Malawian urban music industry originality dilemma

By Elijah Mbewe



The subject continues to divide Malawians further and further. Some argue that for the country’s urban music to get international recognition, it has to be unique. It is a case of be original or be doomed for failure.

Those of the view that uniqueness is the only way to go cite examples like Nigerian music, probably the most lucrative music industry in Africa. They argue that just listening to song from the west African nation, one recognizes its origin without even being told.

Keeping that in mind, it doesn’t make no perfect sense for a music fan in America to have appetite for a song from some other country which sounds like theirs. It is an undisputed fact that American music production is the most advanced of all. So for an artiste, say from Malawi, to match the western standard, it’s almost impossible.

Those of this view mainly base their argument on the saying that “you need to be original if you are to stand out from the crowd.” Originality is held by many as the only way to get heard over the thousands of other musicians in one’s particular genre.

That uniqueness influences success of an artiste holds true everywhere in the world. Here in Malawi, musicians like Tay Grin, Piksy, Lulu and Lucius Banda keep rocking the local scene for their music is original.

Tay Grin, for instance, was honored by Channel O in 2008 in the best music video(Southern Africa) category because he stood out from fellow nominees like Zimbabwe’s Buffalo Soulja.

On the contrary, like philosophers reason that if everybody is thinking in the same way– it basically means nobody is thinking– some argue that not all copying is bad. This group of critics and industry experts hold the view that it is good all the time to follow trends in the music the industry.

It is easy to notice, there tends to be patterns in the music industry in terms of what’s popular at the moment. Particularly in chat music, at any given time a certain style of making is taking up a lot of positions and airplay.

Here in Malawi, there used to be a time when music with some Zambian flavor would make so much noise. Then that sounding Nigerian took center stage, South African type of music followed. One notable local rapper, Diktator, once released an album “Dictatorship” which contained a lot of South African inspired house songs.

Proponents of the view reason that it is good for an artiste to be doing the type of music that is trending at a particular time. That said, noticing these trends and perhaps incorporating them into your music where appropriate can give you a head start in terms of giving people what they want.

All in all, it a proven that originality influences success. It would be pointed out, therefore, that for Malawian musicians to break the boundaries, they must stop copying and pasting music styles from other countries. People out there should be able to trace where the music is coming from just by recognizing its uniqueness.

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