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Music genres: cold shoulders, new experiments

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Sometimes, the targeted audience may be innocent of any sense of serious music.

But that is less serious than when the targeted audience seems to be under no obligation to like the art form, especially music.

In the end, a music performance turns out to be no better than a soliloquy— one man on a lonely stage, in front of an unenthusiastic crowd.

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Unfortunately, this has been the case with some genres. Artists such as Mafumu Matiki have tried to rekindle the nation’s love for anything traditional and, through such hits as ‘Chindendelinde’, Stanley Nyandoro Nthenga’s Lower Shire sounds, Lommie Mafunga’s Nkhetekete beats, Allan Ngumuya’s Ingoma gospel, artists have taken a step in drumming local beats into Malawians’ psyche.

However, after enjoying some time on the stage of public favour, Manganje, Ingoma, Beni, Likwata and other beats recede into anonymity.

Which does not surprise culture enthusiast Dyson Gonthi, who observes that it is easier for people to forget their culture than it is to adopt a new one.

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“This is why we emphasise that people should not forget and forsake their culture. People take the idea of, for example, cultural troupes lightly, but the troupes go a long way in promoting local culture. When people dance, they remind the young ones of the way things should work. Unfortunately, not many people seem to realise that local dances are very important in promoting culture,” Gonthi observes.

However, traditional dances such as Manganje do not seem to be the only genres that pop up and recede, depending on the frame of mind of music lovers.

For example, while the country is full of jazz talent, the reception to jazz artists’ public performances has not been very encouraging.

Take the case of jazz maestro Eric Paliani.

The former Acacias Band member is revered in countries such as South Africa, where he has stayed for a good part of 16 years, but his Blantyre performance three weeks ago was welcomed by a half-empty Mibawa Multipurpose Hall.

In South Africa, Paliani has won the hearts of South Africans through his production and song writing on Zamajobe’s two albums – the multi-South African Music Award-nominated ‘Ndawo Yam’ (2004) and ‘Ndoni Yamanzi’ (2008).

Which is such a shame to Malawians; for they treated a man who in 2016 appeared in the film Catch a Fire playing a jazz guitarist, as a prophet in his own land.

The most conspicuous thing is that there were more patrons of the old generation than the new [generation]. This means the young ones missed out on such songs as ‘Toto Ife’, ‘Dr Nico’, a tribute to DRC musician and Soukous pioneer, Nicolas Kasanda, ‘Kwacha, Kwayera’, ‘Ndagwada n’ipepesa’, ‘Ndege’, ‘Tingo-Tiya’, ‘Kumalewule’, among others.

No wonder, ethno- musician Waliko Makhala is not pleased with such treatment of great artists.

“I have a question of why should an afro jazz concert held in Blantyre recently only attracted a handful fans. I have a lot of questions on the taste of music in the Warm Heart of Africa. What exactly is it that the masses would like to hear this year? Do we maintain the status quo? Do we really need to be copycats and borrow what our colleagues have sweated to achieve but with the support of the authorities?

“Do we need a blend of all music styles or just play anything that the patrons would like to listen and dance to? Do we, as artists, compromise on our choice and move with the povo? Do we really need to play popular music for survival’s sake or come up with a music tradition that will be distinct and unique to us as artists? Do artists need to play commercial music for survival’s sake?” Makhala questions.

For jazz enthusiast Noel Msiska, the answer (as to why youth shun genres such as jazz) is obvious.

“The youth of these days do not understand mature music. Only people who understand music can understand and enjoy jazz,” Msiska says.

“In my case, I cannot trade jazz for anything,” Msiska adds.

Ironically, while some old genres seem to be struggling, some up-and-coming artists are experimenting with genres such as grime.

For example, actor and musician Alfred Kaambankadzanja, nicknamed Bouncy, has released a music video that does not only break artistic boundaries but also challenges established music genres in Malawi. It is titled ‘Certified’.

Grime is a genre popular in countries such as the United Kingdom.

“Actually, I want to experiment with the genre and observe how people can receive grime in Malawi. Whether the welcome will be positive or not, that is for us to see,” Kaambankadzanja says.

So long as it does not become a soliloquy; one man on a stage filled with equipment, but with no one to perform to.

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