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Jazz-locked nation?

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The atmosphere was robustly hospitable. The audience was impressed but not impressive.

Yet, under such circumstances, Erik Paliani rode on the horse of an ancient force of belief to give out the best in Afro Fusion Jazz, as the show was dubbed.

As a former member of Acacias Band, which produced artists such as Ben Mankhamba and Chris Kele, Paliani may be used to this kind of reaction and might have developed a tough skin.

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The artist, who in 2006 appeared in the film as a jazz guitarist showed that, when it comes to Jazz, he counts among the greats.

However, the show also served as a reminder that, when it comes to jazz, or Afro fusion jazz, the gulf between the generations stays unbridged. The divide was fragrant at Mibawa Multi-Purpose Hall between Saturday evening and Sunday morning when a handful of new-generation jazz lovers that thronged the venue stood on opposite sides of the stage with the majority, old generation.

In real life, it is the youth that outnumber the old. In Blantyre during the weekend, the opposite was true.

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In the meantime, Paliani looked almost celebratory, bright in dreadlocks and a matching pair on top and bottom pants.

He was like, as the Chinese say, the ‘falling leaf that returns to the roots of the tree”.

The artist is less than three months old in Malawi, and is not on vacation but has come to stay.

“The last time I performed in Malawi was in 2009, and I am glad that I am back. It is a nice feeling performing in Malawi again,” Paliani said in an interview after the show, dubbed ‘Erik Paliani Afro Fusion Jazz’ show.

The Blantyre performance was the second, the first one being at Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe on December 30.

The eagle has landed.

Paliani, often gentle to fellow human beings but ruthless with the guitar, seemed to have developed plans to strangle boredom out of Mibawa Multi- Purpose Hall jazz lovers, and did so by bursting with surplus machismo.

This was evident when he played ‘Toto Ine’, from the album Chitukutuku, a 2010 solo album that put Paliani at the centre of the global stage.

Chitukutuku, a 10-track album, has tracks such as , ‘Toto Ife’, ‘Dr Nico’, a tribute to DRC musician and Soukous pioneer, Nicolas Kasanda, ‘Kwacha Kwayera’, ‘Ndagwada N’ipepesa’, ‘Ndege’, ‘Tingo-Tiya’ and ‘Kumalewule’.

And, as he shook his right leg from time to time, his right hand not letting the guitar free, it was clear he had caught the jazz artist’s preoccupation with focus. Too much focus for that matter.

He would play olden music, taking the old generation that made a large part of the audience down the road to the past. He would whisk away all longing for hip hop, reggae— and such other genres that seem to have swept the youth away from jazz — with a proprietary flourish for jazz.

On a night when Blantyre was replete with activities marking a shift from 2016 gear to 2017 gear, Paliani commandeered some precious patrons from the other events to the Afro Fusion Jazz show.

Paliani, who left Malawi for South Africa in 2000, is a renowned producer, songwriter and guitarist.

He has worked with South African artists such as Zamajobe and Hugh Masekela. Masekela, in fact, settled for Paliani as the producer of his studio album, Phola after reportedly being impressed with the work he did for Zamajobe and traditional Xhosa artist, Mavo Solomon, on his album iSiGiDiMi.

He has been to countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.

Prior to his work on Masekela’s 2008 record, Paliani won the hearts of South Africans through his production and songwriting in Zamajobe’s two albums – the multi-South African Music Award-nominated Ndawo Yam (2004) and Ndoni Yamanzi (2008).

It all started when Paliani came across Reverend Benjamin Dube, whom he met at a Johannesburg studio manned by Will Banda. It was there that he met Dube’s keyboardist, Mncedisi Majola, who introduced Paliani to the band.

In 2009, Paliani was part of Afro jazz icon Masekela’s touring band.

In addition, he was involved in the production of Lee Ritenour’s famous Smoke ‘n Mirrors album, handling studio duties for a trio of songs such as Forget Me Nots’, ‘Memeza’, and ‘Lovely Day’.

Paliani, who studied Purchasing and Supply at the Harare Polytechnic, started out with Acacias Band in the 1ate 1990s, thanks to band proprietor and manager Peter Fernandez, who encouraged band members to give pop and rock genres a chance in their performances.

But, on Saturday evening, Paliani had to leave all these thoughts behind, and concentrate on the business at hand.

And that he did; seemingly performing while not secreting self-importance.

He turned the well-lit stage into a psychologist’s meeting room, getting into people’s nerves with the guitar, which sometimes sounded like a motherless child crying in a giant hollow of blackness. Sometimes, when it was the voice he wanted heard, his voice dwindled into a lady’s melodious cry!

Common were the times when, as he occasionally broke into song, his voice often melted into either a helpful or helpless sound, whatever that means.

There was no way the half-emptiness of the hall could stop the message— in lyrics or instruments— from being heard. In fact, there was something about the performance that made the emptiness at the back of the hall so unbearable that Paliani’s magic on the guitar pulled everyone towards the stage.

Paliani is back.

“You see, for one to play jazz, you have to understand the other genres and this is what I have been doing. I have been a jazz student and this has taught me a lot. Moving forward, I see great things happening,” Paliani said.

The hall might have been half empty, but Paliani was a pervasive presence.

And there is a temporary advantage with having more of the old generation that new (generation) present, although this is bad for continuity. The good thing about having more of the old generation than young is that there are no fears that someone may run amok and engage in contemptuous behaviour.

And, in Blantyre, patrons kicked—some of them—in all directions, but this was because they were impressed.

But, in the end, the reality barged in again: Jazz, long established elsewhere, is yet to find a warm place in the young generation’s hearts.

Jazz has a place in the world, and in the hearts of the old, but not Malawi’s young. Just as Malawi is landlocked; the new generation is Jazz-locked, having apparently locked jazz out of their lives!

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