I am writing using a pen-name because I know how averse Malawian artists are to honest hard-hitting criticism. Not to create a meal of myself on social media from Namadingo and team, I will remain anonymous.
Lawi, Patience Namadingo and Faith Mussa are arguably the future of Malawi music. Peter Mawanga is too good to be grouped among the three. While Lawi lazies around his Sunset in the sky project and Faith Mussa keeps basking in the glory of singles, it is Namadingo who appears to remain relevant. Relevant he could have been had his releases been brilliant.
However, the recent releases from Namadingo are anything but brilliant. They are a mockery of the old Namadingo who did Mtendere, Tili ndi Yesu, Wandiuza and the other songs.
For the sake of argument, Namadingo’s M’sati m’seke is not a brilliant song. It is just a darling to people obsessed with the trivia, the kind that are darlings of Mr Jokes at home and Kansiime at the abroad. In a way, shallow people. With the purchasing power, yes, but nevertheless lovers of bubble-gum things – like the recent Namadingo’s releases.
I have sought to follow the career of Namadingo, more because I could not believe that a young artist could be that gifted in vocals, on the guitar and in song writing. My journey these days however is riddled with sadness each time Namadingo releases a song.
Ever since his return from that self-imposed break, I have listened to the ‘make-merry-go-round’ kind of song that is M’sati m’seke and I have hardly been impressed. I have also listened to the anthem he did for Bushiri, Sin’jenjemela, and I will not labour to even waste a sentence commenting on that song. There has also been Mozimila, a song whose only prowess was the video – which unfortunately we know the concept was picked elsewhere.
I have also endured listening to Tandigwileni and, in all circumstances, it is a rendition of Mozimila albeit with a shallow lyrical composition reliant on ambiguity of words. In the end, it is an ironical juxtaposition of violence (tandigwileni ngati wakuba kuti ndisathawe) and kindness (tandigwileni ngati nkhalamba mphamvu zanga zatha); even a failed omelette of a plea for support (tandigwileni ngati mzimayi/kumva ululu pobeleka) and something that would not really make sense once we try to contextualise the word ‘tandigwileni’ (tandigwileni ngati ntchito/1 to 31).
Now, Namadingo has returned with a rhythmical piece: Ba Yesu. It is his first real experimentation with Tumbuka since he rebranded.
Ba Yesu is an easy to sing along song. Like his latest releases. Yet like the latest releases as well, it is a song you listen to and once it is over, you play Mtendere or Mbiri by the same Namadingo – pardon! By the Namadingo of old.
It is bubble-gum. The lyrical prowess not there. In months, we will have forgotten about it.
It was a tall order, to do that song. As an artist, I opine, Namadingo had to master the art of the language he sang in: Tumbuka. How could he have done that? By listening to the golden compositions of Wambali Mkandawire.
Now, I am not proposing that Namadingo should have imitated Wambali. I am suggesting that, in terms of composition, he needed to listen to Wambali. Namadingo’s composition, as it is, is as shallow as one person deciding to sing about a car and all they do is say: there goes a car/it has four wheels/it drives people from one place to another/it can get involved in an accident…in the end, the question is so what?
When he sings: imwe ndimwe nthowa yane/imwe ndimwe mfumu yane/imwe ndimwe zonse zane…kwambula imwe ndili baka/kwambula imwe ndisovenge…Namadingo simply describes attributes of Jesus many people have been accustomed to since Sunday School days. It begs the question: so what, why do you sing the song, no benefit for the audience? It sets him apart as a gifted musician with a beautiful – even brilliant – voice, skilled guitarist yet with no content.
Another weakness that comes with Namadingo’s Ba Yesu is not just the lyrical prowess – or the lack of it. It is the rhythm. Ba Yesu has that feel of the song that you have ever listened to, from the same guy. The concept that guided the rhythm of Sin’jejemela, Mozimila and Tandigwileni is the same one that has guided Ba Yesu. I know defenders of Patience, and his ever-allergic-to-criticism team, will quickly pull the identity card. But I have news for you: the identity of Patience needs to be tailored around his voice. Like the identity of Lulu which one Sam Smak failed to copy.
The identity of Namadingo should not be around the Habib Koites nor Boubacar Traores of the world. It should be so unique that when you listen to it you hear distinct quality. Surely, that is not in a guitar and rhythm lifted from West Africa.
Namadingo is gifted and talented but certainly this new Namadingo is not one whom we had revered all along. We can celebrate him, indeed, but as a fallen from musical grace guy whose only advantage is that we are so short of better artists because they are either lost in the maze of a new project or singles!