Just like in political and traditional leaderships, music has kings and queens who rule the game at different moments.
Once upon a time, there was Ethel Makmwendo-Banda, Evison Matafale, Joseph Nkasa, Lawrence Mbenjere, Thomas Chibade, Lloyd Phiri, Paul Banda, Charles Nsaku, Mlaka Maliro, Biriwiri and Anne Matumbi who enjoyed music limelight and kingship.
For a long time, kings and queens of the Malawi music industry have been determined in many ways such as receiving annual awards, the popularity of their brand and number of copies their music sell through CDs or downloads on the Internet.
At one point, gospel musician Lloyd Phiri was voted the best gospel musician of the year 2001 in the then popular Entertainers of the Year Awards organised by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). He also made massive music sales through CDs and cassettes. So did Anne Matumbi and others.
Additionally, Nkasa and Mbenjere were once turned into millionaires after they received millions of kwacha in royalties from the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma). During those days, the musicians, who were receiving impressive royalties, music awards, selling their music and holding live shows, were indisputably regarded as the dons of the industry.
Recently, Cosoma distributed royalties raised from the blank media levy to artists and musician Elias Misi, otherwise known as Atoht Manje, received a staggering K2 166 541 98. Afro-pop musician Kelly Kay came second with K2 115 697 44.
Generally, when artists receive a lion’s share of royalties, it means their music is relevant. Therefore, could this translate to kingship of the music too?
“The number of zeros in the bank account constitutes a successful artist. However, royalties and music shows are not enough to make one successful,” said Samuel Chiwaka, Faith Mussa’s manager.
Change is inevitable. Music kings and queens come and go. However, Malawi has over the years birthed a generation of self-acclaimed kings and queens of specific music genre despite making some traceable strides or substantial progress.
Interestingly, the dawn of social media spaces such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have aided a crop of musicians who are making efforts to become overnight celebrities or make their village championship look like a national thing.
Chiwaka believes that the influence of musicians is determined by their competitive creativity and endorsements.
He said: “I believe that music kings, be it in reggae, Afro-pop, local, hip-hop or R ‘n’ B should be measured in monetary returns realised from their creativity and endorsements. In my humble opinion, when I look at Skeffa Chimoto, I see one of the country’s kings of music because of the assets he has accumulated over time.
“Then there is Faith Mussa. When I look at the assets he has accumulated during his solo career period of seven years I am impressed. These two are examples of music kings who can show what they have benefited from their music careers.”
Chiwaka urged artists to be creative for a long-term, not short term, to avoid bubblegum popularity.
He said: “You will see that most local artists are being blinded by social media likes which are bought and just for clout. I have seen an artist with a following of over 250 000 followers on social media, but cannot fill up a 200-seater auditorium or secure a corporate gig or endorsement.
“Therefore, if artists want to become kings of the jungle they should invest in the long-term careers and engage business-minded managers who can push their brand at the corporate level.”
Chiwaka, however, suggested that music awards in the country should be based on Cosoma’s recipients of royalties because that does reflect the popularity of the artists.
But another music promoter-cum-producer Precious Chikatiko said music royalties and awards alone are not enough to make one a successful musician. He questioned the criteria which the Cosoma uses to determine the recipients of the royalties in the country.
He said: “You can’t guarantee that artist A or B is a king of a specific music based on what Cosoma pays out or some event organisers give as awards.
“I mean, the country needs a robust system to screen these activities in order to come up with a deserving list of winners.”
Chikatiko said he does not trust Cosoma’s system because there have been stories where some musicians could just wake up one morning to lambast Cosoma officials and end up being given the royalties.
His argument collaborates Patience Namadingo’s fears of inefficiencies which forced him to withdraw his membership from Cosoma.
The artist believed that for the past year his music enjoyed massive airplay and downloads, it did not translate into money he deserves.
Despite accumulating huge sums of money in royalties as a determining factor for leading the music industry, Malawi has musicians who have been constant and immune to change. These include ‘Soldier’ Lucius Banda, Faith Mussa, Lulu, Skeffa Chimoto, Tay Grin, Dan Lu, Piksy, Anthony Makondetsa and the Black Missionaries.
At the same time, the local music industry has this year seen the rise of potential musicians who are likely to change the narrative of the industry if their creativity is anything to go by.
It is also proving hard to displace Atoht Manje, Skeffa Chimoto, Lucius Banda and Joe Gwaladi because they have unique touches which keep them constant despite changes in the music industry.
The hip-hop front has a dominant feature of artists such as Tay Grin, Daredevils, Gwamba, Hyphen, Fredokiss, Charisma, Suffix and Phyzix. This is another league of talented artists who are refusing to bow down to the pressure of up-and-coming talents like Achina Gattar Ase, Episodes, Quest, Henry Czar, K. Banton, Mellz and Dette Flow. The trio of Quest, K. Banton and Dette Flo is trending with their hit Moto.
The same applies to the local reggae/ragga dance hall scene which has emerging artists like Chizmo, Eli Njuchi and Ababa Sargent who are exerting pressure on the likes of Malinga Mafia, Blasto and old timer Anne Matumbi. While Saint, Jay-Jay Cee and Provoice seem to remain constant with their game.
Afro-pop musician Kelly Kay remains untouchable because he continues to enjoy sucess in bookings and collaborations. He is clearly hard to overtake him though the likes of Kelvin Sings, Rashley, Bucci and ‘Sir’ Patrick’s are trying.