Diving Head First Into Malawi’s Arts Scene

We went to Senga Bay on Lake Malawi last week to do some narratives with some locals part of this NGO “Nyumba ya Thanzi: House of Good Health.” This NGO operates in this little village and their aim is to provide 34 AIDS orphans gathered from the nine surrounding villages with ARVs and three good nutritious meals every day. They also teach the kids songs and have a range of creative activities such as games and interactive theater performances centered on HIV education.

We had the good fortune of getting some narratives on HIV from two of the Malawians who run this organization as well as five mothers who have children in the program. To comment on the word orphan: orphan in Malawi can also mean having only one parent. Many of the orphans that are enrolled have mothers but the fathers are conspicuously absent. Men, at least sedentary ones, seem to be few and far between in the village we saw. Many of the men once they reach adulthood go off to work as fishermen fishing Malawi”s enormous lake or seek work in South Africa. Even walking through the village it seemed to be mostly women and children. Indeed men and marriage were important themes in our discussions with these women. At the end of our discussions in a big display organized for our benefit, the 34 children sang “are you sleee-ping?” from “Frère Jacques.” Then they sang us a piece in Chichewa and some of the village youth came in to perform a theatrical comedy on HIV awareness. Very unexpected and very well done.

By this point we have enough narratives to yield a few songs for the album and the creative juices have been gushing. Every time Peter and I meet we seem to have five new musical ideas each for these songs. I have never collaborated with another musician in such an intimate way and didn’t quite know what to expect working with someone whose musical vernacular is so different than mine. I’m finding it far easier than some of the musicians I’ve worked with back home who speak the same language of “Irish music.” On that note….

So being raised by parents who play Irish traditional music I knew it would be something of a challenge to live in Malawi for a year. I’m a boy who lives to play tunes and the Irish music here is how you nbso online casino reviews say…..scant. Well, the other day I got a phone call from a friendly Irish ex-pat here in Lilongwe who informed me that one of the premier universities in Ireland is sending a batch of Irish traditional musicians to Malawi for a musical exchange with some Malawian musicians just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. This was too perfect. She invited me to participate in their program. I couldn’t be more giddy. One of the things I wanted for my birthday (which is in March) was a bit of Irish music from home: a CD, recording, something. Well, in ten days there will be a whole legion of top-knotch players straight from Ireland’s music belt ready to jam with Malawians. Seems tailor made for me, I’d say. Happy Birthday Andrew.

Malawi has a very vibrant arts scene about which I am learning more and more every day. Even before coming here I knew of Timve Magazine online which you can check out here. I had heard of it because a certain Peter Mawanga had earned a story on their homepage. I thought the site was an awesome resource for foreign Malawi-philes as well as Malawians because what’s one of the first things travelers do when they land in a foreign country? Check out the local music right? Its one of the first things I do. I think Timve is a great resource for that.

To expand on that-as of last Saturday a new magazine was just launched here in Malawi “Sons & Daughters: Ana Athu” which is a pretty snazzy publication committed to showcasing Malawi’s artistically best and brightest: musicians, painters, pencil sketchers, athletes, radio DJs, etc. There’s definitely no lack of talent here, just a lack of resources. Peter does some small-scale production in his house and he’s played me some of the musicians he’s mixed tracks for. Often times these are just amateurs looking to carve out a niche in the music industry but their recordings are hot. Its all very encouraging for a country that has had to cope for too long with limited resources: musicians are often forced to rent out their instruments short-term because guitars, drums, and pianos are so scarce. Until the last few years there were hardly any professional recording studios accessible to Malawi’s talent. One of our partners Rhythm of Life was actually founded with the principle in mind of being an affordable alternative to budding musicians looking to lay down a track.

Malawi isn’t all subsistence agriculture and AIDS. There is an amazing arts scene and some dedicated Malawians seeking to put that art on the map. Madonna helped put Malawi on the map, but I think its time to change our musical association with Malawi.

One thought on “Diving Head First Into Malawi’s Arts Scene

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