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Microphone, camera savvy: Veteran musicians out of sheath?

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MUST BE TREASURED — Banda

It starts with being free-spirited; the journey from unknown citizen to renowned artist.

So, like free spirits, Malawi’s breed of veteran musicians had to burst onto the music scene as novices, mature over time, become wiser from their experiences than ingenuity, and become celebrities in Malawi and beyond.

Sadly, though, the bulk of the remaining musicians who wear the tag of veteran are good at the audio music part of it and no good at the visual part— that is, production of music videos for posterity.

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Some, like the inimitable Paul Banda, had to be coerced into shooting music videos for songs that were, slowly but surely, drowning in the waters-of-excitement stirred up by up-and-coming and urban musicians.

Somehow, Banda will remain engraved in our music memory, thanks to the video songs.

In the year that ended Frirday, Giddes Chalamanda joined the club of lucky-few veteran musicians captured on videotape, thanks to philanthropist-cum-musician Patience Namadingo’s mash-ups idea.

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Namadingo, who was in the year awarded an honorary doctorate for his humanitarian work— news of which reached the university dons at the University of South Africa, dons who could do nothing but recognise Namadingo’s great work by awarding him the doctorate— embarked on a mash-up project that saw him collaborating with Lucius Banda, Billy Kaunda, Black Missionaries and Giddes Chalamanda.

So well-publicised has the mash-up been that, when Namadingo toured the city of Lusaka, Zambia, on December 24 in the year gone by, some residents were asking and writing on the live feed: “Have you come with the legendary Giddes Chalamanda?”

It all attests to the power of music videos, which enable music lovers to match a voice to a face and a name.

But few are as lucky as Chalamanda and Paul Banda. The few veteran musicians that are still with us are still craving such opportunities, with no videographers showing interest in capturing them on video tape.

While some musicians like the esteemed Snowden Ibbu hoped for the best, it has ended up to be another year of wasted opportunities, at least for the majority of veteran artists.

Now, following the exclusion of veteran musicians from video production projects, the nation now runs the risk of losing out on the opportunity to learn how the veteran artists managed to weather the storm of hassles that punctuated the music scene in those days to become what they are, thanks to our failure to document the fruits of their hands through music videos, warns Ibbu.

Ibbu, best known for his ‘Chibale’ piece, says people responsible for the arts are doing the nation a disservice by not recording songs of the few veterans who are alive on video for posterity’s sake.

“We are failing the children of this great country by failing to institute programmes designed to document the music background of the artists who have shaped the face of music in the country,” Ibbu says.

Born on March 7 1959, his own story captures how well Malawians take veteran musicians for granted. He says the government, the corporate sector and individual citizens have failed to promote the arts in the country by holding financial resources back.

This— says the composer of such songs as ‘Ndachita Mwai’, ‘Ayune’, ‘Akuchimuna’— has meant that local artists survive at the mercy of their own devices, a development that forces them to spend more time searching for life’s basics than means of contributing to the development of the arts.

“Take, for instance, myself. I mastered music a long time ago, after learning how to play the gramophone from my father— who was a musician himself— but only released my first album in 2009. Despite the fact that my songs have enjoyed airtime for a long time, including during the time we only had MBC [Malawi Broadcasting Corporation] Radio One, it’s just recently that I have come up with an album to show for my contribution to music,” Ibbu says, adding:

“It is not on. We really need to help veteran musicians out because we can learn a lot from their experiences and, from their experiences, we can grow.”

However, despite producing his first album in 2009, Ibbu is yet to produce a music video— a problem that has become so commonplace among the country’s crop of veteran musicians.

So, while MBC Television’s viewers may be forgiven for thinking that the MBC television promotional music video that features Malawi’s tourist attraction places— in which Ibbu’s ‘Chibale’ track plays in the background— is one of the veteran musician’s music videos, the musician from Chatha Village in the area of Traditional Authority Kapeni says it remains his wish to record music videos.

Another veteran musician, Lommie Mafunga of the ‘Baba Micca’ fame, concurs with Ibbu on challenges facing veteran musicians, also warning that failure to record the songs of veteran musicians on video could disadvantage posterity.

“We seem to be a nation that is poor at record-keeping, and this will prove costly in the long-run. How do we explain our failure to record some of the songs composed by veteran musicians who are still alive? As the situation stands, we have already lost out on the visual records of people such as the composer of the Malawi National Anthem Michael Sauka and others who translated Christian hymn books into Chichewa or other languages.

“May be we can be forgiven for failing to record these people’s works on video because video technology was not widespread in those days, but we will have no excuse if we fail to do it this time around. I, for one, have been trying to produce music videos for Malawians to appreciate how far we have come,” Mafunga says.

For now, maybe it is a lost opportunity because, with the Covid-19 pandemic, musicians, both up-and-coming and veteran, have been facing a similar challenge: “We, musicians, have been struggling financially because we earn a living through live shows. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, which the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 imposed, musicians have had a bad year (2020).”

These are the words of Musicians Union of Malawi President Gloria Manong’a.

So, for now maybe, we can blame everything on the Covid-19 pandemic. When all this is over, veteran musicians may be granted their wish.

Until then, up-and-coming musicians may not be able to take a portion of Ibbu’s ingenuity at the gramophone, Paul Banda’s endurance with the guitar, and mix it with Allan Namoko’s insightfulness to carve out a niche for themselves.

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