Lack of manager pushes Mankhamba to the peripheral

If Malawi has one artist who is blessed with live performance ability, then it is Ben Mankhamba. A decade ago, the artist dominated every music competition which was introduced. However, the pressure of growing up coupled with other challenges have seen the artist being relegated to the peripherals of Malawian music. Our Staff Reporter Brian Itai caught up with him. Excerpts:

Mankhamba: Putting up shows is very expensive

Q

: Is Ben Mankhamba the musician around?

A

: Very much around. I am now based in the village. I am in Nsalu in Lilongwe West.

Q

: What has kept you away from the limelight through the years?

A

: I would say it is because of lack of someone to manage me. It is too much for an artist to do everything alone.

Q

: When was the last time you dropped an album or a single?

A

: Last month I dropped a single, Moyo Wakumudzi, but it received very little publicity. I cannot recall when I last released an album. Maybe about five years ago. Of late I have just been releasing singles. In total I think I have released 10 albums.

Q

: Are you still the same artist that ruled the Malawi music scene over a decade ago?

A

: I feel I am, something which, unfortunately, few people know and can understand. I am always privately being invited to perform abroad without making noise about it. I have been to Switzerland, Germany and several other countries. This coming May I am attending another event outside the country again.

Q

: What is preventing you from making the same impact locally like you did in the past decade?

A

: Lack of serious managers and promoters. Most are just interested in up and coming artists who get famous with just one track maybe. I can only get back on stage if I meet serious managers and promoters who are interested in promoting mature stuff. Putting up shows is very expensive; you need the support of the corporate world. The other problem is the people, or I should say music lovers, they have their own taste in modern music and the current crop of musicians.

Q

: So how have you handled that adaptation from being that prime artist to someone who is hardly in the picture?

A

: Every day I am reworking on my old tracks with my acoustic band in the village with the hope of my second come back. I have all the hope that someday it is going to happen with a big bang.

Q

: Is staying low and silent part of your strategy?

A

: Very much so. I follow the paths of some legends such as Oliver Mtukudzi who for long periods took a low profile approach. It was only when they met the right and professional managers as well as connections that they came out and started international tours.

Q

: Do you feel once you are back you can retain your spot as one of the country’s finest music artists?

A

: The way I am following the current trends, especially live performances, which is my favourite aspect in music, Malawi has an underground international star in me who is just waiting for the right time. Without hurting anyone I believe my low profile is aimed at giving a chance to others. But if they don’t utilise that chance now, they will soon see me flying high above them.

Q

: You have mentioned lack of serious managers and promoters as one of the problems challenging the growth of the music industry.  As someone with massive experience in the trade, what needs to be done to lift the art?

A

: The current crop of musicians are excellent in voices, but they still need to do more research in modernisation of our traditional beats. Unfortunately, in our villages, the traditional songs and dances are also diluted; hence, not really ideal for one to copy from them.

Q

: You keep referring to your return, when will that be?

A

: If interested managers and promoters come today, straight away we could get into agreements and business. If they don’t appear, it is difficult to come back. My fans want me back on stage and I want too, but what can I do?

Q

: What became of your Zigzaggers and Jenna Sisters Band?

A

: Since I am not very active, each one is doing their own thing. Some are performing with other groups and I am here in the village teaching art to the youth.

Q

: I understand you are also a chief, how is that side of your world keeping up?

A

: Yes! I am village head Chingalire in the area of Traditional Authority Kalolo. My village is an artistic centre where artists come to perform also. Black Missionaries, Skeffa Chimoto, Alleluya Band, Ndirande Anglican Voices, Billy Kaunda, Paul Banda and other poets and theatre groups have been here to perform.

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