There is no better way of ending the year than with a Grammy nomination that has put Malawi on the map.
Questions, however, arise. Why the little known Zomba Prison Project to command the international attention when our acclaimed musicians wallow in the shadows of the awards?
Could this be another attempt by the West to advance their Eurocentric view that Africa is a poverty-torn continent? Or it is the recognition of talent at play?
These and other issues put into perspective the state of Malawian music in 2015.
Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president the Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango says Malawi has talented individuals who only need exposure to bag in more of such nominations.
“The nomination shows that Malawi is gaining mileage in exposing its talent on the international stage.
“But we need to do more because we have more unexposed talented artists who deserve such nominations,” said Mhango.
A better half of last year had little to celebrate about. Malawi missed out on the continent’s biggest music video awards—Channel O and MTV Africa Music Awards (Mama).
Questions were raised on the quality of the country’s music video and it ended up as a blame game.
DStv alleged that local musicians do not submit their videos, a prerequisite for one to get a nomination in the awards. The musicians, however, argued that their videos are spiked without any explanation.
In the middle of that debate, the Spare Dog Records artist, Danny Kalima aka Sirus, pulled a surprise, bagging the Best R ‘n’ B/Soul nomination for the All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) for his song, Dusty City.
At the same time, his colleague at the UK-based record label, Gasper Nali, was also soaring heights internationally as his song Abale Ndikuuzeni hit over 10 million views on various Internet sites.
Then, recently, was the Kora Award nomination for urban artist Piksy, real name Evans Zangazanga, in the category of Best Male Southern Africa for his song Moto.
Nominations alone may not be enough, but they are pointers to a good work Malawian artists are doing, says Mhango.
A music critic Wesley Macheso, however, thinks that Malawians should not celebrate at such nominations, more especially for the Grammy Awards—the biggest music awards in the world, arguing that the West wants to advertise ‘poverty porn’ in Africa to fit their conception of Africa as a place of atrocity seeking redemption and white sympathy.
“As Chinua Achebe argues in an essay titled An Image of Africa, there is the tendency in the West to view Africa as the dark continent; a place of atrocities seeking white sympathy and salvation.
“And as a result the images, art and music that the West admires from Africa tend to fit that perspective,” he said.
Despite divergent views, Malawi music has at last triumphed as an instrument to convey the inhuman conditions behind the bars.
Apart from nominations, 2015 has witnessed various local musicians, notably Dan Lu, breaking the borders in doing collaborations with international artists such as Nigerian’s Mr Flavour and Kcee.
The year also proved that Malawian traditional music is easier to sell outside the country than the copycat style of music. Traditional singers Peter Mawanga and Faith Mussa who toured the US testify to this.
Up North, South Africa’s renowned music group Freshlyground also shared the same story as they recorded raw Malawian music in collaboration with Karonga’s Radio Dinosaur FM.
All was not rosy, however, says the musicians’ leader, as piracy continues to be a thorn in the fresh for most musicians.
“The biggest challenge is piracy which has become uncontrollable. Piracy has affected lives of musicians immensely, leaving them poorer,” says Mhango.
He says musicians are disappointed by government’s failure to bring to Parliament the draft Copyright Act Bill which would help address the plight of artists.
“We expect government to bring to Parliament the bill in its next sitting for discussion and passing. If that is done, we expect a prosperous 2016,” he said.