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Artistic reflection of the plight of Malawians

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SET TONGUES WAGGING — Nepman

One theorist argued that artists provide their communities with joy, interaction, and inspiration, but they also give thoughtful critique to the political, economic and social systems, pushing communities to engage thoughtfully and make steps toward social progress.

The angel of this thinking must have visited poet Robert Chiwamba and musician Nepman when they were collaborating on their poetic release titled “Ndidzalandira” (I will receive) and the angel must have inspired them further to speak independently on the current social economic status of Malawians.

It is not surprising that days after the two released this poem “Ndidzalandira”, they separately released artistic pieces that criticised the current administration over how it is dealing with issues that are vital to the wellbeing of the citizenry.

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Nepman went into the studio to work on a song that won hearts before its official release. When the song titled “Ng’ona za m’mabango” (reed crocodiles) eventually was released, its undertones were everywhere, forcing people to think that the Malipe dance hit-maker too had felt the pinch of what he was talking about in the song.

A linguistics Lecturer at Mzuzu University Chimwemwe Kamanga, who is also a keen follower of urban music, said the song cannot be underrated.

“This song is not among rhyme for rhyme’s sake, but it is an embodiment of meaningful rhyme. It will thus; in the words of Mutabaruka my all-time best poet, not be recited by poetry enthusiasts, politicians nor men of religion,” he said.

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Kamanga appreciated the beauty of the metaphoric expressions in the song and its rich touch on meaning.

In his lyrical content, Nepman visualised the current predicament of Malawians in the simple metaphoric and symbolic composition of “Ng’ona za m’mabango”. The opening lines are rich in meaning: too complex.

Tikuweta mikango, tidakali mujango, izi Ng’ona za m’mabango zikutionetsa zilango (we are caging lions in the jungle, reed crocodiles are making our lives miserable).

The persona says Malawians are keeping lions. This leaves one with no option but to think that Malawians are keeping political leaders that are harmful for their wellbeing. Malawi now appears to be a home of every problem that man was cursed with.

The metaphor of “Ng’ona za m’mabango zikutionesa zilango” should also be seen from the geographical understanding that reed crocodiles stay close to the people. These crocodiles are harming people who thought the proximity could have made them friends and brothers.

The expression “zilango” (punishment) means Malawians are suffering and this is clear in the second verse of the song.

Anthu sitikugona, mwina nokha mukuona,

mwatiponyela mudzenje la ng’ona, Zafikadi povuta, kulephela kulipila lenti, fizi ikuvutanso satifiketi kuolela mnyumba

The persona mentions the problems that Malawians are currently facing like unemployment forcing people to burn their certificates after failing to get one of the promised one million jobs. The job frustration in the song is not just based on the reality that jobs are scarce but are scarce when people were promised that they will see a government that will create one million jobs.

Literature theorists in Malawi such as academician Joshua Kumwenda argue that in a democracy, artists are free to criticise the government. However, Nepman openly registers his fear as the song continues.

Pano ndagwila mbendela sindiziwa mwina mpanga pofela, chochitika chichitike uthenga wanga ukafike

As aptly put by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Nepman has chosen to call a spade by its name and not a spoon.

Similarly, Chiwamba decided to comment on the same aspect of disillusionment but with a different genre and style.

Using his poetic prowess, Chiwamba in his poem “Tilipano Mpamaliro” (we are at a funeral), sees the persona in the poem attending a funeral and he does not know who has died but simply wants to cry for himself because of the problems he and many others are facing.

The persona laments the lack of money commonly called “Maluzi”, and celebrated blackouts and, many other problems. The sensitivity of his poem is an image of a crying nation that is seen in the minds of listeners. Crying is a sign of desperation and it means Malawians have run out of ideas that could have saved them from such a crisis.

Ine nde oyenela kupepesedwa,1994 mpaka pano kuvotela chibwana

The state of affairs in the country is even defeating the traditional view that men do not cry because the persona narrates that in the poem, a man wearing big trousers probably because he has no money to resize it, is crying because of the numerous challenges.

As the lyrics and lines of the two artistic pieces continue to resonate in our ears, what we should know is that behind the voices of the two artists, there are people. The two artistic expressions are a mass representation of reality. Behind the voices, people are suffering and if it takes beats for the leadership to listen, then Nepman is voicing it out. If it takes lines and stanzas for them to listen, then Chiwamba has laced them.

We can only hope the leadership will listen and make the country a better place for all. If we woke up to a day without blackouts, if average Malawians can afford the market prices of the skyrocketing goods, then people will no longer cry.

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