For a long time, Malawi music industry has been said to have been crowded with copycats and what some quarters call ‘bubblegum music’. But the million kwacha question has been: Where are the trained musicians that went through the corridors of high institutions like Chancellor College (Chanco) in order to improve the situation? HOWARD MLOZI engaged Dr. Robert Chanunkha who is the senior music lecturer and head of the Fine and Performing Arts department at Chanco on the country’s music identity crisis.
I believe you, as expert you do have time to analyze and follow music with keen interest. Can you tell us the situation of Malawi music?
It terms of musical recreations, which I can describe as a process of recycling what has already been there and changing it into different shapes in order to suite the current needs, Malawi is doing very well. These days artists are able to get a particular song from within or outside Malawi and re-work on it with different styles and instrumentation, and wording.
But talking of originality, I think there is still a room for improvement because we are not doing enough to come up with our own things. In terms of national music, we are failing to tap in indigenous music that we can proudly identify as original Malawian. As result, today Malawi is being identified with different sounds. These are two areas that we are lagging behind thus being challenged to define and explore what is genuine Malawian content which is suitable for representing us better on local, national and the global platforms.
There is an outcry that trained musicians from Chancellor College are shunning the mainstream music industry. So, as an institution, do you think you are contributing to the development of Malawi music?
As an institution, what we are doing is simply to expose the students we have to how they can come up with original compositions and explore Malawian material. We do this with the hope that when they are well-prepared in the area of music they should demonstrate the skills and knowledge when they join the corporate world.
But I have to agree with your observation that not many are venturing into music industry. This is the case because our programs do betray us because they are structured in a manner that exposes students to different areas of interests. I mean, a general degree gives students opportunity to explore different fields; they are not limited to a particular study.
Another problem is that Malawi music industry is not well-structured, which makes it hard to create job opportunities. Therefore, the general degree that Chanco offers allows students to explore other fields. Malawi’s financial environment is also to blame because it does not accommodate fresh graduates as lending institutions hardly release funds for music related projects. No wonder, some music students are ending up being bank tellers, teachers yet they were performing well at school. But this really makes me feel bad as a music lecturer.
The current general degree at Chanco simply offers some fraction, not wholesome music, a development which Chanunkha said was another major contributing factor to poor representation of music graduates in the mainstream music industry.
So, what should be done in order to reverse this situation?
There are a number of factors. But first of all, we should think of reorganizing our education system so that we start offering specific degrees that will help students to pursue specific careers that are in line with their area of study. Like what was proposed at MUST within school of culture and heritage; there are specialized degrees and music has its own curriculum which was developed to honours level.
The second factor is to create a favourable environment for music. We should create job opportunities out there. In other countries there are music researchers and lawyers, promotion directors, and professional studios. So, if we can have such well-structured music industry with job opportunities we are likely to see many graduates going into music world and make the necessary contributions.
Thirdly, financial lending institutions should be supportive to fresh graduates who need resources to embark on entrepreneurship ventures including music companies.
In the area of originality, artists including students of Chanco should be able to create new ideas that are practical to a particular subject matter. There should be a deliberate process of meditating, observing, analyzing and processing events or information in order to come up with unique products not recycled themes. Failure to create new and own things simply expose artists and our country to shame and illegal acts especially on international map.
The music landscape is changing every day. So, how do you make sure that your institution’s music curriculum is in line with the needs of the current music industry?
As a department, we do make follow-ups to pick the tastes of the day and revisit our curriculum from time to time in order to stay relevant. This is the very same reason why we developed a course called Music Business which exposes students to some of the emerging issues such as production of electronic sounds and animations. We are calling it creative economy because it helps students to create products for business. We have also orchestration and brass band which help students to gain practical skills for use.
Can you tell us why there has been few music graduates from Chanco?
We have made quite impressive strides for the past five years where we have been graduating about five students each year. And this year alone, we will graduate about 11 students. Suffice to say, we are doing very well in terms of graduating students who were doing general degree but with a reasonable amount of music content.
Any last word?
Malawian musicians should strive to create content that is original and Malawian. Again, we should not wait for the government to do things for us because the power is within us to get thing running. It is our own house that needs to be wiped so waiting for someone to clean it on our behalf will only keep us waiting for a long time. Passion and hunger for excellence is what will help Malawian artists to reflect on their art and become contented with their original work, not an embarrassment I got this other day in South Africa when one of the songs by Malawian artist was mistaken as the late Lucky Dube’s. n