Chaff, wheat in Malawian music

For quite a while, Malawian musicians have lamented the low airplay their music receives on local radio and television stations.
Some musicians accuse radio DJs of preferring foreign content over local music. Others, still, have faulted lapses in the country’s policies and laws for not obliging TV and radio stations to prioritise local talent over foreign music.
At parties, engagements, weddings or baby showers, over half the playlist comprises Nigerian, South African and American music.

From L-R: Wendy, Skeffa, Lulu and Lucius performing Ndimitima ya Chikondi
From L-R: Wendy, Skeffa, Lulu and Lucius performing Ndimitima ya Chikondi

This comes amid observations — harsh as they may seem — that Malawian music is of low quality. But is the whole basket containing rotten apples?
Most Malawian television and radio stations play any music that comes along. Poorly produced songs are played side by side with masterpieces. One tends to wonder if TV and radio stations have standards at all. Channel O, MTV and Trace, for instance, subject music videos to an intensive quality checks. Do Malawian TVs and radios conduct any quality checks on the material they play?
In an interview with Society, MIJ FM station manager Roselyn Makhambera says the music that is played on the station are heavily screened for quality and checked for inappropriate content.
“If you listened to some of the songs that are submitted to us you would be surprised. Some have distortions while you can hear doors creaking and banging in the background in others. We never play such music,” she says.
She further says the radio station a programme called Luso Latsopano where deejays and guests — usually music producers — form a jury to scrutinise new songs and make recommendations for artists’ future projects.
“We don’t play music that is poorly produced. Some artists come to us to complain that we are not playing their music and we tell them the areas they should improve if their music is to be played on the station. Some polish their art, while others don’t take to criticism well,” says Makhambera.
Transmissions officer for Timveni TV, Kelvin Before Gumbi, says their station has a way of grading material for transmission but said they mostly scrutinise content.
“We want content that is not explicit either in lyrics or pictures because our aim is to empower the youth and not mislead them. So, if it is not explicit and it is in HD quality, we will play it,” he said.
He added that the station also focuses on the creativity in the videos as it wants to promote Malawian art.
Producer Tapps Bandawe says scrutinising content for TV and radio is recommended as the quality control measures drive artists to work harder to attain the required standards.
“Even in a situation where bad music is being mixed with good music, the cream will always rise to the top. So, it is the duty of every artist to make sure their songs are of good standards to outwit competition,” argues Tapps.
He encouraged radio stations to raise their quality control standards to foster growth of the industry.
“Mixing the trash and the cream does not work because listeners or viewers will switch off as soon as that bad song plays. Screening helps musicians to push harder just to get through the quality control measures put in place by stations,” said Tapps.
Quality control assurance officer for Times TV, Masambiro Jenda, says they have quality standards which programmes’ producers adhere to.
“We assess video quality to ensure that it’s worth our airtime. And we check the content to make sure it does not have explicit content,” said Jenda.
He added that once a video makes it through the quality control criteria, it is then saved and tagged according to its genre.
“We receive calls from musicians asking why their music is not playing. So, we tell them what we need for a video to be aired. We also outline our standards when we are accepting the videos,” said Jenda.

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