Long wait for dancing revolution


By Richard Chirombo:

What is the relationship between South African reggae musician Senzo Mthethwa and Malawian musicians’ live stage performances? Predictability.

To begin with, the live acts are so surprisingly uniformly ordered that they border on routine.


Perhaps, save for the physical availability of the musician or musicians and, here and there, some fastidious ordering, Senzo and Malawian musicians’ live performances oscillate between being too predictable and being outright boring.

Take, for instance, Senzo’s first outing to Malawi in 1999. His dancing routine included jumping with one leg up and another one down, again and again, while shouting “Ahoi!” on top of his voice.

Fast-forward to 2021. Wherever he has performed, save for jumping up and down less energetically, there is nothing that has changed in Senzo’s dancing-routine. The fact that he is being backed by Alleluya Band, and not the band that used to back him in those days in South Africa, does not even make up for the fact that he is using tried-and-tested dance routines.


He has been to Davido Lounge in Mangochi District, Club 24/7 and Pa Zinziri in Blantyre, Club 9 [formerly Vibes] in Zomba City, Modern Park Balaka District and venues in Karonga District, among other places, and it is the same old story of jumping up and down.

Coincidentally, this seems to be the ‘disease’ in Malawi, too.

Apart from a variation of lyrics—which are effectively employed by the likes of the Black Missionaries, Zembani Band, Alleluya Band, The Great Angels Choir, Mathumela Band, Real Sounds Band, Mulangeni Sounds, among others, to celebrate vernacular language’s capacity to capture every event in the jaws of its rhythms— dancing has become a manifestation of rigidity in music as dancers recycle antics at every show.

Even when individual artists such as Skeffa Chimoto, Symon and Kendall, Anne Matumbi, Mashallo Samilo, Ethel Kamwendo Banda, Blak Jak and Lulu dance, patrons would be expecting too much from them when it comes to dancing issues.

How does, for example, a typical live performance for Anne Matumbi go? Anne Matumbi is not in the habit of clearing his throat on stage, so that part is skipped. But the musician is known to be in the habit of greeting the audience before venturing into the business of the day and, after that, he gives his instruments’ crew a cue to key in a particular song and starts shouting comprehensible and sometimes incomprehensible words into the microphone.

Of course, people who are used to Pacific genres understand him.

“Stage dancing is good, and is even employed to good effect by foreign artists the world over. But you may wish to note that foreign artists go for variety, and do not cling to the same styles. They bring something new all the time,” Michael Mtambalika, a Balaka-based music enthusiast, observes.

“You may agree with me that some things are overdone in Malawi. Take, for example, the practice of swallowing fire by our dancers. Once some ingenious individual introduced it, almost everyone jumped into the bandwagon and it has become a detraction other than a centre of attraction,” he adds.

While his sentiments may easily be discarded as ‘street talk’, one of the country’s veteran musicians makes a like observation.

“I think we really lag behind when it comes to stage management. While we may safely say that we have learned to masterfully weave practical messages into our music, using the understanding that language symbolises the natural growth of a nation, we have failed to match our accomplishments in that area with convincing stage performances,” Lommie Mafunga, the veteran Lower-Shire musician famed for his ‘Baba Mika’ song, says.

“What we need to do is to treat dancing as something we can use to shape themes for our own purposes. We should not be predictable in the way we use it. I think the current trend, where music lovers have come to memorise almost all the dancing styles and antics of dancers on stage, is worrisome. We can do with a bit more creativity,” Mafunga says.

And, in line with his words, some of the dancing styles employed by Zembani dancers have been in the fray for over 10 years now, necessitating the need to spice the dance floor with more eye-catching acts.

The Black Missionaries could be another case in point. As part of rocking the audience through dance, all the band does, led by band chief vocalist Anjilu Fumulani, is to invoke the tried-and-tested reggae dance: Bending and straightening the knee, the same way as Senzo used to do in his prime, on the stage.

So, at each and every Blacks’ show, some of the band members will bend and straighten their knees, throw their legs round-about, while the vocalist shouts all sorts of routine lines that, somehow, will culminate in a question that borders on whether the audience is having a good time.

No wonder, veteran musician Wyndham Chechamba advocates the introduction of music schools in the country so that those willing to try a hand at music can learn at least the basics.

He observes that “the majority” of Malawian musicians have never been to a music school.

Those that have, like Charles Akulline Sinetre who went to Italy, are sometimes absorbed by work that pays more than music. Sinetre, for example, runs Nkhadze Youth Alive Organisation.

The government’s disdain for the arts sector, which has seen it [government] failing to establish the Arts Council, could be to blame for this.

Musicians Association of Malawi General Secretary Khuza Rampi urges the government to establish the Arts Council so that artists can be able to access funds that may enable them perfect their art.

He could be right. One does not condemn someone who has been neglected by the mother of all; the government. So, as Sinetre sings in ‘Never Throw a Stone’, sometimes it is not good to throw stones for the sake of it.

It turns out that Malawian musicians are not to blame for investing, or not investing, in dancing antics; it is the government that has been dancing in circles on the issue of Arts Council and other pledges to musicians.

It may, therefore, be a long time before a live music performance goes beyond the shrieking of the chief vocalist to encompass ground-breaking dancing antics.

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