- Malawi music soars with Spare Dog Records
You have possibly heard of a local artist’s song hitting 10 million views on a Facebook page called Latinos Post. If not, the name of the artist is Gasper Nali from Nkhata Bay. The song is Abale Ndikuwuzeni.
His story is simple. He plays a home-made babatoni—a huge one-string bass guitar played with a stick and an empty bottle—which, when combined with his great voice and catchy tunes, makes a unique music experience.
If you ask him how that feat was possible, his answer is UK-based Spare Dog Records and its sister project, Moto Wambili Studios in Nkhata Bay.
“My song was recorded, filmed and produced in Nkhata Bay by Moto Wambili Studios in July 2015,” he says.
This should be exciting to Spare Dog Records which was launched in Bristol, UK in November 2014 to expose Malawian artists to an international audience.
Founded by a Swedish producer and musician Mattias Stålnacke, Spare Dog Records has signed several local musicians.
These include the All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) 2015 nominee Danny Kalima, reggae artist Street Rat, Michael Mountain, Nali and the newly signed The Moods Malawi.
Aside Street Rat, formerly of Body, Mind and Soul, the other four have been confirmed to perform at the international Lake of Stars later this month.
With two months remaining to clock a year since inception, Spare Dog Records seems to have soared heights others might take years to reach.
But for Stålnacke, who spends half his time in Nkhata Bay working in his recording studio and half the time in Bristol working with the label to promote local artists, all this comes down to putting dreams into reality.
Four years ago, he ended up in Malawi after taking half a year off work in Sweden to travel in East Africa.
It was in Kakumbi Village in Nkhata Bay where he settled. On that particular day, he was invited to check out a rehearsal of a local band he had met a few days before.
“And so there I was, armed with a camera and an extra microphone. The room was crowded with people; some playing, some dancing and some kids just staring wide-eyed. It was hot and sticky, the naked light bulb gave a harsh light, but the air was vibrant.
“With seven vocals, a pair of half broken acoustic guitars and a homemade drum kit, there was something going on. Electric music. Raw energy. I think that’s where the idea started, that’s where the dream of doing something really crazy formed. And then it grew,” he narrates.
That was how the idea for the record label and studio was conceived. A few months later, Stålnacke was back in Sweden to put the dream into reality. He mobilised equipment to set up a studio in Nkhata Bay.
“I always tried to participate as much as possible through my guitar playing, and it did earn me a nickname – moto wambili[more fire],” he says.
Stålnacke did not hesitate to name his studio after the nickname. To him, there was more to the name. It meant producing more local artists and exposing them to the international audience to put the world “on fire”.
“If I can use my know-how and my equipment to help facilitate great talent in northern Malawi—if I can help record and spread the music fire of tomorrow’s Malawi stars—wouldn’t that be a great name for the studio project? Moto Wambili Studios—more Malawi fire for the world!” he says.
Moto Wambili should be an alternative to musicians in the Northern Region who lack a decent and up to the standard recording studio.
Whereas the Southern and Central regions have such studios, the challenge in Malawi is marketing its local music to an international audience.
“That’s where the idea of Spare Dog Records comes in,” says Stålnacke.
“The infrastructure for Malawi musicians who want to sell their music is quite poor…While there are a few decent recording studios in the south, there are none in the north, and the ones in the south are way beyond the budget of most Malawian musicians.
“When it comes to sales, there are some folk in the south who will buy an artist’s Master Tape to make copies and sell, but the deal is often not very advantageous to the artist, and the music never reaches outside the country.
“Spare Dog Records is releasing and promoting some of the music created in Moto Wambili Studios to an international audience. The sounds coming from the little studio on the shores of Lake Malawi now have a way to reach Western and African ears alike,” he explains.
Currently, Spare Dog Records is hatching a plan for a 2016 European tour for its Malawian artists.