A few days ago, an article was published establishing that reggae music is one of the popular music genres in Malawi. It has been performed for decades, and throughout, it has been changing its sounds until it settled down into three main types, Balaka, Mayaka and Chileka. Reggae music was developed in the Caribbean Island of Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term ‘reggae’ seems to have an uncertain origin, but it is largely believed to come from the Jamaican word for ‘ragged man’ or common person. The music is for the common man.
The genre was popularized across the world by people like Bob Marley. It is often associated with political protest. Bob Marley is quoted to have said that reggae music is “A rhythm that resist against the system.” What he virtually meant is that, the beat in itself, even without words on it, is a form of protest. Besides political protest, the music has also been associated with the black conscious movement which was led by Marcus Garvey. He propagated the idea of “Africa for Africans”, a protest against the racism black people were experiencing in the United States of America.
Wherever reggae music was adopted in the world, this was the idea; to use the music as a form of political protest. For example, it made sense for Lucius Banda to sing his trademark political songs in reggae than in any other genre. Whenever the message is political, it makes much sense to present it using the reggae beat.
But looking at the state of reggae music in Malawi, it has diverted from this mission. Some would call it a Malawian brand of the sound and also the message. But reggae music has lost its sense in Malawi. Balaka reggae is gone. The debate on who and why this type of reggae is no longer around is for another day. The sensational rise of Mayaka reggae was betrayed by its own founder, Joseph Nkasa, when he subjectively started singing for his political masters. Reggae is supposed to be objective, and not as Nkasa treated it.
That leaves us with the Chileka reggae, being performed by the Black Missionaries band. These are the faces of reggae music in Malawi. They have represented well in Malawi and beyond. For over a decade now, they have maintained themselves as the main makers of reggae music in Malawi. But when one relates the Jamaican reggae and the one being performed by the band, in terms of message, it can clearly be seen that they have diverted from what the genre really is about.
Since reggae music is often about political [and social] protest, Malawi, as a country, is part of this social and political set up. With that situation, it means reggae music in Malawi has a lot to talk and protest about. The country is going through a lot of challenges. The political leadership is uninspiring, and with it, there is failure in terms of water scarcity, electricity blackouts, food insecurity and security lapse, among others.
Instead of tackling such challenges and calling on the government to do something about this, the Black Missionaries have become specialists in music to do with love. The trend can largely be seen after the death of their former leader, Musamude Fumulani. Even with him around, the band lacked the kind of music that would make people feel it has spoken for them. Musamude, when he chose to sound conscious, was abstract and idealistic in nature. That was where his protest began and ended. His death completely took out the reggae mission that was left for the group when its founder, Evison Matafale, died in November, 2001.
Although the Black Missionaries and all reggae music performers in Malawi should be praised for keeping alive the genre, they have misused the music. It is not playing its mission on the scene. Politics and politicians are being left free when actually we have the music that can be used to bring them back to the right lane. Reggae music in Malawi is not speaking for the people.
*Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript developer and editor.