On this Friday, the hour was approaching midnight in the lakeshore district of Mangochi. Club 700 is a hive of entertainment. As usual, the atmosphere is warm and the streets are busy with bicycle taxi operators ferrying people around the area.
Inside the club, imbibers of all ages are moving up and down. Those who enjoy dancing are on the dance floor. On the decks, disc jockey (DJ) Imran Cassim looks absorbed in the hit playing.
His list of hits include some by Tekno, Diamond Platinumz featuring Harmonize, Jah Prayzah, Martse and Lucius Banda.
However, dominating the airwaves on the night is Mahempe, a song done by a four-member group from Botswana. Interestingly, the hit stirred a debate at the club with some saying the song, which stormed the music industry last year, has bad lyrics.
“This song has bad lyrics and it’s full of insults. I don’t like it. I can’t watch at home. We need songs that foster change in various aspect of the society. What’s Mahempe?” wondered one reveller, Clement Bwanausi.
“I look at the art in the song as a great thing, but I am not comfortable with the language. It’s high time Malawians stop dancing to foul songs”.
Another patron, Martin Nyondo, seems to defend the song: “For entertainment reasons, the track is pretty good. It is also enjoying airplay on most reputable radio stations and that tells you it passed the test!”.
However, broadcaster Raymond Sekeni, who trades as Fraternal in the entertainment industry, says: “The current music is just the beat. It’s difficult to pay attention to details in the song. It’s not a script where you check spelling and grammar. Sometimes the demand by listeners influences some errors.”
“Sometimes the growing hype of the song matters most. Our value expectation in music is to deliver joy and satisfaction to our audiences. We had similar songs which received heavy rotations in radio stations like Kakabalika by K-Millian, Iskaba, Jacuzzi by Wizyboy that are played without a meaning.”
There were reactions from players in the arts industry, and various social media platforms regarding the song in the recent past with others calling it a master-piece while some quarters think it has to be banned on radio stations.
Musician Kwatha Chitanda also known as General KC of Bola Kunthazi fame says Mahempe is a great composition, but language is a barrier.
Says the artist: “We have a long list of songs whose meanings we completely miss because we either don’t listen to lyrics properly or we just take the song at face value, ignoring any origins or intent of the artist”.
The group’s lead singer, Motlabaseo popularly known as Mahempe, who lives in Gaborone, Botswana, says Mahempe is a joke.
“It’s all about a shirt, ‘kopela mahempe’ meaning tighten up your shirt. I’m grateful that this song is making waves in Malawi and it has given us an impression of coming for performances,” said the singer.
Also commenting on the meaning, Botswana national, Mivavo Mokento, who did a controversial track Mbupuje whose version Joseph Tembo adopted years back, said the song is a dance move and its meaning is ‘wearing a shirt’.
Mokento adds: “Nothing is big with the song, it was done by Motlabaseo. In brief, he is a producer, songwriter and performer. He is based in Gaborone. I am happy to hear of his strides in Malawi “.
Botswana news site www.mmegi online wrote: “The group truly endeared itself on the music scene with their hit song in 2015, a song which has new dance craze”.
“The artist came up with this genre called Mosakaso, so Mahempe is a dance move where in the song one ‘wears a shirt,” the publication rests it all.
Perhaps this is enough to say ‘music is universal’ and Mahempe is a song that does not mean what you think. n