Good people, Wambali Mkandawire has been in the news for good reasons lately.
The Afrojazz veteran is no longer whinging and whining about not receiving enough respect locally.
Instead, we hear the Zani Muone star is reportedly writing a book offering insights into the country’s stunted music scene—the lessons learnt and the things to forget, especially how tactless imitation of the so-called hits of the moment is making Malawi a laughing stock beyond the borders.
I am told the 2003 South Africa Music Awards (Sama) best African artist was fiercely exhilarating on Friday when he launched the latest jazz album, Calabrash Breathe, in Lilongwe. It was not unexpected given his wanted repute and a lengthy hiatus since 2012 when he co-performed with South Africa’s bestselling diva Zahara in the Capital.
After the triumphant release, the musician says he is ready for the world where he belongs and we are informed external audiences are waiting for the brimming calabash called Calabrash Breathe.
However, Wambali’s comeback was not just an outing. It offers local artists lessons on what not to do if they want an international breakthrough.
Wambali did not become a top-notch musician by doing business as usual or putting vernacular songwords on a recycled beat from South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria or Aha as do the majority of high-flying gospel singer. Hear, Oh, self-righteous plagiarists, stealing in God’s name is simply stealing—a sin.
In his solitary originality, Wambali represents a crop Malawi needs most—artists willing to sing their way to the top in the name of originality.
Originality pays. The crowd at Calabrash Breathe unveiling was a living testimony to this. Hundreds came, paid K10 000 to K20 000 per ticket, jived, hummed along and left satisfied. Some of them described the show as “value for every tambala” and “a master class”.
But it was also the first time in nearly a decade that Malawians were watching a live show exclusively featuring one artist—a reminder that a gospel artist does not need to bring together several groups to give a fitting show.
This is the gospel truth: K20 000 is worth nearly 20 shows comprising hitmakers Ethel Kamwendo, Great Angels, Grace Chinga, Limbani Simenti, Kamuzu Baracks Gospel Singers and Ndirande Anglican Voices on one stage.
It’s supporting each other, artists say. But it mirrors their low self-esteem, an insecurity that sighs: “You cannot fill that venue singlehandedly.”
Offering less and less about more and more artists does not always leave venues with more performers than ticket-buyers.
It cheapens the artists pricing their prized goods like a heap of utaka.
At worst, it deprives audiences the excitement live shows often entail. With the same flock clamouring for payday weekends, a sickening monotony is creeping in with one show resembling the previous.
Malawians need a break and Wambali once again confirmed it is possible for the real McCoy to wow audiences without mobbing them with the so-called support groups.