Jacobs Mwase is a fixture on Malawiâ€™s drama scene, a man who needs little introduction to those who follow drama. He tells Kondwani Kamiyala about life in Ndirande and the fledgling film industry in Malawi.
Jacobs Mwase calls the populous Ndirande Township in Blantyre, where he lives, the home of Malawi drama. Not without cause, for that is where some drama groups have been born; where actors and actresses have thrived.
Kwathu Drama Group, the popular Chichewa group, was born at Holy Ghost Parish of the Roman Catholic Church in Makata, where dramatists Eric Mabedi, Charles Mphoka, John Nyanga, the late Christopher Chiwalo and others were united by Charles Severe. That is not to mention the likes of fallen dramatists such as Gertrude Kamkwatira of Wakhumbata and Wanna Do, Samuel Kuseka of Kapirintiya and a regular feature on MBCâ€™s Theatre of the Air.
Mwase, popularly known in theatre cycles as Zakariah, says Ndirande is a township that has inspired his drama trek.
â€œFor many, the township is rotten, a host for criminals. But wait, a host of Malawi actors have been nurtured there,â€ says Mwase, who traces his drama career from 1986.
Mwase is one actor to come from the ghetto. He has been through the major forms Malawi drama takes: stage, radio and TV. Today, he looks into a future where he will be referred to as one of Malawiâ€™s vernacular film pioneers.
With the recent release of his film, Moyo Part 1, Mwase adds to the handful Chichewa commercial films on avid Malawian art collectorsâ€™ shelves. That is his third film, after Tinkanena 1 in 2007 and its sequel, Tinkanena 2 in 2009.
â€œMoyo is the first in a series of four films. It goes to the length and breadth of Malawian life. It paints a picture of the Malawian ethos,â€ says Mwase, who is director of Mwambo Arts Theatre.
In a flash, it is the story of an orphaned girl who feels the pangs of street life after her uncle, who was raised by her father, refuses to take her into his fold. The film, released by Mwambo Arts and Sweet Island Production, runs for 1 hour 40 minutes and was shot on location in Blantyre, Salima and Likoma.
Wonders Mwase: â€œWhere did we lose it as a people? Where did our love go? In the past, it was part of us to value extended families. It was unheard of for a man to see their deceased sisterâ€™s children fail to pursue education because of lack of school fees. Today, with Western norms creeping in, we only think about our children.â€
Apart from that, the film also addresses the issue of coexistence in the heterogeneous Malawi society, with a rainbow of tribes, political affiliations and religions. It also brings to light the crash of generations in affections, language and dress.
For Mwase, who featured in Tikuferanji for 11 years since its inception, this has brought a lot of social problems, including prostitution and robbery.
Theatre, he believes, can help set the agenda for social change, in addition to guarding culture and tradition, the spine of a people.
Malawiâ€™s film scene not growing
Nonetheless, the Malawi film scene, for it is not yet an industry, is refusing to grow since government and the corporate world have not realised the power of theatre.
â€œThat is so because they do not know how much drama presents reality on the ground. When we are losing it, theatre brings that to the surface. Through film, the youth can learn aspects of culture that are fading,â€ observes Mwase, a regular actor on MBC Radioâ€™s Sewero la Sabata Ino.
Like many other artists, the question of piracy and people reaping fruits where they never sowed haunts him. That is why, he goes in town, bag in hand, selling the film on his own.
Some distributors are conmen, he says.
â€œThey can ask for a master from you and say they will produce 1 000 copies. You would not know that they have 5 000 copies. They rip you off,â€ charged Mwase.
Another setback, he says, has been that Malawians would rather buy Nigerian, American, Chinese and other foreign films because they are cheaper. But, he says, they forget what Malawian film producers put in for a film.
As he treks back to Ndirande after time in town every evening for a game of pool with friends, Mwase, who hails from Likoma Island, is optimistic about the future.
â€œIt may be queer, but in the future, people will look back and find out what was really going on in Malawi film in its infancy,â€ he says.