It is easy to hit upon this general truth: There is a certain shallowness of creativity in producing local music videos.
It is like musicians are unable to take to unfamiliar grounds of creativity. It must be a sad development to an, otherwise, revolutionary trend that began when someone at the then Malawi Television – now Malawi Broadcasting (MBC) Television (TV)– was visionary enough to settle for the idea of shooting local music videos for free.
These music videos were shot and later played to a vast and ecstatic audience between 1999 and 2004.
Between those years, MBC TV could not invest so much in photoplays and other costly tasks for fear of incurring huge costs, but, still, the music videos broke new ground, and opened Malawi up to new video production possibilities.
This is time when the television station produced Limbani Dube’s ‘Chisoni N’kumatenda’ music video shot on scene at the Zomba Mountain dam, Gymkhana Club and Sunbird Ku Chawe in the old capital city.
In those days, Billy Kaunda’s ‘Mphinjika Yawo’ was shot along Kunthembwe road, Chileka, in Blantyre.
Wilfred Kasito’s ‘Nyamuhanga’ was shot at Civic Centre – the headquarters of Blantyre City Council– in Blantyre City.
Soldier Lucius Banda joined the music videos’ party, too, and his ‘Tina’ was shot on scene at the Blantyre Sports Club while Ethel Kamwendo Banda’s first music video was shot at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre.
Music videos by other artists, most notably Chrissy Kanthunzi, Rudo Nkukupa Chakwera and Joseph Alfazema, were shot on the MBC TV grounds in Blantyre. Later, Kanthunzi’s ‘Ngokoma’ was shot in Lilongwe, on location at the Chinese Gardens, now Bingu International Convention Centre and Area 18 round-about in Lilongwe.
Secular-turned-gospel musician San B’s ‘Daily bread’ was shot in Lumbadzi, Lilongwe. He was captured baking bread.
When Evison Matafale observed the new trend of music videos, he did not hesitate but hook up with the MBC TV people who produced his ‘Yang’ana nkhope’ music video on scene in Blantyre Central Business District and Chichiri museum grounds.
The LAC [for Lameck, Amos and Chuma Soko] was another group that rose to prominence during that time, and their first video on television was shot on location in Blantyre’s Zingwangwa Township.
However, not all music videos were shot outside the studios, as evidenced by those produced from the Mussa Family, The Trumpeters and Bob Zumani. These were studio productions.
While it can be said that MBC TV did its best in exposing local
musicians to the technology of music videos, there is evidence that very few musicians are willing to move on and experiment with other creative techniques of production.
For the most part, familiarity seems to be the safest route.
While music is supposed to be a highway, with scores of tracks cut into it by hundreds of musicians— united through music but diverse in talent and personal competencies and styles— the local music industry looks like town houses built of the same materials— a feature so obvious in music video productions.
This could be attributed to the hangover of MBC TV-inspired music videos which the station made the, otherwise, revolutionary decision to be shooting music videos for musicians free of charge.
If you look at the first music videos shot on Kwacha grounds in Blantyre, you may observe that there is a predictable, familiar ring that could either be attributed to house style or depleted pockets on part of MBC TV.
This is understandable in the sense that MBC TV was doing the shooting for free and had to ensure that it did not incur unnecessary costs in the process. So, you see musicians and characters dancing on grass, or in front of flowers, in the middle of the road, drinking fizzy drinks— things like those.
However, the establishment of private studios took some weight of music video production off MBC TV’s shoulders somehow, but the public broadcaster remains important, music-wise, as the ‘capital’ of music videos. It is more or less like the station is a vast creative monster.
Consequently, the station’s productions have become a measure of ‘quality’ on which to base new music video productions.
For a time, things augured well but, overtime, the music videos have become another shameful souvenir, or rigid, non-creative bomb of destruction that ticks away all over the music industry.
It is not often that you come across a photoplay in such music videos and it is clear that memories impair their judgement. A terrible example of rigidness.
