Brian Roemmele, an alchemist and metaphysian.

This is exactly supposed to be the case when our musicians conduct live performances.

I live just behind Motel Paradise which happens to be the common venue for musicians. Almost on monthly basis or whenever there is public holiday, Entertainers Promotion of Jai and Tonderai Banda line up a few artists that perform throughout the night and only stop at dawn.

One fallen musical great once said standard performance duration for professional live bands is 45 minutes. Live band performances are thus sold or bought in 45 minutes sets. If an artist plays for 90 minutes he/she gets $ for two sets.

Now for a reviewer and critic like me I have a problem yes, when an artist will play from 11PM to 5AM but if that’s what they have announced will be the duration of their act, then I have a very big problem when it is not done honestly.

I know that some artist is aware that they cannot last a mile; if indeed they play more than 45 minutes and the promoters are also aware of the same that’s why you will find a list like that of Police Orchestra, DNA, Sir Patricks, Anthony Makondetsa and the Black Missionaries and all their supporting cast.

Most of the times the indication is that the shows will commence from 8PM but most of the times it starts at 11PM meaning by 4 or 5 AM at least six hours of play has passed which if you base it on standard performance time, this would be a raw deal.

One other aspect is that do the artists know how much they should be out there performing?

I have seen that locally artists are neither aware of this not the need to protect their voices no wonder a few years down the road what used to be their golden voice is now replaced by some unrecognisably croaky, gruffly throaty, and guttural voice that takes away the artist’s mettle to either record more or perform.

Because naturally our bodies are not meant to overstretch some acts arts will resort to what they consider as performance enhancing substance like alcohol and drugs which in turn are taxing as they compromise the voice of musicians; that same voice that catapulted them to stardom turn them into laughing stocks once it is distorted.

 

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Enigmatic Paul Banda


Paul Banda – eer, Sir Paul Banda still strums his guitar and sings with the same high fetched resonance and aptness as he has done since the 1980s when his musical career kicked off.

From the onset I need to disabuse you that I am not the perfect connoisseur when it comes to picking apart his work of art; which is, however, not the same thing as not being able to appreciate consistency that this larger than life music performer has demonstrated over the years.

I have seen Paul Banda perform with Alleluya and Anthu Ambiri Band both of Balaka, and Mingoli Band. While one or two challenges would crop up with the aiding band players, his act has always been marked with some precision and perfection that comes with long years of disciplined practice and dedication.

I have seen some artists, who because of one reason or another – ranging from politics to search for greener pastures outside the borders – stayed out of music and consequently also ended up staying out of touch on their return.

For a long spell, Paul Banda was in hibernation and everyone including yours truly thought we have heard last of his musical exploits.

He has over the period that he has returned, proven us all wrong with performances that stills rings loudly, reminding us why he is a music pioneer that started performing when it was politically impossible to express oneself musically.

While it is clear for most ‘music returnees’ that they are struggling with vocal delivery and stage presence, he has taken it up with aplomb, dispatching one hit after the other that leaves the patronage with little choice but to sing along.

What is more striking is the humility that one can clearly see in his approach to doing everything musical. Lately he has been performing in places that one like Paul Banda would be too proud to go to.

He has a younger brother Lucius who has made it big in the entertainment cycles that by just coughing everything would start falling in places for him to take advantage of and take the easy route.

Paul Banda has gone beyond himself and respected the artist in him to perform for everyone and everybody without restricting them with higher gate fees or pride.

One has in the recent past seen posters announcing his performances not only with young artists but also venues that you would not expect him to grace.

In such cases one may be forgiven to conclude that delivery to such places will befit its status but not with Paul Banda who always gives out a full package performance conveyed with devoutness of an artist who respects his audience, his achievements notwithstanding.

Besides the many artists that have learnt from Paul including his younger brother, what he is currently doing at the moment is another lesson whose students should be these younger artists that have tested fame and are being carried away.

It is a lesson that teaches that the constituency that a musician represents is unlike that which politicians embodies for it is the most truthful one that really rewards you commensurate with not only their artistic delivery but also how they carry themselves.

Like I repeatedly say, the body of work that has signatures of Paul Banda all over it should have been enough to serve him financially until the end of this passage. But he is still working hard and not getting the financial prize that he deserves.

While I am still in full praise of Paul, I want to end up this entry today with the question that I ask all the time. What is wrong with the Malawi music industry? Elsewhere one just releases a single that does well on the market and will flourish in wealth while the most of the celebrated Malawian artist with plenty shining productions will still flounder in penury.

 

 

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Do we have a song for rendition?


I read in the Jamaican The Sunday Gleaner of April 2, 2017 that it has been over 40 years since Peter Tosh released his classic hit song Legalize It from the album of the same name.

This year, to celebrate International Peter Tosh Day on April 20, the Peter Tosh Estate is releasing a 2017 remix of this powerful and prophetic canticle, which was from the first album Tosh released after leaving the Wailers. This is according to The Sunday Gleaner.

The publication further explains that the song was written by Tosh as a response to his ongoing victimisation by the Jamaican police, but it was also a political statement pushing for the legalisation of marijuana.

