Musician Joe Kellz recently became a topic of discussion after he made a loose cover of the late Wambali Mkandawire’s Nkhujipeleka. There was controversy that he did not get permission from the late Wambali Mkandawire’s family to do the cover. Our arts editor EDITH GONDWE caught up with the artist to discuss this and more. Excerpts
Q: You are known in Malawi as one of the most gifted vocalists. One thing that stands out with you are covers. You have done covers for Patience Namadingo and Lulu, among others. Why is this so?
A: I have done more original songs of my own than covers. I have only done five covers in total and I have released about 10 singles since I started releasing my solo projects. The music industry is tight, we can’t lie and so far I have attracted some fans through covers and my original songs. Doing covers is a strategy that I used to make myself known to the listeners so that they can also start liking my original music which is working for me so far.
Q: Many people got to know you as a Zathu Band member, others when you teamed up with Patience Namadingo on his first mash-up. What progress are you making as a solo artist?
A: I am making a lot of progress as a solo artist. Music is not just about recording songs and releasing them. It’s a business. And like every business, you need to lay out a proper strategy. My pursuit to do covers compelled Namadingo to approach me to do the first mash-up ever with me. That is progress from my perspective. There are a lot of young artists that Namadingo could have approached at that moment, but my efforts exposed me. So, I basically marketed myself to the extent that it made a big artist to approach me. In so doing, I opened up many opportunities. I have managed to work with a number of non-governmental organisations, performed on good stages and met fascinating individuals. That is a success as a solo artist and I know God has more in store for me.
Q: Recently, we saw you in the limelight when you did a tribute to the late Wambali. Then we later saw you recalling the song. What went wrong?
A: Covers haven’t been the in thing in Malawi. I can say I am one of the few that have introduced Malawi to song covers. I did covers of Lulu and Namadingo’s songs as a strategy to get people’s attention to my music and chose specifically those songs because they are my all time favourites. People liked them and many encouraged me to do covers of many Malawian songs. But doing covers wasn’t supposed to be my all-time thing and it’s not even now. Doing Wambali’s tribute was genuinely my idea of showing respect to the greatest musician that has ever lived in Malawi, among others. Out of ignorance, I did the song without asking for permission to redo it. I was not told to recall it by any family members as it is circulating on social media. But a few friends asked me if I got permission and made it clear how much Wambali’s songs were protected by the law. I was scared, very scared so I decided to recall the song before any damages were made. Luckily enough I got in touch with Mte’s manager from who I asked permission to release the tribute.
Q: So, in essence the manager gave his blessings in the end?
A:Yes, I got a written document that states that I was given the permission. One copy is with me, another copy was sent to Cosoma, and the manager kept the other copy. And I honestly cannot be grateful enough for the love and understanding I got from Mte’s management team. God should bless them all.
Q: What plans do you have for the future in terms of your music? A: I believe am exceptional. God blessed me with talent. And I will work hard until it reaches as far as it can reach. People will love my music. And soon and very soon, I will make Malawi proud with my music.