Piksy, real name Evance Zangazanga, is a household name. In fact, he has served as an ambassador for several brands, something other artists can only dream of. RICHARD CHIROMBO engages the artist on his experiences in the music industry, the future of the artist away from CD sales, and other issues. Excerpts:
How did your music journey begin?
It started with my love for music. I remember that, in those early days, I used to be fascinated by Lucius Banda. In fact, I used to enjoy listening to Lucius Banda’s music. To tell you the truth, I felt like a dream come true when I collaborated with Lucius Banda first as Atumwi and then as an individual artist. I collaborated with him in ‘Tseke Tseke’. I can add that my interest in music spans from the time I was in secondary school at Mthunzi Private.
By the way, when did your serious journey in music begin?
I joined the music industry in 2005 and, since then, I have seen myself grow as an artist.
Did you get into the music industry with a pre-determined identity; like, ‘I am a gospel or secular musician’?
No, I joined the music industry with the understanding that it is a ministry in itself. We, musicians, minister to people of diverse backgrounds. I did not say ‘I am a secular musician’ or ‘I am a gospel musician’. It is enough, for me, to take pride in the fact that I am a full-time Christian; I can even do well in terms of gospel music composition. But I could not extend my spiritual life into the music industry as that would mean ostracizing some people.
Why is it important not to draw boundaries on oneself?
The reason I advise people not to take me as a gospel artist is that, as I have said, I am doing God’s work. Again, most of my songs are youth-oriented and the youth are of different religious affiliations. If I were to draw a boundary, and say ‘I am a gospel musician’, I would be pulling some sections of the youth away from me while drawing others closer and, in the end, the message would not be universal anymore. Mine is a universal ministry. I want to reach out to the youth in one piece and, I think, I am able to reach out to many people the way I am.
By the way, why did you quit your work as an accountant to concentrate on music?
I do not regret quitting accounting, by the way. I feel that music can be a career, so long as one works hard. In fact, I quit accounting to concentrate on music when [mobile and data service provider] Airtel roped me in as brand ambassador in 2012.
Does it pay to be a brand ambassador?
Sure, it does.
To begin with, such deals promote you, and raise your profile, as an artist. You can just imagine the exposure one gets when put on billboards and other promotional materials. Again, there is a salary one gets and this helps one sustain him or herself.
The talk, everyday and everywhere, is that of piracy and how it eats into one’s creative efforts. How does a Malawian artist survive in that environment?
It is difficult to eradicate piracy. But, at least, we can do something about it. The good thing is that we still have people who are interested in buying original CDs. Otherwise, there are a number of sources of income, the main source being live shows. An artist also gets engaged by organisations who carry out outreach activities in, say, rural areas. An artist can be a brand ambassador. At the moment, I work as a UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] Condomize Campaign Ambassador. I work with PSI [Population Services International] and there is a possibility that I may start working with BLM [Banja la Mtsogolo] next year. That is, if everything works according to plan. In my case, I also do business. Again, you may wish to know that I am a farmer. This year [2016/2017], I have cultivated soya and pigeon peas. So, there are many ways of survival.
What about online music sales?
Of course, we live in an era of improved technologies. We have the smartphone and other gadgets that enable one to listen to, and buy, music online. However—and I do not know whether this has to do with us [Malawians] still learning the ropes—it is technologically hard for Malawians —most of them, at least— to buy songs online. There could be those who want to buy music online, but the process is long and arduous. Maybe it could work if there were mechanisms for deducting something from the data bundle the moment one downloads music or listens to it online. But, that not being the case, we [musicians] are treating online music platforms as points of promotion. If one produces a single, it has become easy for an artist to avail the song online, thereby creating publicity for it.
Should we say live shows have replaced CD, DVD sales, in terms of fundraising?
Live shows are the in-thing. Really. But, then, occasionally, one comes across people who love you as an artist. Such people will often call you and order a CD. Normally, a CD goes at K2, 000 but you often come across people who phone you, ask for a CD, and, when you meet them, they give you K20, 000 for the CD. This encourages us and reminds us that there are people out there who appreciate our efforts; people who love our music and stand ready to do everything to show that they care and appreciate. This is commendable.
Of late, we have seen some local musicians specialise in pastiche, or parody. They blend an old song with their own lyrics. You did ‘Tsoka Liyenda’ yourself. Why has this become the in-thing?
I would say it is a way of appreciating olden music and, in a way, re-invigorating it. But, then, it requires some creativity to do that as well. The lyrics should, for example, be in sync. If an old song tackles issues of, say, drunkenness, a youthful artist should tailor lyrics in line with the theme of the old song. I think the trend is good and promotes nostalgia. It is a way of roping in the old generation. For your information, a number of radio stations started playing the original ‘Tsoka Liyenda’ after I did a sampling [a remake]. Therefore, there are a lot of benefits to both the artist [who does the sampling] and the artist who first composed the song. It works both ways.
You have two albums to your credit, the 2012 release ‘Maso’ and 2014 release ‘Nthunzi’. One thing that comes out clearly is that you use several studios in one album project. Does this have anything to do with no-vote-of-confidence in producers?
No. The idea is to have the touch and expertise of a number of people and this has the effect of offering a sense of variety to the end product. Otherwise, your observation is true. When I was working on ‘Maso’ [which has tracks such as ‘Maso’, ‘Uncle Short One’, ‘Unamata’, ‘Ponya Mwendo’, ‘Appetizer’, ‘Yabooka’, ‘Bambo Nyimbo’] I worked with Popee Records, Low Budget [owned by the Daredevils], Marvin Hanke’s studio, Dr Manje, Taps Bandawe and the late William Khwiliro— may his soul rest in peace. Again, when I was working on the ‘Nthunzi’ project [which has tracks such as ‘Maloto’, ‘Tsoka Liyenda’, ‘Nthunzi’, ‘Moto’], I worked with DJ Slay, BFB, Low Budget [again], 123 Records and JK Records.
To many, you are an artist. To your parents, you are a child. How do you reconcile your public image with family obligations when performing in the presence of, say, parents?
Of course, it is hard when parents are there. Fortunately for me, I have understanding parents who understand that this is the way I earn my bread and butter. That is not the only thing an artist must consider, though. You have to mind the audience and tailor the songs to their taste and age category. So, I am very careful in terms of what songs I play during a live performance and these issues of parents and whoever being there do not matter in the end. The main thing is to handle oneself with care.
What does it take to be a great musician?
To be a great musician does not take only talent but the way you handle people. That is why I am always thankful for the support people give me.
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