Once upon a time, gospel music diva Ethel Kamwendo-Banda sat on a verandah at her home at Bangwe in Blantyre reflecting on past events in her life. In her imagination, she saw many relatives and friends who had died.
She asked herself why she was still alive while some of her childhood friends and other relatives were in the graves. “I realised that it was the will of God to keep me alive,” says Kamwendo-Banda.
This led to composition of a song titled Ndi Umboni which, upon being recorded and released, hit radio airwaves with a bang.
Musical composition, which is the process of forming a piece of music by combining elements of music, is the first stage in music production. Kamwendo-Banda’s case makes it interesting on how musicians compose their songs.
She says: “As a gospel musician, sometimes I compose a song when I listen to a preaching at church or at a religious gathering. I also compose a song when I read the Bible.”
For musician Dan Lu, music composition is a flawless process as he does not sit down to compose. According to the artist, songs just come like snow.
“I don’t know where my songs come from. A sentence of words just comes. For example, a sentence called Part of Life just came when I was driving. Then the complete song followed and I went on to record it,” says Dan Lu.
Usually, Dan Lu’s songs come in his head between 2 and 4 am. When the song comes, he wakes up to record it on his phone and polishes it up later.
On Part of Life, he says it came when he was travelling to Lusaka in Zambia to record some songs for the album No Size.
Traditional musician Stanley Nyandolo Mthenga says he generally composes a song when he is driving alone. “Travelling alone in a car is good for me because I know that during the journey I will compose one or two songs,” he says.
Kamwendo-Banda says she also dreams about a song and she later works on it. She talks of her first gospel song titled Amen in early 2000s saying she dreamt about it while she was asleep. “I was asleep at my home at Bangwe in Blantyre. During the sleep, I dreamed about the song Amen. Later in the morning I took a paper and started writing this song,” says Kamwendo-Banda.
Robert Chanunkha, a senior music lecturer and head of department of Fine and Performing Arts at Chancellor College, a constituent college of University of Malawi (Unima), says an artist can compose a song at any time because there are also many motivating factors that trigger an artist to compose a song. He concurs with Kamwendo-Banda, saying sadness and happiness can lead one to compose a song.
“I teach music and I also compose songs. In my case, I am good at composing a song when I am angry. I have more energy to compose a song when anger engulfs me,” says Chanunkha.
He says others are motivated by money to compose a particular song. Such musicians do so when they realise that a song with particular lyrics or genre will easily sell on the market. For veteran musicians, this is to do with music rebranding whereby an artist strives to remain relevant in the industry by moving with time in as far as audience’s music needs are concerned.
This is mutely seen in local musicians such as Lucius Banda and Lulu whose composition taste changes with time, thus their productions remain marketable on music parades.
“Many musicians are in the industry to earn money from their talents; hence, they usually compose songs that can sell. This means their music composition is money-driven,” says Chanunkha.