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‘Itumba’ music initiative deserves support

I SIGHED with cautious relief recently when I read in the press that a group of local musicians has launched an initiative aimed at promoting and preserving indigenous Zambian music.
The project is dubbed ‘Itumba’ or traditional drum.
Conscientious musician Mumba Yachi and his friends deserve a pat on the back for their courage and patriotism. They should not be discouraged by the challenges lying in their path, and they will not be few.
We need music created by musicians, not playback. Music that reflects our culture and defines who we are.
Yes, we need the kind of music that tells our history, our present and, in a multi-theme context, communicates hope as we face the future. It is too much of love; girlfriends and boyfriends, wives and husbands.
There will be no sacred cows or goats today.
Music is an art mwebantu, and the common threads that weave through all the arts are creativity and originality. An artist must create something new out of nothing, something unique in response to the stimuli around them and beyond.
Downloading and mixing foreign rhythms, products of creative musicians with your lyrics sung in a local language does not make you a musician. It makes you an imposter instead.
It is like an auto mechanic who takes different parts from a Toyota, Nissan, Ford, BMW and an Isuzu vehicle and assembles them into one motor vehicle. Can such a mechanic claim to be the inventor of that vehicle?
That is exactly what our so-called Zed musicians have been doing, and the music-starved Zambians do not have a choice in the absence of alternative sounds but to listen and dance to the gonga (fake) music.
What we are hearing on some radio stations that are polluting our airwaves cannot be called Zambian music. That’s why its protagonists have failed to come up with one decent name over the years.
Music is a noble art, which deserves some respect. Now any youth looking for night club and radio station fame will just download some sounds on the laptop computer and croak some unintelligible lyrics about their girlfriend or boyfriend over it.
They will do some rehearsals for a week or two in a backyard or bedroom studio and before you bat your eye they are a ‘musician’.
Most of the stuff playing on radio stations, on public passenger buses, at kitchen parties and weddings and night club performances is called ‘bubble gum music’ because of its short-lived appeal.
Our radio DJs and novice print media entertainment journalists are partly to blame for dishonestly hyping these under-talented, uncreative lot as “stars”, which they are not.
Why do the so called ‘musicians’ fail lamentably to perform to live music? Someone will argue that music is dynamic and that we need to move with times.
No big deal there, but does that mean abandoning anything indigenous in preference for foreign rhythms?
I have traversed southern Africa and have been amazed at how popular local rhythms are in other countries around the region.
I have listened to local music and attended performances while in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Tanzania and Ethiopia and seen how the citizens, especially musicians, of these great countries love their indigenous rhythms.
Of course, there is also computer-mastered music there, the equivalent of our own so called Zed music, but it does not dominate the airwaves as is the case here. It is embarrassing.
A foreign friend of mine from the United States once asked me to take him around Lusaka so that he could buy some local music to take back home. He kept rejecting what the excited hawkers, vendors and marketeers were trying to sell him as ‘Zambian music’.
“No, bro, this sounds much like our own stuff back home in the States. It ain’t my kinda stuff. I want something African, man,” he protested several times.
It is when I took him to Sounds Investments at Levy Business Park and a couple of other outlets in the central business district that he managed to find what he was looking for.
So appreciative was the guy that he almost danced his legs lame in his hotel room as akalindula, akalela, fwandafwanda, chingande, imfunkutu, amalaila, manchancha, sipelu, kayowe and many other Zambian rhythms played on the music system.
If that American could appreciate our indigenous music like that it meant that it could also be appreciated by the larger American society. Just as we also want to listen and dance to music from other societies outside Zambia. Not reproducing it and then calling it our own.
I fail to understand why we are obsessed with imitating or reproducing music from foreign countries and calling it Zed music. Where is our dignity? Where is our heritage?
In 2013 I was privileged to speak to Zambian musicians drawn from all the provinces in Livingstone a few months before the UNWTO general assembly.
Using research-backed information I explained why indigenous music earns other countries a lot of foreign exchange, and why it has been making their musicians rich.
They appreciated the counsel but complained that instruments are too expensive in Zambia, which was why they found it easier to download other people’s music, rearrange it and claim it as their own.
Please, let us give our rich indigenous music a chance by supporting Mumba Yachi and his group.
It is always refreshing to listen to fusions of real Zambian music from all the regions of our country on ZNBC radio stations and some private radio stations.
Those who have the resources should invest some of them into the implementation of the ‘Itumba’ to preserve our heritage. The media should also play their part.

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