As Malawi rears towards the 2014 general elections, different stakeholders are pitching themselves to play their parts. Recently, the Malawi Electoral Commission trained dramatists on their role in communicating useful information to the masses. The commission believes that art is a tool for communication. But what do artists understand as their role in the electoral process? Are our artists reduced to political propagandists? Our Reporter ALBERT SHARRA explores.
Today’s political gatherings usually have a performance of comedians. For instance, presidential meetings in the Central Region usually have the comic duo of Chindime and Samalani to entertain people. Usually, the act will perform a skit on what’s happening at the time.
During the last political regime artists spoke for the voiceless. Musician Lucius Banda released his Time album. Comedian and theatre actor Michael Usi composed a protest play Maloto a Pharao and Ian Chitsekula followed suit with Nyasaland at Crossroads. Unfortunately, Chitsekula’s play was banned by the Censorship Board before it was released.
When the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power, Banda composed a song of praise for the leadership. Fading artist Joseph Nkasa did his take with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership and composed Mose wa Lero to praise Mutharika.
As we head towards the 2014 Tripartite Elections, new compositions to praise or demean political figures are inevitable. But what is the specific role of artists in politics and elections?
National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) president Chitsekula believes artists are supposed to be neutral.
“An artist composes to serve the community. They are encouraged to compose material that does not take sides, but shapes the society in a positive way.
“As Ntam we are not happy when we see an artist taking sides through compositions. We have met stage play artists and tipped them to compile compositions that contribute positively to the society as we are heading towards the 2014 Tripartite Elections,” said Chitsekula.
The president said politicians know artists communicate better and use their money to entice them to favour them with positive compositions.
“We are still discussing on how to monitor all theatre groups to serve the community and not politicians,” he said, adding that they are also looking at the issue of composing adverts for politicians.
Chitsekula, however, said the association was thinking of a composition that they can take to all corners of the country.
“I am working on a play on elections which will be performed across the country. The purpose is to give the nation equal and fair information about elections and how to make decisions on who to vote for,” he said.
He admitted that there is an increase of protest compositions, but said these are done on behalf of local people. He said Malawi’s main problem is on compositions that do not praise any party.
Comedian Frank Yalu aka Nginde of Nginde Theatre Company says his office has a lot for the community on elections.
“There is information gap on tripartite elections, and I have planned several performances. My worry is always on how we package the messages and I want to make a difference this time around,” said Yalu recently at a MEC training for artists in Blantyre.
Yalu advised artists to take the training seriously, saying the quality of productions reflect on one’s reputation as an artist.
Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) says it is striving to have a fair and non-partisan communication on the election issues for the 2014 Tripartite Elections.
MAM president for women’s desk, Martha Mituka, said her office through National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) has composed a collaborative song on elections, which features Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, Thomas Chibade and Black Missionaries.
She said the song Tiyeni Tikavote provides a complete package that educates voters on tripartite elections.
“It is our quest to reach to all masses with equal information on elections and the new song serves the purpose,” said Mituka, adding that her office has discouraged political songs that praise leaders or their parties.