Most music lovers in Malawi, who patronise live shows, appreciate the good, but oftentimes tiresome work instrumentalists do.Â
In most cases, instrumentalists are the first to come on stage and the last to leave. Even in a song, the heart of music rests on instrumentation.
However, despite their commendable efforts, some local instrumentalists tell a sad tale of how they feel cheated and abused by the music industry.
Most instrumentalists work on part-time basis and earn peanuts. And despite the increase in patronage at music shows over the past few years, the majority of them get less than K3 000 (about $10) per live show and, no wonder, most of them struggle to make ends meet.
Renowned local instrumentalists, Peter and Jeremiah Malata, who are currently working with Soul Raiders Band on part-time basis, said their life as instrumentalists has been hard.
â€œIt is sad that to date, Malawians donâ€™t appreciate the talent of people who play instruments. The focus is always on the front line and we are not surprised that instrumentalists are regarded as not important.
â€œWe have been in music for over 20 years and I can tell the nation that we are still playing instruments because of the passion we have for music. Instrumentalists are abused. They do much of the work in a song, but they get peanuts at the end of the day,â€ said Peter, pointing out that instrumentalists in most music bands get between K2 000 and K3 000 per show.
He described this as little, especially now when music shows raise a lot of money. Peter also said some bands have busy schedules which do not give instrumentalists time to concentrate on other means of generating income for their survival.
McDonald Mlaka Maliro, who worked as an instrumentalist before forming his own Maloto Vibrations Band, urged the music industry to recognise the crucial role instrumentalists play.
â€œThe success of any music which is recorded rests in the hands of a producer and instrumentalists. It is a shame that in Malawi, only those that release songs are recognised as musicians.
â€œOn the instruments row, there are people vastly talented in music, even much better than some band owners. It is these talented instrumentalists who contribute to the success of a musician.
â€œFor example, Willie Soko is one of the few people in the country who know music, but he has never released an album. In Malawi, it is difficult to make a name when you donâ€™t have an album and you are operating under someone,â€ he said.
The Maloto hit-maker said instrumentalists deserve better perks than what they are getting at the moment.
â€œInstrumentalists need to be paid well because they are the heart of a band. However, as a long time musician, I appreciate the challenges band owners go through. The main problem is lack of promoters. In Malawi, people do not want to support musicians and I can reveal it here that the majority of musicians survive on revenue from music shows.
â€œThis is what makes it a problem for us to employ instrumentalists on full-time basis because we cannot afford to give them salaries every month. We resort to sharing the proceeds from every show,â€ he said.
But Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) president Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango denied that the music industry is abusing instrumentalists.
He said the quality of instrumentalists and that of the band that has hired them affects the amount of money they get. Mhango said there are many established bands and talented instrumentalists in the country. He said when these team up, earnings are better.
â€œI have performed with a number of music groups and sometimes I could appreciate that the band owners were sufferers because they had to pay huge sums of money to the instrumentalists. So, it depends on the type of band and the quality of instrumentalists it has hired,â€
â€œThere are many who are underpaid, but, as MAM, what we know is that these instrumentalists sign contracts with the bands. So, it depends on the type of contracts and the quality of the person being hired,â€ he said.
He also urged band owners to run established bands, saying it is only these that can offer good services and contracts to instrumentalists.