Friday, August 14, 2015

The Arts: Sustaining the beat of international glory

Granted, it is not every year that members of national arts associations can win international awards.
However, when the time between one award and the next is prolonged, the situation becomes so embarrassing that memories of past glory take the shape of a memento of dead flowers presented on a new occasion.
This is the situation the country faces after registering positive results, in terms of getting international awards, in the arts. While some arts associations continue to produce winners, others are yet to make the big break.

Memento hours
One of the industries that have put the country on the map is that of music. For example, Malawians still remember how Wambali Mkandawire’s debut international album, ‘Zani Muwone’, put Malawi on the international map between 2002 and 2003.
The album, an eclectic mix of Malawian, Congolese and West African rhythms, saw Wambali being nominated for the Kora award in 2002.
The year after, he won the Music Award for the Best African Artiste.
However, his exploits were linked to his international exposure to music, other than Malawi’s musical environment. By Implication, this means Wambali might not have attained his status had he been the exclusive creation of Malawi’s artistic environment.
According to, “Wambali Mkandawire was first introduced to Malawian traditional music and Congolese music by his grandparents who were working in Belgium Congo, where he was born. When he was 8 years old, his grandparents returned to what was then Nyasaland.”
This notwithstanding, Wambali nurtured his talent in Malawi, starting with his stint with “Pentagon Band in the late 1970s. The band later created a niche by fusing rock with traditional music. This was before he joined New Song’, Youth for Christ band, as one of the singers.
In 1988, Wambali recorded his first solo album with Krakatoa Music in Cape Town, South Africa. During the same time, he recorded and toured with ‘Friends First’, a South African music group.
 On release of ‘Zani Muwone’ in 2002, Wambali was invited to perform at the North Sea Jazz Festival held in Cape Town in 2002.
In August 2002, Wambali was awarded the World Intellectual Property Organisation Award for Creativity, marking the first time this award has ever been made to an African artiste. This is the year he was also nominated for a 2002 Kora Award in the category ‘Best Artiste from Southern Africa’.
Not that Wambali was the first to get international recognition. He is one of the few that include Dr Daniel Kachamba, who was recognised in Germany, where he went as a Mister but came back as a Doctor due to his prowess in music. That’s what music can do; turn locals into international celebrities.
The film industry has also had its time in the sun, and could be said to be the industry-of-the-moment when it comes to winning international awards.
For example, as recently as 2013, a young female director, Chimwemwe Mkwezalamba, won Best Emerging Director award for her film, ‘The Designer’, at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival held in California, USA.
In addition, ‘Umunthu’, a film by Mwizalero Nyirenda, won the Sembene Ousmane Award in Zanzibar (Tanzania);
That is not all, however, as film makers such as Shemu Joyah, and actors such as Joyce Chavula have kept Malawi’s flag flying on the international stage.
As for poetry, Stanley Onjezani Kenani was nominated for the 2012 Caine Prize.
While poetry has not been as prolific as film making, hope was rekindled on September 29, 2011, when the then U.S. Embassy acting Public Affairs Officer, Stephanie Reed, announced winners of the nation-wide poetry contest held for Malawian youth during August and September this year.
The overall winner was Madalitso Daniel Maluwa with his poem 'Nameless Rendition', with   Tadala Tembo, who entered the contest with 'Evergreen,' emerging as the first runner up while Towera Kabogodo Gondwe, who authored 'A Day is Coming', was the second runner up.
The winners were determined by a panel of three judges comprising published writer, local and international award winner Willie Zingani, published poet Stanley Onjezani Kenani and English Research Fellow Heidi Howland.

While Malawians thought that the US$700, US$500 and US$200 given to the overall winner, first runner up and second runner up, respectively, would motivate them into winning US dollars on the international scene, the big break is yet to be made.

The winning formula
Film Association of Malawi (Fama) president, Ezaius Mkandawire, says, while it is not easy to create a winning brand, it is possible to sustain the winning spirit on the international stage, so long as there is team work.
“[That is why) we have recognised all those that have made it big. We have invited some to pick their brains through round table discussions. We have, for example, engaged Charles Shemu Joyah in drafting a Development Strategy. We are surely going to ask those that have flown our flag high to help grow and nurture the film industry with us,” says Mkandawire.
Mkandawire adds that, to an extent, Fama has guided film makers to win international awards.
“We have, for example, partnered with international organisations that support and promote international exposure. These organisations include the Goethe Institute, Arterial Network Africa Movie Academy. We constantly are in touch with our members to appraise them on international developments like festivals.”
He adds that Fama has a working understanding with Multi Choice involving the collection of films from Malawi for exposure to international audiences.
“Currently, we are establishing a film festival that will be held in October. We have identified a partner. We have done initial consultations with the government [and] this is just a way to create a conducive environment for our film makers to get used to the standards that are required
internationally,” says Mkandawire.
He says this is in line with the association’s founding philosophy. The idea to establish Fama was molted in the early 2000s when a group of people decided to establish an association with a specific purpose of lobbying the then sole television station, Television Malawi [now Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Television], to provide cheaper rate for broadcasting material.
However, the idea did not work and it took the emergence of what was then the Malawi International Film Festival to realise the dream again.
Musicians Union of Malawi president, Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango, says the union is aware that the international music trophies’ cabinet is almost empty and is working on improving the situation.
“At the moment, we are working with international music distributors to increase the exposure of our musicians to the international audiences. We also have plans to talk to record labels because these institutions are well-connected to expose local talent. If you take the example of Wambali, you will realise that his award-winning album was recorded in South Africa and were handled by a record label,” says Mhango.
Wambali’s award-winning ‘Zani Muwone’ was produced by JB Arthur.
Mhango says, as part of increasing international exposure, the union sent representatives to the recent gathering of musicians in South Africa.
He says only through working with record labels and forging international partnerships can the international window be opened for international trophies.
Poetry Association of Malawi president, Felix Njonjonjo Katsoka, says poets can bring glory home, but are not given a chance to perform alongside foreign artists when they visit the country. He says this affects poets’ exposure while local musicians are accorded the opportunity to perform alongside foreign artists.
Charity, he suggests, should begin at home.
And the poets will, in turn, entice international glory home!

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