There comes Patience Namadingo’s ‘Sin’njenjemela’.
To a large extent, the production could be an indication that the artist has outlived that silly stage of rigidness which makes artists the cat’s-paw of memories, for whom the first technological form to come into sight has a magnetic attraction.
While it is arguable that Malawi’s musicians are so talented that one cannot help but feel astonished that this creativity in composing songs fails to place musicians on a higher level when it comes to music videos. Somehow, the artists seem to struggle to find music producers who can save them from the abjection of complacency and predictability.
Clearly, ‘Sin’njenjemela’ offers a breath of fresh air.
Musically, the song is, in itself, a god work of art. For example, the guitar starts in minor chords in an arpeggio form, as opposed to strumming.
Then, as the song wears on, the bass guitar is carefully introduced. Snare drums then rattle, and a hi-hat is employed as a major percussion.
Latter, a conga, if not jetty, follows up and the instruments take major shape with foot drums. The result is a good build up of lyrics and vocals.
Then comes the video part, which I think breaks new ground— meaning, it moves away from the MBC TV ground-breaking monotony.
I seek the opinion of Sweenie Chimkango, arguably the pioneer of local music videos that made their way to the television screen. There were no music videos made without Chimkango producing, directing and editing.
Says Chimkango of ‘Sin’njenjemela’: The concept was very good. The storyline is also easy to follow.”
There are a number of features worth noting.
For example, in depicting war between a Christian and opposing forces, Namadingo neither uses that renowned tool of perpetuating violence, a gun, nor the Bible. He opts for the guitar instead, depicting it as a powerful weapon for wedging a war for God and bringing souls to Him.
“I think that is creativity at its best. Under normal circumstances, other musicians would have opted for the Bible. Worse still, they would even have returned fire for fire. So, I think Namadingo does well in preaching peace. He falls for Jesus Christ’s teaching that we should reward those who want to destroy us with kindness,” Chimkango observes.
“That is why I am maintaining that, yes, I have watched a number of music videos, but this one is one of a kind. You see, costume is a key element, though often overlooked, in music videos and the costume in this music video is up to date. The camera angles are also good. It’s all about money. Money dictates the quality,” Chimkango adds.
Surely, there is so much quality in terms of music and image. And, talking of camera angles, one comes across low angles, high angles, birds’ eye and the sequencing is logical.
However, Namadingo’s work is not without shortfalls. Those I have observed are technical.
For example, in the opening scenes [before the actual music starts], officers are gathered in an office as 26 toy soldiers stand on the table.
Then, a commissioned officer of the rank of Major enters the room, after being saluted by a Lieutenant. The Major asks if it is true that four platoons have been killed in the fictitious defence, and that four others are on the ground [in the war zone].
The toy soldiers are them pushed to the ground [on the top].
However, after seconds late in the same scene, the toy soldiers are seen standing, which points to the problem of continuity, as evidenced by this lapse in the sequencing of a shot in the said scene. Someone must have slept on the job!
In addition, when one character— played by Namadingo— who is talking on a walkie-talkie on the ground [in the war zone]. The Major wants to know if it is okay to proceed with the war plans and the officer [Namadingo] answers that it is okay to continue with initial plans.
However, instead of being seeing uttering the words “Copy that Major, Sir. Over”, the officer is seen and heard mentioning the word ‘over’. His lips are stuck to each other when the words “copy that Major, Sir” are being mentioned, which points to a challenge with lip-syncing.
Of course, the producers may be quick to dismiss it in the name of poetic licence. It is a music video, and not film, and, as such, anything goes.
It is true that the creative excuse called ‘poetic licence’ promotes the idea that there should be nothing infinite about a creative work of art such as a music video because self expression does not work when there are boundaries drawn all over it.
Let us put it this way. In a sea of music videos’ mediocrity, the music video, with its attendant shortfalls, flashes and glitters and must, surely, serve as a call-to-arms for musicians and music video lovers alike.
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