In Ganja’s pre-emancipation era, the oldest Jamaican publication highlights that Legalize It became a unifying anthem that brought like-minded exponents of the herb together from diverse countries and cultures and that in recent years, the perception of marijuana has changed radically, with many jurisdictions now making allowances for research as well as for recreational and medicinal use of the herb.

Two things quickly came to mind; one is that Malawi is exactly doing this by researching on industrial hemp while the other sent me searching for any legendary music icon or an enormously huge musical hit that can deserve such mention or better still that, can enjoy a modern rendition.

When asked to mention Malawi’s legendary musicians, we are fond of lining up names like that of Daniel Kachamba and his Kwela Band, Stonard Lungu, Snowden Ibu, Allan Namoko and the Chimvu River Jazz Band. There are also tracks from Kalimba and Makasu as well as by the Old Police Ochestra, New Scene, led by Morson Phuka, The Roots, Wambali Mkandawire juts to mention but a few that are considered to have rich value for our hall of fame.

If I ask readers which track could be an outstanding one befitting special mention will it be Kalimba’s Sometimes I wonder, or Anachita Chobaya or Uthenga waimfa by Stonard Lungu.

There are also tracks by Jivarcort Kathumba’s ‘Abale Wanga’; Joseph Nangalembe’s ‘Mwananga Che Ben’; Daniel Kachamba’s ‘Anthuwa Bodza’; MBC Band’s Tikulonjereni; Robert Fumulani’s Chemwali; Namoko’s Lameck; Lucky Stars’ Chinafuna M’bale; and of course Super Zunde’s Kongolo Wene.

Back to my earlier enquiry, do you think we have a musical artist of a song that require the national attention, recognition and to be held in the highest regard by setting aside, say a Joseph Nangalembe Day for example?

I know that Martse has done a rendition of Billy Kaunda’s ‘Mwapindulanji’ and in the recent past San B and Nepman have done a copy from fallen Reggae King Evison Matafale’s Kuimba 1 album called ‘Chauta Wamphamvu’.

While for Martse it is said he got Kaunda’s blessings, for Matafale’s song there was a dispute on the question of copyright issues as some family members felt short changed and demanded answers.

Well this is perhaps a kind of scenario that one might advance as a mitigating factor why there is no such recognition of the same. However, the question still remains if any past songs and musicians produced a kind of musical art that turned the nation on its head due to its influential effect requiring it to be honoured today.

Do we need to move or establish a body that should look at such songs or as the saying goes, good wine needs no bush?

 

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Cosoma is guilty as charged


It all started immediately after Gospel songbird Grace Chinga died. Her music started suffering serious piracy that the family members had to plead with members of the public to stop pirating her new songs.

Brother to the fallen talented gospel singer and composer indicated that the pirated music was selling in some places.

There was a story in the media to that effect where Grace’s brother called Joseph, pleaded with pirates to stop because they were still in mourning and that Grace left behind children, who are still in school and will need support.

In the same story, Joseph disclosed they were working hard to put his sister’s unreleased albums on the market as soon as possible and that they were currently putting resources together.

At that same time also Khathwa Aligiza, who produced one of Grace’s albums through Alimoso Studio approached Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) to assist the family.

Fast forward to this year, now Grace’s children Steve and Miracle are crying foul as they implicated Grace’s brother, this one called Davie for producing and selling their mother’s music behind their backs.

They accused their uncle of getting all the proceeds from the DVD he released unto the market unbeknownst to the family.

Steve created a WhatsApp forum which he named Grace Chinga’s music and Cosoma in an attempt to seek help because after their mother passed they had decided to keep her music alive through Miracle.

The children went on to shoot a DVD which they registered with Cosoma (Mzuzu) as a copyright protection. Cosoma promised that DVD would be protected but only to notice that there were fake DVDs with Cosoma holograms being sold in almost all music outlets.

To their utter shock and discovery, Cosoma was dealing with their uncle Davie; selling him stickers in the process authorising him to be selling the DVDs.

We get back to the same reasons the brother gave in the first incident that Miracle and her younger brother Israel are still in school and have no-one to help them.

Musicians Union of Malawi (Mum) President called Cosoma which said they are still waiting to get instructions from the family.

Cosoma Senior Licensing Officer Rosario Kamanga told the media that with regards to royalties, artists are asked to fill Cosoma beneficiary forms in which they indicate how proceeds from their works would be shared. Late Grace Chinga did not complete such a form.

What I find funny is that Cosoma which is still waiting for the family to give them guidance has already started providing holograms to the so called Uncle Davie. What part of waiting for direction from the family did I miss?

Again they say Grace did not fill up the whole form. Wait a minute…If I am going to become part of an association and the process requires that I fill some form, how is such an association going to accept my membership if I hand in a half filled form?

The explanation from Cosoma in the whole story smacks of dishonesty to one extent and incompetence or utter carelessness on another extreme. It’s sad it has the mandate to protect artists from such characters like Uncle Davie, but can’t do a good job.

In this whole fiasco, Cosoma is guilty as it comes. If you follow the story, Aligiza and the children had already talked to Cosoma against disannulling the children from getting what is due to them, but Cosoma seems to have deaf ears.

 

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