KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
FORGET about anything that is happening on New Year’s Eve, the fitting end to the year should have been the show by Morgan Heritage at the Lusaka Polo Grounds on Christmas Eve.
But for whatever reason, the show by this Jamaican Grammy award winning reggae band was somewhat low key.
Even local reggae musicians seemed to have been caught off-guard.
When leading local reggae musician Maiko Zulu spoke about the handling (or mishandling) of the Morgan Heritage show, he was certainly speaking on behalf of many other local reggae musicians.
“When foreign hip hop artistes come, their promoters recognise the local hip hop artistes who have pushed the genre locally, just like jazz promoters. But when it comes to reggae, it’s so different,” he said.
“It’s like promoters want to sideline the locals and pretend they don’t exist. A lot of reggae artistes and DJ’s have expressed negative vibes to me about the seemingly underground Morgan Heritage concert. My message to the local artistes and DJ’s is simple: A good man is never honoured in his own country, so worry not my brethren, continue running your race and forget the commercial hustlers who might not even know and don’t respect the core values of reggae music.
“You lose nothing by not performing at one Morgan Heritage show. If the promoter wants radio presenters to perform there, that’s their wish, it’s their money, and pictures next to a Jamaican reggae band shouldn’t divide us and make you lose your focus.
“Reggae music is much bigger than one foreign band. Promoters like Shakarongo and Ras Anada have shown that it’s possible for the few local reggae artistes to be on board and show the people that reggae is more about unity than it is about the money. You can’t expect a lemon tree to bear apple fruits.”
That the local reggae musicians felt left out, is indeed a serious indictment on the promoters. The Morgan Heritage show should have been a watershed moment particularly as it came a few weeks after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) listed reggae music, which has its roots in Jamaica, as a global cultural treasure.
In May though, reggae fans were as usual treated to the Jah Nite which has rebranded to the Bob Marley One Love Reggae Festival where almost all the leading reggae musicians performed.
But unlike reggae fans and musicians, there were no such complaints from R’n’B fans, when in October, United States mega-stars Brian McKnight and Joe Thomas graced the Stanbic Music Festival alongside local artistes like Afro soul singer Wezi, Afro pop rising star Kiki, Salma Sky, gospel sensation Esther Chungu, James Sakala and Chef 187.
It was a thrilling moment for Zambian fans.
Zambia Daily Mail staffer Margaret Chisanga was drooling at the prospect of watching Brian McKnight and Joe Thomas at the Polo Grounds.
She wrote an open letter to Joe and McKnight in the Weekend Mail columns. Yes, an open letter.
The article, headlined, Letter to Joe, McKnight, partly read: “Tonight Joe Thomas you will have the stage to prove to the audience here why your lyrics dominated the letters exchanged between the 90s teenager lovers.
“Songs like All That I Am to this day fill the memories of those who won lover’s hearts to the backdrop of songs such as Forever, If I Was Your Man and All the Things (Your Man Won’t Do).
“The audience knows you as the American singer, songwriter and record producer who rose to prominence in the early 90s with the album Everything. You will need to draw your way back into the hearts of all the good girls, those who may have been swayed by the love of other music, they ought to realise that there is only one Joe Thomas. In fact, they certainly [I] Wanna Know and All The Things.
“…And as for Brian McKnight, you better start back at one and bridge any troubled waters that might have risen from the time you gave us One Last Cry in 1992. Many other musicians may have emerged since that time, but we know what you are capable of.”
The Stanbic Music Festival maybe big, but the country still lacks a festival that can appeal and is affordable to the average fan. The closest you can come to that is perhaps the Tonga Music Festival which is organised by Chikuni Radio in Monze around August.
One of the success stories of the festival is Green Mamba who became a people’s favourite band in the early 2000s when they first strummed their home made musical instruments on Chikuni Radio.
The band was led by Collen Mukonka.
Unfortunately, Collen died in November.
Writing a tribute to Collen in these pages, broadcast journalist Matongo Maumbi, who worked at Chikuni Radio at the time Green Mamba came to the fore, wrote that “Collen will be remembered for his sense of unity, cultural pride and connection to the community, always wanting the best of the people around him.”
He added: “One thing that can be attributed to Collen was how he always liked championing social change through his music. Despite the romantic songs, he composed songs against defilement with songs like Simon Mudoombe which talked about how shameful such a vice is. He just could not understand how a big man would force himself on a child. He blamed much of such vices to laziness by some men who took advantage of the vulnerability of young people.”
One of the things you have to praise the Tonga Music Festival for is the use of live instruments including indigenous ones by the bands.
The culture of bands seems to have died in Zambia. But in August, Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka hosted the second edition of the Battle of Bands.
Zambia Army band, Sappers of Mufulira won the battle. Live music won.
Columnist Ballad Zulu, writing in his weekly ‘Weekend Ballad’ column that appears in the Friday edition of the Weekend Mail had a field day having attended the contest.
He wrote in his column: “Saturday August 18, 2018 was a good day for Zambian music. Let me rephrase that, it was a great day. This was the day when the Zambian music industry pulled off a nearly flawless performance at the Radisson Blu in Lusaka with the second edition of the Battle of the Bands.
“Nearly everything seemed to have gone well. How I wish the concept of Ubuntu would have ruled the day but alas it was a competition where we had to have one winner and one runner up. What do I mean by the concept of Ubuntu? In this context, it is the story that Ubuntu refuses to engage in competitions which have one winner. Ubuntu followers will choose to finish the race together so that they can all share the prize.
“The eight bands seemed heavily prepared and I was glad I was not a judge on that day because it must be a headache to choose two among the many passionately prepared live group performers. To add icing on the cake, the Burning Youth Band, last year’s winners, gave a splendid joyful performance at the beginning and towards the end of the show. That is why I cried last week that those who were not there would never experience. This is one of those shows where you will say ‘sembe mwenzeko’ (you should have been there).”
But if you wanted something more easy-going than the Battle of Bands, then you should have headed to Livingstone in May for the Mosi Day of Thunder which was headlined by Nigerian reggae-dancehall star Patoranking.
The festival is organised by Zambian Breweries.
Surely, the Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) should also have a festival of its own.
In May, ZAM had a change of the guard at the top with Tivo Shikapwasha replacing Njoya T as chairman. He is being deputised by Sista D who also has a daughter Mwiza in the national executive committee.
While ZAM is looking at starting a festival, it should also look at introducing music awards.
Since the death of the Zambian Breweries-sponsored Zambia Music Awards (ZMAs), there has been a huge void.
In the meantime though, the Kwacha Music Awards seem to be filling that gap. This year, they were held in September with JK receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.
But that is a small matter, if you genuinely love music, even for its own sake, the biggest news of the year was the return of Mumba Yachi this month having been deported in November last year.
Mumba Yachi’s return was the best gift to Zambian music. The music can now play.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka