Exit the year Malawians witnessed dawn of protest art

Art  is said to be a mirror of society. If the saying is universally true, the reflection from Malawian works of art does not paint a rosy picture of a nation which markets itself as an emerging democracy, a  miracle achieved and the world’s second fastest growing economy after the oil-rich Qatar.


Long allergic to commenting on current affairs, Malawian artists have entered a phase of resistance to anything that makes the country a  failed State.

Soldier Lucius Banda, with the swiftness the late Evison Matafale assembled Time Mark in reaction to the 9/11 crisis, has embraced active citizenship which saw him crossing path with the Censorship Board soon after the release of his latest album, Life.

Soldier’s 16th release criticises government for the dictatorial economic and political leadership which pushed Malawians into the July 20 protests, starring the likes of reggae star Jeddie I and his Afro-soul counterpart Marco Sadik.

While Matafale’s Black Missionaries Band are singing love themes and their perception of divine manifestations, the Soldier of the Poor goes to town with  the ruling elite on numerous scarcities plaguing the country. Soon after its release, officials from the board stormed OG Issa music shop in Limbe and grabbed copies for scrutiny.

While the board was still pondering whether the album, containing the outspoken Tikamalira and Life is fit for public consumption, its hands were hounding Michael Usi for his crowd-pulling scathing satire, Maloto A Farao.

Based on Pharaoh’s dreams of lean years as interpreted by his Israelite slave Joseph, the play calls on leaders not only to consult their ring of blind loyalists and advisers but also the least-rated minds at the grassroots. This was widely interpreted as a swipe at government still accused of abusing its majority in Parliament to pass laws that do not reflect the aspirations of Malawi.

Soon after its premiere at Victoria Hotel in Blantyre, chief censoring officer Humphreys Mpondaminga told The Nation that  the dramatists were liable to prosecution if their play had a script and its contents were contrary to the synopsis they presented to get a permit.

While the censorship is still mum on the fate of both Usi and Soldier, Thlupego Chisiza was so lucky. The son of fallen dramatist Du Chisiza Jnr was last week convicted and fined K5 000 for staging a play without a permit from the Censorship Board.

The Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act requires artists to present samples of their works to the censors two weeks before the performance date, but does not say what happens when the board does not respond.

Apart from questioning the legality of the act in the era of free speech, artists and lawyers want the gap interpreted as it may breed undue censorship of alternative viewpoints emerging in the art sector.

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