Traditionally, Malawi as nation has not been known to have a deep affinity for jazz music. For some unexplained reasons, the genre has played second fiddle to other types of music.
It is very uncommon to go to some entertainment joint and find patrons passing their idle hours away while enjoying jazz music, both local and international. The genre is so alien that even if one was to randomly pick a playlist of 10 people, you can be assured that only two of those will have at least a jazz song.
Names such as Marquis Hill, Gregory Porter, Nathan East, Nicola Conte, Esparanza Spalding and others do not figure in most people’s minds as musicians worth their salt and time. To many, this category does not fit that artistic bill.
A majority would rather be playing tired Bob Marley tunes, jumpy Lucky Dube beats, overused Boyz II Men ballads, sorrow-laden Allan Namoko creations and all that. There may be something that scares people away from jazz music. Could it be the sophisticated nature of the genre maybe?
Locally, jazz has almost been confined to a few. Should we say it is almost an elitist genre? That I will not commit myself fully as for today. But, with no qualms, I dare say, jazz music belongs to an exclusive club.
Though it is not highly regarded in this part of the world, but jazz as a genre owes its origins to the African-American communities in America. It is a type of music which was developed from roots and blues around the 19th century.
Not so long ago it was almost madness to hear a local artist telling you that he plays jazz music. If somebody came to you and told you in the face that he is a jazz artist, you would look at him twice and your thoughts would quickly self-examine his mental status.
But like all things change, there also seem to be some wind blowing over the local music industry. Malawians, both old and young, are doing good and impressive jazz music. Malawians are enjoying local jazz music.
Artists such as Erik Paliani, Owen Mbilizi, Grecian Mokwena, Spare Fingers, Masauko Chipembere among others are being appreciated for what they are good at. That is playing jazz music.
It is very possible to organise a jazz set nowadays and be assured of good patronage. Last year, a group of jazz players even went further by introducing the first ever jazz festival, the Lilongwe Jazz Festival which enjoyed massive support by any standards.
Last weekend, Blantyre had four all-jazz concerts. On Thursday United States-based strummer Masauko Chipembere was at Jacaranda Cultural Centre. On Friday, Paliani, Mbilizi and company were at Blantyre Sports Club.
Then on Saturday, Mbilizi together with his Jazz Café Band performed at Alpacinos before winding up the weekend with a showing at Doogles Pub. And trust me, all these were eye-catching events.
On Friday, particularly, it was a sold out performance as all the available 230 tickets went off the shelf. Looking at the demand, the organisers were forced to accommodate 20 more patrons until the small hall could not hold anymore. Sadly, some had to be sent away.
Friday’s turn-out of events should be a lesson to the local jazz masters. Jazz is very much possible in Malawi. Let them not relent in their efforts of creating a better appreciation of the genre. They should drop the notion that the music belongs in the bracket of a minority genre.
Let them do the jazz with all their energy, skill and grace. If they limit themselves, their followership will be limited as well. It appears it is getting jazzy around here after all.