A celebrity is a person who is well known in the public domain and commands a fair share of attention from other people and the media. The image a celebrity portrays in the public realm becomes a marketing brand—the very essence of the celebrity’s status. This ultimately becomes a symbol in public that is always associated with them.
It is this double-faced personality of a person who is capable of living in two different worlds—that of an ordinary person and celebrity—that the Malawian society seems not to have made headway in understanding.
In Malawi, there is always a hullabaloo every time a celebrity, especially in the entertainment industry of music, does something in public which appears to go against the sacred ‘statutes’ of the country.
Memories are still fresh when in 2003 the whole Malawi Parliament chorused in unison to ban Big Brother Africa (BBA) reality television show from beaming on MBC television, saying the show promoted ‘unMalawian’ culture.
Then in 2009, one BBA representative Mzamose Chibambo or Mzamo stirred a hornet’s nest with her behaviour in the house. Mzamo used to dress in revealing attire in addition to drinking beer and smoking. This behaviour touched the raw nerve of some moralists in the country who wasted no time in calling her a disappointment to Malawian lifestyle and culture.
These two cases sum up society’s perception of how public figures ought to carry themselves. That the world is fast changing and with it cultural values and the way of doing things, some sections of Malawian society refuse to accept, argues Jai Banda, a music promoter.
“Malawian society is conservative. It is rigid to change. People have forgotten that generations change. And as new generations come, so do new things,” he says.
Banda’s comments follow developments in the past few weeks, where one celebrity in the entertainment industry, Dan Lu, had posted pictures on social media showing off wads of money, in the region of millions.
The post on Dan Lu’s Facebook page enraged some Malawians. Some went berserk questioning Dan Lu’s behaviour.
In the court of public opinion, Dan Lu is a showy and pompous fellow who does not know that as Malawians, we ought to be humble by not showing off what we have. Doing so amounts to breaking the silent ethics on humility, a characteristic worth portraying in public.
And this was the same Dan Lu who posted pictures of his house, vehicles and his expectant wife on social media.
What is the reason behind this, some moralists questioned.
According to Dr. Jubilee Tizifa, a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, Malawian celebrities in the entertainment industry do these things because they are copying from what other celebrities do around the world.
“These local celebrities are always driven by world trends in the entertainment industry. So they follow what others are doing elsewhere in the world to remain relevant in the industry,” she says.
Dan Lu himself says that everything that he does in public is a marketing strategy as life in the entertainment industry is a competition.
“We market ourselves in different ways. No one has Dan Lu brand in Malawi except me. I can’t live like Daniel Kachamba. This is me. Moreover, I don’t put my pictures on someone else’s Facebook wall but mine,” he blurts out.
Dan Lu is supported by Banda who says Dan Lu is not going against the norms of Malawian society by flaunting his wealth on social media because that is a mere marketing strategy.
“Every celebrity has his own lifestyles that endear him to his fans and Dan Lu is just doing what makes him popular and loved by fans,” Banda argues.
He says in an industry where one’s foremost preoccupation is to remain relevant all the time, it leaves these celebrities with no choice but to create anything that will draw the attention of the public to themselves.
Banda points out that even Floyd Mayweather has been posting pictures on social media with wads of cash but Malawians do not complain about that.
Another female artist who came under fire recently for her posts on social media is Ritaa.
For Ritaa, it was her dressing style that sparked controversy on social media and other forums.
Ritaa is an urban artist who is not shy from fashion.
In an interview, Ritaa said she feels at home in that type of dressing.
“I have been criticised for being too open in my dressing but people need to learn to differentiate between what an artist does as a person and as an artist. I don’t walk in the streets dressed the way I do on stage,” she says.
Ritaa says that music is art and that she prefers to express her art in that way.
“For me, dressing is part of art,” she argues.
Tay Grin, another Malawian celebrity, agrees with Ritaa saying that a celebrity is two people in one. There is the ordinary person who lives an ordinary life and a star who appears in public.
“A celebrity is a person with dual images. For example when I am on stage, I am Tay Grin. When I am home, I am Limbani Kalilani,” he says.