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Lilongwe Jazz Festival’s second step

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By Sam Banda Jnr and Macdonald Thom:

VETERAN IN THE GAME—Mwathunga

Jazz is a genre that is unique and classic and will always be on top due to its richness as it among others, gives a chance for instruments to come out with the perfect sound.

It is a genre that gives a chance to artists to discover new forms of sound and at the same time bring out some of the perfect features – you talk of the walking bass, scat singing- singing to nonsense syllables instead of words, utilising the 12-bar blues chord pattern and using stabs especially on the bass and slides from one note to the other.

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Such is the beauty of jazz and this is why famous musicians such as Louis Armstrong stood out to conquer the hearts of many people with their music.

Although jazz has been embraced worldwide and different artists have taken it head on, it is a genre that originated in the African-American communities. Jazz has roots in Africa and it is a genre which intellectuals have hailed as one of the original art forms with some players in United States of America describing it as one of America’s original art forms.

Malawi is one country which has not been left out of the jazz portrait with several artists utilising it fully and the past years has seen bands such as Kalimba rising and claiming top spots on the international music charts.

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But although the country has done enough over the years creating the right path for jazz, the genre is no longer that famous in the country at the moment with the current generation of artists embracing other genres.

This is why artists such as Erik Paliani, who has lived in South Africa for years connecting with renowned jazz players such as Hugh Masekela, have come out to bring back the good old days where jazz was the name of the game.

Paliani, well-known with his album Chitukutuku, is back home and has put in place different projects aimed at building jazz and one of them is setting up a studio in Mchinji District to work with up and coming artists.

The singer and guitarist is also part of the team spearheading the Lilongwe Jazz Festival which was inaugurated last year.

Having made its first step last year at Lilongwe Golf Club where several local acts including Lusubilo Band, all the way from Karonga District and saxophonist Dan Sibale performed, the festival is making its second step this year and will be held at the same venue on August 30 to August 31 2019.

The launch of the 2019 showdown was held at Lilongwe Golf Club on Friday with a press conference and thereafter a performance that saw veteran acts such as Owen Mbilizi and Lester Mwathunga taking people on a journey of jazz and show its finesse.

One would only admire the skills of Mbilizi, on vocals as well as the guitar with Mwathunga showing the best on the bass guitar as the audience gave them a loud applause.

Paliani said this year they want the stand of jazz to be more evident through the Lilongwe Jazz Festival and that apart from performances, they are also looking at having more training for musicians so that they do proper jazz.

“We want to be where the world is so as to bring out the real jazz,” Paliani said with a smile.

Other countries are doing well, with jazz festivals set up to give jazz its platform and so Lilongwe Jazz Festival wants to do the same.

In South Africa for instance, there is the Cape Town Jazz Festival which takes place every year in March and has come to be embraced by the rainbow nation as it brings on board several local and international acts.

The festival started on a smaller scale but today has grown to be amongst the top festivals in Africa and now it is even known among people as Africa’s Grandest Gathering and the festival no doubt has been one of the biggest contributors of jazz power.

“We want to try to do the same but we are very far and it will take us time. We need to do more, learn more and create more,” Paliani said.

He said having come out last year, from a local point of view, the festival has managed to create its own players and that people now are more confident about doing jazz.

“ This year it’s exciting because there will be international acts that will surely challenge the locals as to where we are as far as doing jazz is concerned but also test the jazz level to the world level,” Paliani said.

He said starting July 1 2019, they will come out with names of artists set to perform at this year’s gathering up until August 10.

“We are jazzfying Malawi. We are not bad. We are doing well but we want to emphasise on having more artists to record so that they come out with more quality work. Bands need to come out. The progress is there and I would have loved if all this moved faster,” he said.

Paliani recently went on a tour of Israel where he had a couple of performances as well as networking with artists from there.

“Jazz is about transporting and our main mission is to export jazz and everywhere I go I give out the best of jazz but with a Malawian identity. There is a lot to learn but what is important is to take what we have and export it,” he said.

VETERANS IN THE GAME— Mwathunga and Paliani

Paliani also said that as a country, there is a need to put much emphasis on music education.

“If we don’t have educated musicians then definitely we don’t have truth in us. What is needed is to put up a jazz music school. We need jazz bands and this is also as regards sustainability. The Lilongwe Jazz Festival is there to help out on this but it has taken a collection of musicians to come out because of love. We are using whatever we have despite lack of support,” he said.

On how much has been invested in setting up Lilongwe Jazz Festival which is now a limited company, Paliani said: “So far we haven’t started equating it to numbers or profits. There is so much on the ground and we are trying to link up with international acts and looking at collaborations,” he said before lifting a fist to shout “Power to Jazz”.

Legendary musician Mwathunga said he is happy that there is now the jazz festival which is there not only to help promote jazz but also teach up and coming musicians what jazz is all about.

“Many musicians have lost track and are doing shortcuts. The current generation needs to dig deeper and look at what other veteran musicians were doing. The current generation needs to drink from the legends and learn from them. In the past we had bands such as Makasu, MBC, Kalimba and many others who were investing a lot to create mature songs. Today we have songs that only play for a short time then they fall off,” the 70- year old player, who started performing in the 1960s, said.

The Lilongwe Jazz Festival has said it all that its vision is to provide an annual event that provides the community with a platform to celebrate their richness and diversity through jazz and that its mission remains to create meaningful and sustainable connections between cultures, community groups, artists and audiences by providing music – related events and programmes.

With their values looking at jazz being a universal language, jazz is class-less and education and personal development through music, the festival has a lot to do and for now it has started well and is moving in the right direction

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