From poetry to music and to poetry again; multi-faceted Mashallo Samilo’s ingenuity for breaking new ground is as evident today as it was two decades ago when he set off on a journey into the arts industry.
In terms of exploring ground that is new to Malawi poetry, he was among the first local poets to offer a dish of haiku poems in his Wokoma Nyasa poetry book.
While the Japanese’s exploits with haiku are well-established, Samilo uses it to reflect on the situation in Malawi.
A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasises simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression, according to www.tofugu.com.
The story of Haiku can be traced back to the spring of 1686, when Matsuo Bash wrote one of the world’s best known poems:
Frog jumps in
Sound of water.
In Malawi, haiku’s moment to get a local touch came when the Northern Region-based artist experimented with it in his book.
In poems such as ‘Faces’ and ‘My Traditional Woman’, Samilo expresses so much in as little as three lines.
“I want to bring various styles, including those with foreign roots, to the doorsteps of Malawians as one way of selling our country to ourselves and the outside world,” he says.
He says he uses the term Nyasa, Malawi’s pre-independence name, because Malawi’s cultural heritage is based on the richness of its pre-independence characters and natural resources.
Of course, locally, Samilo is not short of motivators. He cites the likes of Francis Moto, Sam Mchombo, Alosius Dziko of Bwampini fame, Thengo Kumpumula, JWD Gwengwe, EJ Chadza, and others, as some of the people that have made him embrace not only poetry but other fiction genres as well.
While poetry makes him proud, however, another of his pursuits, namely music, continues to turn his face into a fountain of tears.
“There are benefits associated with being a person of many artistic faces, yes, but there is a downside to it,” he observes.
One of the downsides is foreign-based organisations’ penchant for short-changing artists from countries such as Malawi.
“I have realised that foreign-based organisations exploit Malawian artists big time. For example, my music video, ‘Welcome to Malawi’ used to be played by Triton Television in the United States as well as Musicales Television without my consent,” he said.
Recorded at Audio Clinic Studio, ‘Welcome to Malawi’ gives a glimpse of what it feels like to visit Malawi.
However, while Samilo is crying foul over unremitted financial benefits from foreign-owned websites who offer streaming services for his music video, veteran musician Lommie Mafunga warns that crying out loud too early may stifle the exposure of local artists.
He asks local artists to take advantage of international exposure to increase their visibility instead of focusing on financial returns, in a bid to turn local music into a force to be reckoned with internationally.
“I think we, Malawians, started very well in terms of international exposure. I don’t know where things went wrong. We all know that the hit song ‘Sometimes I Wonder’ did very well on the international stage, to the point of getting into the top three on the British Broadcasting Corporation chart. Websites offer us the same opportunity; but, again, we can only benefit if we handle issues to do with modern technologies and financial returns very well,” Mafunga, of the ‘Baba Mica’ and ‘Bwato ndi Moyo’ fame said.
Well, it could be that Mafunga’s voice of “reason” has found a new home in the Malawi Writers Union Northern Chapter General Secretary, who has since rekindled his love with music.
This week, he announced that he had come up with new work in his quest to remain relevant in many areas, including dancing, music, poetry and publication of other non-fiction work genres.
He told Weekender this week: “I, Mashallo Samilo, who is an artist placed between two worlds of literature and music, after my 2018 poetry book Welcome to Malawi broke through the boundaries of Malawi to find itself in the hands of Le reve Africain Label in France, are ready with new music singles of ‘Chebakali’, ‘Songole’ and ‘Ndimasukeko’.
“These singles are from my up-coming album Mlimi Wa Sabola,” he said.
The songs rekindle the Malawian spirit radiant in songs of the old generation of Malawian artists; the likes of Allan Namoko, Saleta Phiri, Michael Yekha, Chechamba and others.
No wonder, the Afro-Jazz beat he is used to gets drowned in manganje-like sounds every now and then.