With the attainment of multiparty democracy in 1994, Malawi weaned itself from a repressive reign of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Through the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act, the Kamuzu regime established the Malawi Censorship Board, under whose mandate, art such as music was strictly controlled and artists detained without charge and some exiled (Jack Mapanje as an example).
From the early 1990s, with the end of the one party authoritarian regime, Malawi became open to outside influence and with some Malawians migrating to South Africa and Zimbabwe to work in the mines who secretly smuggled various genres of music back home. As a result, there was an influx of music cassettes and compact discs including Jamaican reggae, South African Kwaito, Black American hip-hope and West African Kwasa Kwasa that changed the music landscape of the country. From these various genres of music combined with Malawian traditional cultures, the country gave birth to its own music which was and still is known as Malawian Local Reggae. The art imbued with Biblical allusions and lyrics of resistance and also a longing for independence and democracy, it became hugely popular which was now an instrument for opposition against government atrocities and oppression.
Malawian artists used music to satirise current affairs and local events, it acted as a mirror on socio-political happenings such as inadequate healthcare, the gap between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, food insecurity and of course government corruption. As some scholars stipulates, Malawian music was blended with religion this was and is because religion is the main matrix of Malawian identity. It is also from this religion; Malawi saw the birth of musicians such as Lucius Banda and Mlaka Maliro of Allelluya Band before branching into their own respective bands. This discussion, therefore, is on Mlaka Maliro’s newly released song titled There is no wine.
In the absence of a strong opposition in parliament, and media platforms largely connected to or owned by politicians, Mlaka Maliro for example has for so many years used music to provide expression for political resistance against government oppression.
With various sporadic arrests of political activists and whistle-blowers, it can be said that despite Malawi claiming to be a democratic republic, Malawians are afraid to freely express about political and developmental issues.
There has been rumours for example that social media is monitored by government spies to watch those who are vocal against the government (MCP led government) and no wonder some Facebook political activists have been arrested several times based on what they posted on their walls.
Nevertheless, Mlaka Maliro can be said to be a spokesperson, arbiter of public opinion and intermediary for grievances of the poor people to those in power. In the song, the persona takes us into a church and him or her as a preacher.
The congregants of the church need to be appreciated by watching the video of the song; the congregants come from various works of life: lawyers, security officers, engineers and students who cheer to the sermon by the persona but there is a fracas in the church when someone enters the church with an empty bucket and they are told that there is no wine (Vinyo watha).
The sermon starts with a Biblical allusion of the Wedding at Cana in Galilee in the Book of John. The words say Jesus and his mother were invited to a wedding in Cana. At the wedding, Jesus revealed his true divine while saving the host’s reputation (John 2: 1-12) by performing his first miracle of turning water into wine when the host run short of wine for the guests. However, the story in the song changes its direction when the persona says asala ndi masanje usapusisike palibe chilipo. One wonders if the persona is still talking about miracle at Cana or maybe its cryptic to mean something else. The mist is cleared in the next lines as the persona continues
Usakomedwe ndi sweet talk don’t be coaxed by butter up language
Mwana wanga chonde please my son
Anthuwa vinyo watha there is no wine
The persona advises his son (Malawians) to be careful with flowery language and mere promises by of course political leaders during campaign time. Coincidentally, on 8th March, the Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter in their celebration of Lent, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Living Our Faith, a pastoral letter that was authored in 1992 which criticised the Banda regime. Similarily, the current letter reminded the current regime (MCP/Tonse Alliance) about the democratic principle and corruption and also warning political leaders about mere campaign promises without taking steps to fulfil them.
In the same vein, the line anthuwa vinyo watha can be speculatively assumed that the leaders have run out of ideas or solutions to problems bolting the country such as high prices of goods and corruption.
The persona then wonders that amid all these problems but the leaders swagger around with flags hovering on their cars but without any plan to help curb the problems as in the lines akuyenda mwa mdidi, mbendera petupetu. This also comes at a point when there have been a public outcry about the president’s internal and external trips including those he would have attended virtually.
The persona goes on to regret his choice for voting for those in power for mere promises. On this, the persona also alludes to the Biblical story about the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt to Canaan.
Moreover, the persona was also promised that he will be eating thrice in a day but it is not happening as he fails to eat even once a day and he even cry for those days he was able to eat a single meal in a day as in ndikanasala konkuja kumaphula njerwa kumadya kamodzi.
The persona also talks about nepotism by the leaders in the line Kenani munkanena munkanena uja anali wapachibale. It is no hidden fact that the current regime has been in a number of instances criticised for appointing relatives including the president’s daughter and son in law in lucrative public positions but as the persona vinyo watha the leader has turned a deaf eye calling the claims mere political gimmick.
In the line kulalika zikutheka, kunenera molapitsa komatu vinyo watha, Mzimu oyera ukamochoka, umachoka mwa ulemu poti siwusazika, akusatira zozizwa poti uko kulikulu osaziwa vinyo watha, the persona leaves the listener to wonder what he really mean as the listener is left in the dark.
However, some people speculate that the musician who was also an ordained Pastor of Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Chirch (ECG) is at loggerhead with the ECG leader. This is because the musician cum pastor made a shocking announcement that he has resigned from the church few seconds to the release of his song There is no Wine (Vinyo Watha) but insisted that he has only dumped ECG claiming he wants to revive his music career and be with his family and coincidentally he releases the song Vinyo Watha. But he claims he is still a pastor.
Before his resignation, he served as a pastor in several branches of the church in South Africa and rose up to the ladder of the overseer of the ECG main branch in Swaziland (Eswatin).
Currently, the ECG leader boasts to attract huge crowds across the globe with his prophecies and miracles, rides in fancy cars and enjoys local media coverage, claims to have international and local investments amid charges of fraud, money laundering and promiscuity levelled against him by for example the South African government and also for several times he has been accused of making false prophecies and fake miracles.
From this, should we say the persona is talking about the musician relationship with ECG? Is the persona accusing the ECG leader, the musician former boss for nepotism? What about Roland Barthes’s Death of the Author Theory that holds that the author’s intentions and background (including their politics and religion) should have no weight in determining the interpretation of their work as after the release of the work the author enters his or her own death.
We should be ashamed as literary critics to bring in the experiences of the author in the interpretation of the song. The enjoyment of the song needs not to be mixed with the musician life experiences and the song needs to be reviewed on its own right as a piece of art. That said, it has to be noted that Malawian popular art is well known for its camouflage but one can deduce that the lines tries to ridicule Malawian politicians who are customarily religious people but they do not walk the words of what their religions preach because they are easily corrupted by their positions.
In conclusion, the song There is no wine, with its Biblical allusions, is one of those Malawian popular songs which act as a voice for the voiceless to criticise political arrogance, acceleration of public corruption, deteriorating medical standards, low educational standards, the widen gap between the poor and the rich and exorbitant prices of basic things. For one to appreciate the artistry of the song, watching the video is a must to appreciate the nature and the faces of the congregants the persona preaches to.