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Power of traditional instruments

In this modern world, traditional instruments are slowly being given little attention by artists who prefer to go with modern or electrical instruments.

When Malian artist Salif Keita performed at Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC) formerly French Cultural Centre during the Blantyre Arts Festival, people were stunned with some of the traditional instruments that he brought.

Despite his act being affected by poor sound, the audience enjoyed his unique sound which was sweetened by the presence of traditional instruments.

While many of the artists in other parts of the African continent have dumped the use of traditional instruments, it is a different case in West Africa where artists are still value traditional instruments.

Keita brought traditional instruments to the BCC stage and it is not only him; Ivory Coast singer Dobet Gnahore also brought with her traditional instruments to the same venue.

Modern instruments are important no doubt about that and they have come at the right time especially with the advancement of technology.

The modern instruments have made sound easier but you cannot take away traditional instruments.

Traditional instruments deserve a place in this modern world because they are unique in their own way and their sound is impressive and rich.

During the Forde Traditional and World Music Festival which takes place in July every year in Norway, people experience the power of traditional instruments.

This is a platform where artists from different countries compete and shine with traditional instruments.

It was unfortunate that the country did not have the presence of top artists during the festival but in the young artists of Patrick Chimbewa, Thokozani Mdoko and Asante Maulidi, the gathering saw some of the country’s traditional instruments among them Nsansi.

Actually the sound of the Nsansi which was played by Chimbewa impressed many such that some artists from other countries could not resist enquiring more on the instrument.

This just tells you how powerful traditional instruments are. The platform during the festival saw artists bringing instruments which had original names from their countries and the organisers simply wanted this to come to light.

During introductions on big screens during the festival, organisers listed all instruments which were on song including Sansi using original names as called in the respective countries.

It was all traditional and this is what Malawi needs to embrace. It needs to have platforms where artists would come out and compete in playing traditional instruments.

It’s rare in the country today to watch a performance where artists are using traditional instruments and this even goes to the studio.

There are some artists who have taken up this initiative of using traditional instruments during performances and one of them is Faith Mussa.

His one-man set which he held in Lilongwe in June saw him use some traditional instruments.

A Germany group Andromeda Mega Express was in the country recently through a project known as What Boundaries? where it collaborated with Karonga-based group Lusubilo Band and Ulimba from Nsanje.

There performances across the country did not attract huge audiences but those who patronised the live acts would attest they saw the best from traditional instruments.

Andromeda saxophonist and main composer Daniel Glatzel said the aim of What Boundaries? is to blend and combine Malawi’s traditional music with international jazz, current electronic music as well as elements of contemporary European music.

Glatzel bemoaned the dying culture of playing traditional instruments in the country.

“Malawi has talent but let it not dump its traditional instruments. The traditional instruments you have here are very important and they are part of your culture and so the young generation needs to strive to learn how to play these instruments,” he said.

Glatzel indicated that they wanted several traditional instrument players in the country to be part of the project but they could not get hold of them.

“We only managed to get the Ulimba players but we also wanted a Bangwe player but we could not get hold of any and so we just used a recorded sound,” he said.

Nchocho William from Nsanje, who was born in 1931 and started playing Valimba or Ulimba in 1946, emphasised the need for the young generation but also artists to use traditional instruments.

“I learned playing the Ulimba longtime ago and actually when I am sick I play it and it acts like medicine, “William said.

The three groups will also perform in Germany in October, 2016 as part of the project.

Music Crossroads Malawi in February through to March hosted what it dubbed the Pakhonde Music Camp in Ntchisi which brought artists from Malawi, Norway and other countries simply to bring to light traditional instruments.

Music Crossroads Malawi Director Mathews Mfune said then that the Pakhonde Music Camp was a different concept all together because it was a unique gathering that was solely for the purpose of exposing traditional instruments that are no longer in the picture in the country.

He said that traditional instruments are part of every nation’s culture and that as Malawi it was important to preserve “our traditional” instruments.

How many of the younger generation today know how to play some of our traditional instruments?

The answer is simply a few but we have the instruments which are mostly being played by the older generation.

Mfune said this was why they thought of coming up with the Pakhonde camp so that artists learn how to play traditional instruments.

Ethno-musician Charles Chavaramangwere Mkanthama, who plays for the Chewa king Gawa Undi, has been in the forefront teaching the youths including Chimbewa how to play traditional instruments such as Nsansi and Kaligo among others.

“It’s not only these instruments, I play so many traditional instruments and if you go in different districts in the country you will find out that we have so many traditional instruments for instance in Lower Shire we have instruments like Malimba. We need to know all these instruments because they are our history and part of our culture,” said Mkanthama.

He said although we have modern instruments on the ground, it was important not to forget traditional instruments which “our forefathers” used during their performances.

Chavaramangwere, who hails from Ntchisi, one of the districts which is rich in cultural expressions but does not have an avenue for promoting local tourism, added that there have been few initiatives done to ensure that the skill and practice of ethno-music is passed down through generations.

Ethno-musician Waliko Makhala said recently that he was challenged to scout for two young female Kaligo players in the Southern region but he found none.

Makhala also said that not a long time ago he was also challenged to scout for Mkangala players but he found none and this just shows the gap that is there when it comes to playing traditional instruments.

The other instruments such as the Bangwe, a board zither are still being played at a small scale in some villages but the country has surely neglected its traditional instruments which is part of “our identity.”

Bangwe used to be popular in the country with names such as Limited Fungo and Chitenje Tambala becoming household names.

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