In Malawi, music is not taught in public primary and secondary schools yet there is a syllabus on the same developed years ago. Our staff reporter JOHN CHIRWA engages Chancellor College music graduate-cum-musician MaLaLa on how the music industry is affected due to lack of a formal music education for young learners.
Q: Introduce yourself
A: I am James Kuchilala, but I use MaLaLa as my artist name. I am a music graduate from Chancellor College. And I have also attended many workshops on music and arts in general. I launched my solo career in 2014 with the release of Tsogolo album. Currently, I have my own Afro band called Lazy Slaves.
Q: As a trained musician, how do you rate the state of music education in the country?
A: Formal music education in Malawi is poor. It is sad that we still don’t have music as a subject in our public primary and secondary schools yet there are so many thousands of kids out there who would love to pursue a career in music. Some argue that it’s there in the primary schools but the truth is, it’s just a small component of another subject and what usually happens is far from music education. It becomes more embarrassing to realise the energy that international schools take in investing into the subject but the question is: How many kids in those international schools end up pursuing music as a profession? And one thing to make one realise how music is undervalued is the reluctance that the authorities are taking towards implementing a secondary school music syllabus that was developed a couple of years ago.
Q: Why do you think there is that reluctance to implement the syllabus?
A: I think it mainly has to do with the value attached to music. It is less valued. Most parents would rather invest so much on sending a child to a medical or law school than to study music. And since it is those same parents who are holding influential positions, they see no importance in implementing the subject, and they are just coming up with excuses like there are very few music teachers out there or that enough books haven’t been written. But to me, I believe music education is not one of their priorities.
If they argue on having very few teachers, I can challenge you that I know more enthusiastic music graduates who would be delighted to start the lessons. But it just has to do with people’s values and priorities.
Q: How has that reluctance affected you and several others trained as music teachers?
A: I don’t like what I teach [Life Skills and History]. I teach to survive. I would be a great asset to the nation as a music teacher because I feel there is a lot that aspiring musicians need to understand in order to be successful, not just music reading as many people think. For two months, I taught music at an international primary school but I could feel that that wasn’t the best place for me. I would be happier doing the same with the kids in my local community. I am not alone in this situation of course.
And it is a waste of resources for Chancellor College to produce teachers who will not apply their skills to secondary sschool learners. As a result, so many talented graduates have ended up picking jobs elsewhere which has nothing to do with music and we can’t blame them for making that choice.
Q: How has the music industry suffered because of that?
A: Each day we are having new artists with great potential, but end up nowhere near their aspirations because they are not conversant with their job description. Music education was supposed to include crucial components like marketing, artist-manager agreements, promotion, event management and even managing oneself as an artist. Very few artists know about these and many have learnt them the hard way. In the end, we live in a world of ignorance on how best to maximise our potential.
Q: What needs to be done then?
A: Firstly, government should revisit its priorities. At this point where tobacco is losing its value on the market, it does no harm in exploring other avenues. I have read of stories where some governments had to invest hugely on arts development and the efforts paid off. We cannot have the best artists if the foundation is neglected.
Secondly, the corporate world has also a responsibility. It’s disheartening to note how much goes into paying international artists at the expense of the locals. If our artists get the support they need, we will be able to create musicians who will also inspire the young ones financially. It doesn’t make sense to see a very famous artist who isn’t even driving. Our kids will end up opting to become lawyers than poor but famous artists.
Q: Lastly, do you have anything more to say?
A: Music shouldn’t just be there to entertain people. It’s high time we begun taking music as an adventure with the potential of making millionaires. Despite the fact that some have made it big without any formal music education, we still need to make great efforts on educating the younger ones on becoming the best artists. That can only happen if we have a very good foundation. It has happened elsewhere.