Sometimes treated with an almost good-humoured contempt and other times treated with outright contempt, women are still trying to find their right place in Malawi’s arts industry.
Whatever place they find, they still have one in the heart of Madalitso Band co-Manager Neil Nayah, at least in the case of Keturah, also known as ‘Local Girl’.
Nayah is impressed with Keturah’s approach to music, especially the sometimes-overlooked traditional music.
“When I first listened to Keturah’s music, I knew right away that there was something unique about her. The way she sings is unique, her approach to traditional music is unique and her beat is unique.
“No wonder, when I first saw her perform, I knew here is someone to work with; someone out to break music boundaries,” Nayah says.
To be singled out in a music landscape where men dominate and women appear as diminutive creatures must be every local female artist’s dream but, to Keturah, it is just the beginning of everything. She is not about to be dwarfed by either male artists or praise but is set to explore the vast music industry that is there for the taking.
This was evident when Keturah performed at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre during the last Saturday of April.
As the audience kept its focuse on her, while she played beat after beat, she seemed to be one lost in the anonymity of her own mind, minding not the eyes but her next step.
She sang as if she were already in full flower the time people like Nayah realised that here was someone worth working with.
‘Munditengereko’, one of Keturah’s products, attests to that. And it is based on a real-life story.
“One day, when I went to Jacaranda School for Orphans, I saw talented children that had been neglected by parents or even relatives. These children sought refuge at the centre. This [failure] by blood relations to take care of children and nurture their talent made me feel so bad that I had to compose ‘Munditengereko’,” Keturah says.
In the song, a persona chides an uncle that fails to make good of his promise to take a niece/nephew to the city, where s/he would be nurtured to fulfill potential.
When the uncle disappoints, the child has no choice but to be at the mercy of unpredictable devices. It is a story of hopelessness when resources are there.
Indeed, the orphanage landscape in the country is strewn with children that were never nurtured and, yet, society has the potential to come to the rescue of those that cannot rescue themselves, at least for 10 or so years.
“Above all, promises have to be fulfilled,” Keturah says.
Then, there is ‘Nkhalo Yane’, in which a woman lives in bondage imposed by society’s expectations.
Even if a woman’s story begins in triumph, the story will always end in tragedy because, for those that do not conform to expectations of men, portents of trouble are everywhere, even in night or daydreams.
The fact that the glamor of being a woman is tempered by the complex expectations society has in them riles the persona in Keturah’s song, in which the persona wants women to be left alone so that, alone, they can decide when to be exemplary, how to be exemplary and even when to live like a leader.
“The song does not impose limitations on women. In fact, it just encourages them to be exemplary; to live like leaders,” she says.
Maybe that is why they say when one trains a woman, they train a nation. An exemplary woman will beget exemplary children that will live in an exemplary world. Perfection stems from women.
In the song, the persona softly, but resolutely, tells men off because, if the implication of the message could be factored in, it means women are pretty competent in deciding what is best for them.
There is an element of good-humoured contempt in the song. Oppression can no longer be treated as an inter-culture, which, unfortunately, is what chauvinistic men have been trying to do.
The song ‘Bwera Tivine’ is self-explanatory. When time for dancing chances, merry-making must turn into a state of mind, other than an afterthought.
Of course, dancing is a way of life for professional dancers; as such, the dancing in this case is not about stage-dancing. It is about merry-making much as it can be about stage-dancing.
This must, surely, be a beat of the time considering that this is time of division, if not time of outright terror. The Covid-19 pandemic, which is not mentioned in the song, has taken the fun out of life and only dancing is the medicine.
The other song, ‘Bwerani Kumudzi’, portrays Keturah as a mother figure because the persona she has employed in the song frowns on everything irresponsible. It speaks against abandonment.
Bwerani kumudzi /
Ana mwasiya Kunyumba…
It is, surely, time up for those that desert others, for from Keturah’s choral chords comes a voice of reason.
Things further take a motherly turn in ‘Nambewe’, in which the persona asks a female figure to go back home.
The beauty of the song lies in Keturah’s stage-work, voice projection and, in the case of the JCC performance, make-up.
The strength is also based on the type of traditional instruments used.
It could as well be that we have a dynasty— the Keturah Dynasty— which has imposed a new order in the music industry.
No longer will male chauvinism inhibit women’s creative thought.