- Mimickers providing different dimension to comedy
During Malawi Congress Party (MCP) rule, mimicking a president was almost unthinkable. It would have been a crime punishable by detention. The dawn of democracy, however, showed that presidents are just human with their own frailties and they can be made fun of.
It was in that spirit that a few years ago, there emerged on the local scene a phenomenon of comedians who mimicked, almost to a fault, former and current presidents of Malawi. Some people, perhaps attuned to a culture where presidents assume an almost god-like stature, were uneasy with them. But almost everyone laughs now, perhaps out of a realisation that these comedians mean no harm.
Mimicking presidents is now an accepted part of political comedy as it presents the lighter side of political leaders’ lives. Whether it is Snowden Tembo mimicking the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s“Ine zafwe-fwe-few ayi, ndizakunyenyaninyenyani,” Frank Naligonje’s take of Bakili Muluzi’s“Iiiiamangwetu, usawiii, chichi?” or even Geti Msambalika’s rendition of Joyce Banda’s “Azungu andiuza kuti...”, people laugh along and no one takes it too seriously.
Tembo, aka ‘Mr Malawi’, says he mimics the late president as one way of preserving his legacy.
He explains: “I am not political and what I do has nothing to do with politics. I simply aim to entertain people while at the same time preserving our history by remembering one of our leaders whom I loved very much. I don’t want his legacy to die just like that. I liked his style of leadership mainly because he always advised and encouraged people to be development conscious.”
The 37-year-old comedian, who sells second-hand clothes, says the art of mimicking should not be confused with political satire.
“We don’t use offensive language, neither do we hide our identities because we know we do a noble work of simply providing entertainment and we refrain from stepping upon other people’s toes.
“This art has flourished everywhere in the world, but the problem is that it has been introduced very late in Malawi. I perform even at weddings or ordinary parties because I have nothing to hide other than entertaining people. We are not into politics and to affirm this fact, you will notice that Naligonje, Msambalika and I usually perform together and we try to keep each other in check,” explains the man from Nsanje, who disclosed he has since compiled his work on a CD titled Mpira wa Mapazi which is already on the market.
“This compilation combines poetry and comedy clips and Sena, Lomwe and of course Chichewa material. I can also mimic Bingu in all these languages,” Tembo says.
Life as a mimicker has not been a bed of roses; it has been a hard and arduous journey for him.
“I discovered this talent way back in 2002. Back then, people used to intimidate me that mimicking VIPs was a crime, but this only encouraged me to forge ahead. My favourite quote from Bingu is one where he was warning any detractors against his development agenda: ‘Ndikufunakupangachitukukomdzikomuno, ndiye pamene ndikupanga chitukuko pasapezeke wina kunenake-ke-ke-ke!’” says Tembo.
Naligonje—who plies his trade under the moniker of Atcheya (as former president Bakili Muluzi is fondly known as—observes that the key to success in this art is confidence.
“You need to know how to engage the audience. When I am in character I dissect Bakili into fragments like the campaign Bakili and serious Bakili. For my part, Bakili’s impression will remain relevant for a long time. Dead or alive, I believe Bakili is a historical figure and I vow to do him in comedy for time to come because I just love him and I wouldn’t want his name and memories to be erased just like that,” he says.
Naligonje adds that although the art can bring fame, mimicking has the potential to put one in trouble.
“You can easily attract enemies, especially those who don’t differentiate between comedy and real life politics, but I am all prepared for that because I know not everyone loved Bakili,” says Naligonje, who is also an actor and poet.
Sylvester Kalizang’oma, publicity secretary for the Poetry Association of Malawi, underscores that the presidential mimickers are adding a unique value entertainment in the country.
“For the first time they have come out in the open to mimic VIPs. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that they don’t hide their identities unlike other anonymous mimickers who post on social media and use vulgar language against our leaders. I also like the fact that they aim to teach people moral lessons. To affirm that they are doing a good job we have never received any complaint from the three mimicked leaders or their relatives. Otherwise, they get encouragement and as a matter of fact, Muluzi himself is a huge fan of Naligonje and he once said he enjoys listening to the young man,” says Kalizang’oma.
He added that the mimickers are usually invited to participate in poetry shows so that they add a slightly different angle to the normal poetry recitals.