Music Defines Us – An Outsider Inside View

By Charles Leyman Kachitsa

Music is as old as perhaps the human race. It is not very clear to most when exactly men started singing although more organised music can be traced to the era of King David perhaps even more perfected by King Solomon. The book of Psalms and to a greater extent Proverbs in the Holy Bible are meant to have been written as songs, music.

In the history of my country of origin Malawi as far as I have studied it at primary and secondary school levels does not give a good picture as to when music was brought into the nation. In describing its inherent tribes, there are some snippets here and there in Malawi history books about the cultures and their most prominent type of music. Such genre of music like Manganje, Chinthali, Malipenga, Chiwoda, Gule wa Mkulu, Vimbuza, Honala, Beni, Likwata, Visekese, Ngoma, Chisamba, Masewe, Mganda, Tchopa and Chiterera as traditional dance types can be identified with particular cultural tribes within the nation.

In modern music the types are so hard to pinpoint as most often there have been fusions with others, depending on what music is prominent at a particular time beyond the borders of the country. There have been only a few faithfuls, musicians who have kept to one genre and whose music you can bet on just from hearing its intro. It is the modern music whose themes is much interesting and perhaps themes that describe the national culture, that defines a people as Malawian. As one mentioned on a Facebook page title, these are those that we may say, ‘You know you are Malawian when ………..?

A nation may be described by the most repeated words in the lyrics of music sang and liked by its people. Here from the authors experience are some of the most recurring themes and or words in Malawian songs; Wachikondi (loved one), Mdani (enemy), Wathawa/ Kuthawa (run away), Ukwati (married/ marriage / wedding), Mabvuto (dealing with problems/ anarchy/ poverty/ hunger), Nsanje (jealousy) and perhaps Ntchito (job/ work) can also make the list.

The last one is more intriguing as most of the songs on ‘job/ work’ (Ntchito) are those that have lyrics addressed to the bosses of one is working with or for and in some cases explaining how menial or hard the job is. The boss would be seen at almost all times in the songs as being exploitative, perhaps defining the attitudes people have for the one called ‘boss.’ Or would we might say as soon as someone occupies a bossing role then they have at all cost to be exploitative? Could be true music defines us as a people.

Another one worthy exploring is the Mdani (enemy) word in most songs. Most prominently, it is in the Malawi national anthem just like the word jealousy is. Though others have attributed the enemy referred to as being more things than another fellow human being, in Malawian music it almost has always referred to another person seen or unseen as being the enemy interestingly as a physical being even though some have referred to it when talking about those unseen, they believe practice witchcraft (amfiti).

In singing about the loved one you would take in marriage or for a wedding, the issue is seen culturally as the epitome of success in life for both sexes and life lived to the full. So much that one is expected to be married within their lifespan at a certain acceptable age. The songs and music for such a theme are mostly celebratory with a few that talk about broken marriages mostly and one would say ‘biasly’ caused by the female partner not being able to maintain a home therefore unworthy ideal wife or being unfaithful.

More recent music when you listen or watch it, is a lot about fantasy. Most of it has lyrics about an imaginary world whether it be singing about relationships with the opposite sex, romance or general day-to-day life. Thus the life being lived more with materialistic overtones. The danger of such fantasy is that most of the younger generations become indoctrinated with wild imaginations as to want to attain the things aspired that are being sang about and fantasised at a brink of an eye (not working hard for them). This has led to a lot of frustration and perhaps to an extend to living life based or focused on consumerism. Music perhaps define us as a people indeed.