Jazz musician Erik Paliani has been performing since 1995. Throughout, he has maintained that genre. Although the genre is associated with the elite or the old, the musician insists that it is the oldest and has always been popular in Malawi. He, therefore, is on a mission to popularise it once again. Our Arts Editor EDITH GONDWE caught up with Paliani to discuss this and other issues.
You were the first artist with McLuther to give Malawians a virtual jazz performance shortly after government announced new measures to control the spread of Covid-19. How did you plan the gig so soon?
It was actually planned way in advance, but as a small event. So, when government announced the new Covid-19 preventive measures, we observed that many artists were cancelling their events. This meant more people would be at home looking for alternatives. That is when we decided to make it big and make it our main focus that weekend. Thankfully, it went well and from the responses, Malawians loved it. As usual, John Nthakomwa [Mibawa Television CEO] came through for us and helped us organise it.
Many artists have been affected by the new measures, meaning they will be struggling to make ends meet. How do you plan to sustain yourself while practising your craft despite the new measures?
This Covid-19 situation is showing us that our entertainment business in Malawi has a lot of loopholes. Artists are supposed to have two means of making money which is through performances and royalties. In music, to sustain a career you need to keep your name going, meaning your songs must continue to be played or you must continue to be visible. I am currently making sure that I am visible while intensifying my virtual performances. I will also keep talking to my fans throughout. I am also a music teacher.
You are sticking to jazz music despite that it is not as popular as other genres in Malawi. What’s your motivation?
Music is my passion and jazz music in particular. I have always said it that jazz is loved by Malawians but just that it is not played regularly. I am doing everything I can to bring back the jazz music to the fore and remind Malawians just how nice jazz music is. I will not depart from this path.
What else can a musician do to keep busy as they continue to observe government’s rules and regulations?
Artists must make sure that they are registered with relevant authorities to protect their music so that they keep earning and surviving. They also need to track everything now that they have time. We have institutions using local music for adverts without paying the owners of those songs. Musicians can also arrange to increase their presence on media institutions so that Malawians do not forget them as the pandemic has halted all live performances.
Last time we spoke, you said you were planning to release a new album this year. How far are you with that project?
Yes, my plans were to release an album this year. But my main instrument players are all based in South Africa and the pandemic has affected my plans a lot. I am waiting a bit to see how soon the situation will change but if it goes on and on then I will have to start arranging for online productions where my colleagues will do their part in South Africa and I do my part here. In the meantime, I am arranging for an extended playlist [EP] which by all means will be ready this year.
Lastly do you have anything else to add?
Yes. I want to encourage local artists to seek some sort of formal training in music. A complete musician must get some training in music and be able to play some instruments. A true artist must be able to read music and notes. Talent is 50 percent. The other 50 percent can be earned in class and make a musician or an instrument player better and an all round performer. Our friends in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, among others have music schools no wonder their industry is well developed.