Traditionally, Malawi has not been known to have a deep affinity for jazz music. For some unexplained reasons, the genre has played second fiddle to other types of music.
It is very uncommon to go to some entertainment joint and find patrons passing their idle hours away while enjoying jazz music, both local and international. The genre is so alien that even if one was to randomly pick a playlist of 10 people, one can be assured that only two of those would have at least a jazz song.
Names such as Marquis Hill, Gregory Porter, Nathan East, Nicola Conte, Esparanza Spalding and others do not feature in most people’s minds as musicians worth of their salt and time. To many, this category does not fit that artistic bill.
A majority would rather be playing tired Bob Marley tunes, jumpy Lucky Dube beats, overused Boyz 11 Men ballads, sorrow-laden Allan Namoko creations and all that. There may be something that scares people away from jazz music. Could it be the sophisticated nature of the genre maybe?
Locally, jazz has almost been confined to a few. Should we say it is almost an elitist genre? To that I will not commit myself fully as of now. But, with no qualms, I dare say, jazz music belongs to an exclusive club.
Though it is not highly regarded in this part of the world, but jazz as a genre owes its origins to the African-American communities in America. It is a type of music which was developed from roots and blues around the 19th century.
Not so long ago it was almost madness to hear a local artist telling you that he play jazz music. If somebody came to you and told you in the face that he was a jazz artist, you would look at him twice and your thoughts would quickly examine his mental status.
But like all things change, there also seems to be some wind blowing over the local music industry. Malawians, both old and young, are doing good and impressive jazz music. Malawians are enjoying local jazz music.
Artists such as Erik Paliani, Owen Mbilizi, Grecian Mokwena, Spare Fingers, Masauko Chipembere, among others, are being appreciated for what they are good at. That is playing jazz music.
It is very possible to organise a jazz set nowadays and be assured of good patronage. Last year, a group of jazz players even went further by introducing the first ever jazz festival, the Li l ongwe Jazz Festival which enjoyed massive support by any standards.
Recently, Blantyre had four jazz concerts. United States-based strummer Chipembere was at Jacaranda Cultural Centre, Paliani, Mbilizi and company were at Blantyre Sports Club while Mbilizi together with his Jazz Café Band performed at Alpacinos before winding up the weekend with a show at Doogles Pub. And trust me, all these were eye-catching events.
The Blantyre Sports Club event particularly was a sold out performance as all the available 230 tickets went off the shelf. Looking at the demand, the organisers were forced to accommodate 20 more patrons until the small hall could not hold anymore. Sadly, some had to be sent away.
This turn-out of event, should be a lesson to the local jazz masters. Jazz is very much possible in Malawi. Let them not relent in their efforts to create a better appreciation of the genre. They should drop the notion that the music belongs to the bracket of a minority genre.
And this weekend the jazz goes to Lilongwe for the Lilongwe Jazz Festival at Lilongwe Country Club.
Let them do the jazz with all their energy, skill and grace. If they limit themselves, their followership will be limited as well. It appears it is getting jazzy around here after all.