Watching music videos done by Malawian artists, especially urban musicians, one gets the impression that the filming industry has registered tremendous improvement compared to five or 10 years ago.
Varied sceneries such as the Masauko Chipembere Highway, Lake Malawi, Mulanje Mountain and village and urban locations provide beautiful, if not creative, props to Malawian music videos that would appeal to both local and international audience.
The Malawian film industry started taking shape around 1999 when the state-owned television station, MBC-TV, (formerly TVM) was launched. The less said about the quality of most music videos of that time the better. Suffice to say, the challenge was attributed to a number of factors, largely expertise and technology.
“If I recall very well, it was only the Ministry of Information that used to have professional videos cameras for shooting music videos, programmes and films. It was a hustle for individual artists to shoot their films or videos. This is one of the reasons I failed to shoot my films from the late 1990s to the early 2000s,” said filmmaker Shemu Joyah.
Apart from the scarcity of equipment, very few Malawians had expertise in filmmaking, making it hard for artists to shoot music videos, let alone filmmaking.
MBC-TV had its own crew which was pioneering in video making at the media house. They tried to save the situation by shooting music videos in their studios and as the time passed, they started shooting outdoor videos that were being beamed on MBC-TV.
But 15 years down the line, the country’s film landscape has completely changed. From a handful videographers that used to work at MBC-TV, there are now thousands of video producers, helped, in no small part, by the ready availability of complex digital cameras and other digital equipment due to technological boom.
The tremendous change in video making is appreciated through good quality music videos that are being played on the country’s television stations.
No article on video making can be complete without mentioning creative youthful producers such as John Nguluwe, Chipi Khonje, Ron CZ of Red Ink Media, Sukez of HD Plus Creations, Harry Kazembe, Precious Chikatiko, Stiah Pingasa and Elijah Kazonde, among many others.
There are equally stunning videos that Malawian producers have directed such as Tay Grin’s 2 by 2, We Here by No Sleep Gang, Trap Squad’s Somebody or Nobody, Ndisiyeni Ndiyende by The Great Angels Choir, Favoured Martha’s Ondikonda Ndili Naye—the list is endless.
However, despite making inroads in the video making industry, Malawi continues to lag behind in terms of airplay on widely known global channels such as MTV and Channel O. Malawi rarely produces music videos that compete on international market. Is the quality of music videos that is Malawi’s Achilles’ heel or is it something beyond?
Ezaus Mkandawire, president of Filmmakers Association of Malawi, believes the quality of music videos is beyond debate.
“As much as the quality of Malawian music videos has improved over time, the issue of marketing still haunts us as a country, that’s why we are poorly represented on international map.
“We are doing well technically. Music is a business model that is dependent on a lot of factors. Some record labels can define or stand in the way of musicians.
“Labels play a very significant role. Hence, one cannot produce a music video and be a marketer himself. He or she needs proper channels to get their products to international TV channels for promotion,” said Mkandawire.
He said in a globalised community where technological advancements and issues of copyright are concerned it was hard for artists and directors to promote videos that were not licensed to a reputable label.
“International TV channels look into several issues because they are organised. So Malawian artists and directors need to develop a culture of working with relevant people in the course of promoting their products,” he said.
Youthful producer Ron CZ said factors ranging from lack of political will to poor networking play a devastating role on marketing of local content.
“As artists, we need to network and share ideas on how best we can push a common agenda together. We also need government to come in to help in creating policies that help to protect and promote Malawian content. Through this we can come up with products that can create demand on the international map,” said Ron CZ.