For a while now, there has been an unending debate about some Malawian artists being expensive. A lot has been said as to why that is the case or why it should not be in the first place.
As such, there is a seemingly fight with artists propelling the ‘we are in business’ argument while fans on the other hand, contending the former is just being money-centred.
For instance, some fans have singled out Lawi and Patience Namadingo as some of the expensive musicians in the country. They say they only perform at high priced gigs patronised by the well-to-do leaving the ordinary out. Some have gone further to argue that some artists’ hiring fees are prohibitive which in turn make the whole show expensive.
The unceasing debate forced Namadingo to explain himself, perhaps once and for all, through a Facebook post a few days ago.
“I am expensive? I think so too. If I do not open up and answer to your cry, who will? A number of times I have heard and I have read from the comments on a number of posts on this page of someone complaining that Patience only performs for the rich, or his shows are only for those who have real money. Patience Namadingo like almost 99 percent of musicians in Malawi started from nowhere and the first shows he ever performed at were as low as K500.
“If you pay K500 in those days at Shaeffer, you would enter the hall which was so full, fans standing and the heat unbearable, you would watch up to 15 if not 20 artists and that kind of a show would be happening every weekend, same venue, same artists just different function name; from Gospel Explosion to album launching,” he wrote.
Being among such artists and events, putting posters on trees, always looking forward to performing at Shaeffer or Robin’s Park, he realised there was need for a change in his approach.
“We have preached the gospel through music. We have entertained people with our music, but God did not just give me the gift to preach and entertain; he made sure I also have a good brain to make use of my gift to uplift my life and those around me,” said Namadingo.
He, therefore, said he sat down and thought about why international gospel and secular artists get all the good things such as expensive flights, high performance fees and Malawians fill up the venues to see them and dance without complaining about the entry charges.
“I answered myself that all these artists, with big names, have put in so much work to have the names they have. They have invested in quality products, from videos to audio productions, I then decided to rework on myself, my image and stop believing in cheapness,” explained the artist.
“First, I invested in learning how to play an instrument, so I bought myself an expensive guitar. I then looked into how to produce good sound as compared to just computerising everything. I opted for live recording and this moved me from producing a song at K20 000 to over K200 000.
He added that gospel will not be the limiting factor on how much he will be paid or how he will produce his work. “People are there who are ready to pay for such products,” he argued.
From our investigations, Black Missionaries, Lawi, Namadingo and Lucius Banda are among the expensive musicians in the country.
However, from the music fans’ perspective, Ma Blacks and
Soldier Lucius Band have an advantage over the other two because they perform at venues that ordinary people cannot afford.
“If you go to Lilongwe Golf Club and M1 in Lilongwe, districts like Nsanje, Karonga, Motel Paradise, you will enjoy with Lucius and Ma Blacks at an affordable fee of K3 000, for example. However, for artists like Lawi and Namadingo, you don’t see them at such venues.
“They prefer posh places where one has to spend an arm and a leg with a minimum gate fee of K10, 000.
“That in turn leaves out a section of their fans who equally deserve a treat from their favourite artists just like others do. Personally, I would love to go to lowly classed venues and watch all stars that Malawi has,” argued a fan who identified herself as Mercy Chamanga.
Investigations into the claims have uncovered that Lawi hiring fees is about K5 million, Namadingo K3 million while Ma Blacks and Soldier’s hiring fees are K1.7 million and K1.2 million respectively.
Apparently, Lawi is seemingly pricey because he is now based in South Africa.
“Comfortably, Lawi charges K5 million which meets his logistics, equipment and all while the organiser meets the venue costs. This is because he is operating from South Africa where he has a five-piece band.
“A number of Malawian companies have hired these artists. Namadingo at K3 million, is a bit cheaper because he is based here. However, at the moment, he can be hired at K1.5 million just as a compromise,” argues Emmanuel Maliro, a music promoter who has also managed and worked closely with Namadingo, Mizu Band, Lawi and Agorosso.
Maliro states that a lot of musicians and promoters put more effort into their productions as their activities are modelled on business.
“Local artists pay K1.5 million for hiring Bicc venue, equipment is not less than K1 million and you get the best from the likes of John Nthakomwa of Mibawa, Jai Banda of Entertainers Promotions, Thomas Chibade and Lemekeza Phiri, plus lighting it comes up to K2 million.
“The fact remains very few artists in Malawi have good equipment so we have to hire.
“Then there is publicity in both newspapers and radio stations, which roughly might be at K1.5 million. If you add other costs like accommodation, the whole budget is not less than K5 million.
“So, how then do you charge K2000, for example, for such a show?” wondered Maliro.
He blamed the corporate world for not appreciating and supporting local talent.
“It’s very strange that local companies do not want to uplift Malawian talent and change the landscape of the country. I don’t think K2.5 million is expensive for a company yet it spends $5000 [about K 3.6 million], for example as a performance fee for foreign artists and meet all other costs.
“That money goes out of the country while the little we are giving each other is not benefiting the artists, let alone the country,” he explained.
While acknowledging that he is not ‘cheap’, ‘Soldier’ argues there are two sides to the story.
“Zembani Band has no fixed price for hiring. We are based in Balaka, and the charges will obviously differ between Lilongwe and Mzuzu, for example. In other countries, equipment and all other things necessary for the show are borne by the promoter while in Malawi, it’s done by the artists themselves.
“So, we calculate costs for transport—three cars, equipment, accommodation for the 17 band members and performance fee and charge,” said Lucius.
He added that it is a joke to have someone cry because of K1.2 million hiring fees which is less than $2 000 [about K1.4 million]. Banda said if one does a breakdown, people will realise that local artists don’t really make a profit.
“Of course, I am not a cheap artist, you will not throw peanuts and expect me to jump. I have worked so hard for my career,” charged Lucius who has been in the industry for over 30 years.
While being non-committal on whether or onto he charges K5 million for Malawi shows, Lawi said: “Just as anyone responsible and visionary, I have my education, my siblings, my accommodation and all basics to be taken care of all by myself.
“I don’t think I am expensive. I believe a few can afford my service and that is okay. I think where you hear that Lawi as a musician is expensive, know that those people cannot afford my services and their complaining is one way of dealing with the pain of not affording.” n