Seldom does an artist’s life take a straight line.
As such, even for persistent local and international award-winners such as Tay Grin, Wambali Mkandawire and Chrissie Kamthunzi, the road to success seldom follows the same twists and turns.
But the years 2020 and 2021— even if it is just 16 days into the new year— were meant to be different, according to multi-award winners Tay Grin and Gwamba, who cite the Covid-19 pandemic as any artist’s Achilles heel.
“Covid-19 has affected us, as musicians, really hard because we were not able to hold shows,” Gwamba indicates.
But, at least, Tay Grin had a show in the past three weeks, drawing all and sundry to Blantyre Central Business District.
To him, though, Covid-19 has meant some chickens did not come home to roost. This is international awards.
He counts Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (Beffta)’s Best International African Act among his international awards. Of course, it is also recorded in history that he was once nominated for a Beffta Best Music Video award for the song ‘The Beach’.
But, as the artist acknowledges, “Covid-19 made it difficult to do a number of things, including participation in international awards because that would have meant moving up and down in the face of the coronavirus threat”.
That is how, just in the nick of time, Covid-19 wiped the prospects of Malawi shining abroad, call it riding on the back of artists that win international accolades.
Ironically, before Covid-19 reared its ugly face on human affairs, even the Kamthuzi’s were doing the nation proud.
Malawi was being treated as a potentate, thanks for their artistic efforts on the international scene.
In those days, let us just look at the years after 2010, Malawian artists that were participating in competitions abroad were finding themselves in the limelight after winning top spot in literary, beauty and other competitions organised by non-Malawians and Malawians abroad.
For some, it was a dream come true as not even hopes for a prolonged stay abroad prepares them for glory in a foreign land.
That moment when the wall of failure tumbles into instant success and a new life opens like an earth trap, and you gaze down into the eyes of admiring fans. Surely, success puts a full stop to the world of failure.
The winners may, therefore, be excused for feeling a childlike excitement for, beyond themselves, they represent their motherland, Malawi.
Yes, imagine veteran Kenya-based gospel singer Chrissie Kamthunzi, who in 2017 received two nominations in the Kenya Gospel Music and Legends Awards, emerging winner in the two categories on foreign soil!
Kamthunzi received two nominations in the Kenya Gospel Music and Legends Awards because those well-versed in the arts thought that she could have a go at the Song Writer of the Year and Diaspora Artist of the Year categories in a competition that included such other categories as Male Artist of the Year, Female Artist of the Year Female and Gospel Group of The Year.
Kamthunzi’s story— that of a Malawian being nominated in a foreign country, and in a competition that has nothing to do with Malawians in particular— is one of the cases where a Malawian artist competes for glory in a purely local competition.
In another case, Malawians artists compete for a prize that is also being competed for by people from across Africa. Limbani Kalirani, alias Tay Grin, has won several nominations under this category, and beat other foreign nationals to the prize.
Another Malawian artist Aubrey George Ghambi, alias Suffix, has also won several international awards in gospel music. He was once nominated in eight different categories for Zambia’s Kountapoint 2016 online Awards and got Awarded in five different categories as the Best Male Artist of the Year, Best Rap Song of the year (Ndinakakhala Judge), Most Consistent Artist of the year, Best Afro Rap Song of The Year (Mkazi wa Kumwamba), and Song of the year (Ndinakakhala Judge).
While veteran musician Synoden Ibu observes that local artists who win international awards “put Malawi on the map”, he, however, observes that the contribution of Malawians who emerge winners in competitions organised by Malawians, and for Malawians, living outside the country is yet to be ascertained.
What he means is that the train of winners of competitions organised abroad for Malawians in the diaspora is full of people, and, yet, their contributions to Malawi after the awards is not known.
However, Musicians Union of Malawi President Gloria Manong’a says international awards motivate local artists and are, therefore, welcome.
Maybe feeling sidelined, or for other reasons, the past 10 years have seen Malawians abroad organise events premised on the need to recognise themselves in a world where ‘natives’ seem to despise them.
The list of Malawians who have kept the national flag flying at full mast abroad include Tina Maunde, who was crowned Miss Malawi Ireland in 2012; Denise Zambezi, who was crowned Miss Malawi Ireland 2013 at a colourful event that took place at Maldron Hotel in Dublin; Alexina Phiri, the Law student from Birmingham University’s Law school who was crowned Miss Malawi UK in 2013. Phiri also later participated in the Miss Black Africa UK.
Others include Annie Kamthunzi-Virtanen, who was crowned ‘The Queen of Hearts 2012’ at the Circus Events Centre in Helsinki City, Finland.
The Queen of Hearts’ is a competition for international women there, and her win meant that she would be representing all international women in the country. Kamthunzi-Virtanen beat women from Nigeria, Iraq, Russia, Estonia, Portugal, Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq.
Shakira Juma and Memory Nyambo, who emerged first princess and second princess in the Miss Malawi Ireland 2013, respectively, are some of the names that have clinched awards organisers by Malawians abroad.
In addition, the Malawi Association UK (Mauk) once organised the Malawi Achievers Awards (MAA) which were held at the Leicester Marriott Hotel in Leicester (UK).
MAA Project Coordinator Felix Banda said at the time that the objective of the awards was to recognise and reward Malawians who are making a difference in the lives of Malawians abroad.
“We decided to introduce the awards to acknowledge fellow Malawians who have done outstanding things,” Banda is quoted as saying.
However, all these awards were non-existent in 2020 and during the first 16 days of the year 2021, with Tay Grin indicating that, maybe, rising Covid-19 cases, which have led to the closure of land boundaries in Malawi and, in some countries, air boundaries, has put a stop, albeit temporarily, to international competitions that give Malawian artists something to smile about.