Thomas ‘CheNkhumba’ Chibade is a sensational hit-maker with an enduring style that he has stayed true to for over a decade.
But as swiftly as he soared to the heights of music charts so has he crash-landed to its depths so heavily he has failed to pick himself up — thanks, in no small measure, to piracy.
It was in 2012 that Chibade came face to face with the spectre that is piracy. He realised they were desperate times which called for desperate measures. Against the grain, Chibade was forced to forfeit his ownership of the master CD for his upcoming album then, Dzina Langa, recorded at Pro Sounds Studio and sold it to Defao Music Company for a meagre K300 000 (US$667).
“The 12-track album was professionally recorded; I poured all my energy and ability into it but fear of piracy forced me to sell the master CD to Mr Defao. I did that because I could not manage to sell the music on my own because, as you know, that involves such complicated issues as buying covers and, of course, shooting videos.
“I also felt that I did not have the muscle to fight piracy looking at how this practice had previously made me reap so little from my music.
“My music was doing so well on the market, but I did not benefit much from it,” explains the 29-year-old musician, who is currently staying at Mgona in Area 25, Lilongwe.
Chibade occasionally performs as a guest artist at shows organised by other musicians. Watching him on stage, however, you discern he has lost none of his dexterity and his style is still infectious as evidenced by how the patrons sing along to his songs.
“I sometimes perform at functions and music shows with some of my colleagues like KateleleChing’oma and Moses Makawa,” he states.
Such are the tough times he has fallen on he neither has a job nor is he doing any business.
“I don’t even have a mobile phone and to contact me, one has to go through my landlord’s phone,” said the father of two children, aged seven and one.
He laments that life is taking him back through the same lane he travelled while young despite several efforts to reclaim his glory.
“By now I thought I would have everything a successful musician is supposed to own, but what is happening to me is the exact opposite. Back in the days when I lost my mother while in Standard Six, I was doing all manner of menial jobs like moulding bricks just to put food on the table. I even ventured into street begging for a while.
“Life was so unbearable until I found an old guitar with which I used to entertain people at Mayaka, Milepa and Jenala trading centres in Zomba. This is how I got picked up by Mr Chikwatu who sponsored my first studio album, Ulova, which was recorded at Pro Sounds Studio. The single Ulova recounted all the ordeals and torment I had suffered,” says Chibade.
He is still suffering. It is a situation which musician-cum-producer Lawi can identify with.
Lawi acknowledges that piracy is holding many artists back. He says the tendency to reproduce other people’s artistic works without permission should be condemned as it has a negative impact on the county’s music industry.
“The Musicians Association of Malawi should lobby for the review of the country’s copyright laws which are archaic. Recent research has consistently recommended a review of the laws and it is sad that in this day and age, laws should be imposing a K5 000 (US$11) penalty to offenders. This fine cannot deter anyone because, to be fair, nobody can fail to raise such an amount to bail themselves out,” laments Lawi.
As an interim measure, Lawi suggests that the police should arrest people pirating music.
“This is theft and theft is a crime punishable by law. Nonetheless, we, musicians, are partly to blame because, out of desperation, we enter into shoddy deals with producers which puts us in awkward situations,” he said.
Lawi further calls upon Parliament to enact tough legislation if piracy is to be contained.
“It is sad that prominent artists should be afraid to release their music for fear of piracy,” he said.
This myriad of problems, however, have not thwarted Chibade’s desire to release an eighth album, albeit conditionally.
“If I can raise enough money and find assurances that I can deal with piracy, then I will release another album. I can jump into a recording studio even today because there is a lot of music in me,” he says.