Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hot yesterday, quiet today: Wanted artists, project

Some artists stormed the music scene with pomp, but have since calmed down to the point of being anonymous. Some projects, too, face a similar challenge.  RICHARD CHIROMBO recounts some of the stories.
Munte Louis: Musician misunderstood!
His goal was to turn everything human into gold. In the end, however, he found that this quest for artificial perfection locked him into a barren world of misunderstanding. That is the story of musician Munte Louis.
“I don’t know why I am misunderstood. A good example of this misunderstanding is my song, ‘Usandimenye Mnzanga’, which people re-titled ‘Undibwezere Mavoti Anga’. That’s not what I intended the song to be; that song is not political,” Louis once told me.
Louis said people’s misconceptions might have granted the ruling elite reason to interpret the song as the musings of a man whose temper was tinted with the blood of partisan politics. 
“That is not the case, though, as, in ‘Usandimenye Mnzanga’, I retell the story of a farmer who sat under a peach tree, and started admiring his water melons and wondering why they (water melons) did not grow on trees. It was my way of playing around with an ideal world. A world in which human beings live in harmony with nature, and with each other. An orderly world,” Louis said, adding:
“In this ideal world, everything is in order. That is why a peach falls from the tree but does not injure the farmer, prompting him to praise the creator for letting water melons grow on the ground. That is why, as we read in the scriptures, God saw that everything was good in the beginning.”
But maybe these misunderstandings signify the difference between working with people’s sores and their souls. As a professional cobbler, Louis has been working on people’s shoes for the better part of his adult life, straightening wayward sores, without the slightest murmur from the lifeless shoes!
Louis has been satisfied in this cobbler world; a world that represents God’s ideal world because what you see is what the manufacturer created.
That, too, could be the folly of importing ‘ideal’ world scenarios into the world of human beings— a world where what is given out may be re-interpreted, misinterpreted, and, in some cases, distorted.
“May be it is difficult to work with people. People interpret issues their own way, selecting only what suits them. My song (Usandimenye Mnzanga) is not political at all. But people interpreted it their own way,” Louis said. 
On suggestions that he is not a natural musician, and that some people just picked him from the streets and took him to the studio to provide vocals for ‘Usandimenye Mnzanga’, Louis said there is no truth in such claims.
“For your own information, ‘Usandimenye Mnzanga’ is part of a 10 track album that includes songs such as the title track ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Nthawi ya Mango’, ‘Banja Langa Latha’, ‘A Neighbour’, ‘Dad’, Uchitsiru Wanga’, ‘Yesu Wandigwira Dzanja’, ‘Mkwati’. They [songs] address a number of issues that hinge on the human being, including love,” Louis said.
‘Tomorrow’ was a combination of efforts by Ma Hot Mavembe Band. The late Chuma Soko played the keyboards; Jack Kamwendo played the bass guitar; Dan Sibale was on the saxophone; with Dan Louis, Louisa Louis and Munte Louis offering the backing vocals.
The soft-spoken artist perfected his art at Apostolic Faith Mission Church in the early 1990s. He was a member of Mabvembe Choir, playing Acapella music. He, then, used this experience to compose songs that he took to the door steps of a number of would-be sponsors.
So promising was the future that, according to the artist from Traditional Authority Malemia in Nsanje, music distributor O.G. Issa pledged to purchase 30, 000 copies of his ‘Tomorrow’ album.
“I counted my fingers and the amount came to K600, 000 at the time. As fate would have it, however, the music distributor changed his mind at the last minute. It’s all because people, including the ruling elite, misinterpreted my lyrics,” Louis said.
The truth is that Louis said these things over three years ago. The future was promising.
Today, nothing, if anything, is heard of him in the music circles.
Is it a case of another hot artist growing cold feet and leaving music lovers in mid-air? If a decade passes without him coughing through another song again, it may well be the case.   

Elusive glory?
While artists such as Louis are yet to re-ignite their romance with music through the composition of new sounds, others, such as Wambali Mkandawire, are still in the limelight— but not for winning international awards that came in droves at one point in their lives.
It is not an exaggeration to say Malawians still remember how Mkandawire’s debut international album, ‘Zani Muwone’, put Malawi on the international map between 2002 and 2003.
The album, an eclectic mix of Malawian, Congolese and West African rhythms, saw Wambali being nominated for the Kora award in 2002. The year after, he won the Music Award for the Best African Artiste.
According to www.instinctafricaine.com, “Wambali Mkandawire was first introduced to Malawian traditional music and Congolese music by his grandparents who were working in Belgium Congo, where he was born. When he was eight years old, his grandparents returned to what was then Nyasaland.”
This notwithstanding, Wambali nurtured his talent in Malawi, starting with his stint with Pentagon Band in the late 1970s. The band later created a niche by fusing rock with traditional music. This was before he joined New Song, Youth for Christ Band, as one of the singers.
In 1988, Wambali recorded his first solo album with Krakatoa Music in Cape Town, South Africa. During the same time, he recorded and toured with ‘Friends First’, a South African music group.
On release of ‘Zani Muwone’ in 2002, Wambali was invited to perform at the North Sea Jazz Festival held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2002. 
In August 2002, Wambali was awarded the World Intellectual Property Organisation Award for Creativity, the first time this award was given to an African artiste.
Not that Wambali was the first to get international recognition. He is one of the few that include Dr Daniel Kachamba, who was recognised in Germany, where he went as a Mister but came back as a Doctor due to his prowess in music. That’s what music can do; turn locals into international celebrities.  
However, it has been over three years since Mkandawire won an international award; meaning that he has work to do to reclaim what is truly his.
Long road to completion
Well, the Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC), formerly the French Cultural Centre (FCC), is not a musician, but events there affect musicians and other artists one way or another.
At the centre of controversy is the timeframe set aside for the BCC renovations project. The then Ministry of Tourism and Culture officials indicated, in writing, that the project would take two years.
First to question the rationale behind the time frame was the then Tourism and Culture Minister, Moses Kunkuyu, but observers thought his sentiments were political rhetoric.
“Two years? Why two years? I thought the place is small, and the renovation works could be completed within a reasonable time frame. Maybe this is a sign that we need to change the way we do things, not only in the arts but in tourism too. We should adopt the work ethic of efficiency in carrying out development projects. Taking two years to renovate the place could cost the government more,” Kunkuyu said at the time, adding:
“Are we not talking of renovating grass-thatched structures, windows and other things? Is it necessary to do that in two years? I thought it was possible to do it within, say, six months. That’s what I am thinking.”
Well, BCC renovations project started with promise. But the two years set for project completion ‘came’ some two years ago.
This is disadvantaging considering that BCC is centrally-located and people from various parts of Blantyre find it convenient to get to the place.
In addition, BCC normally offers lower rates since it was bought to further the cause of artists in the country.
At first, K200 million was set aside for the project, but, the project is one of Cashgate victims, which means officials had to source funds from elsewhere, and that led to delays.