By Andrew Mulenga
Popular local music is thriving today probably more than any other moment in the history of contemporary Zambian music and one cannot imagine how difficult it should be to compile a collection of it on to a single CD. Who do you include and who do you leave out? How do you select the songs, is it by period, presumed artistic merit or sheer popularity?
|The front cover of the UNWTO Zambian |
music CD compilation
Currently you have awfully popular Zambian by-products of hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall ruling the radio airwaves, pub and nightclub scenes, one cannot go anywhere without being confronted by the likes of the annoyingly infectious No More Love by Macky 2 Ft. K'millian or the equally contagious Go Mama Go by newcomer Karasa, tunes to which you will be caught singing along without realising.
Artists are recording music at a prolifically dizzying pace that is hard to keep up with, the list is endless. You have newcomers such as Muzo aka Alfonso a rapper from Kasama who has sent shivers in the feud-driven ranks of the Zambian rap scene with his hard hitting, multisyllabic rhymes in old-world Bemba, which is beyond his years and borrows heavily from the proverbs and griot-type praise singers of Northern Province. Then there is the likes of the amoebic Danny – over the years his name has carried the suffix of his latest albums ‘Masiku Yonse’, ‘Kaya’, ‘Yakumbuyo’– that has inspired an entire generation of vocalists. There is also Cactus Agony, Petersen, Mozegator, Dalisoul, Slap Dee, Tommy D, Ruff Kid, B-Flow, B1, Alfa Romeo, Roberto, Shyman, Kay Figo, Judy Yo and the reigning queen of popular Zambian music herself Mampi.
But as much as these are not easy to keep up with, contemporary Zambian music has a deep reservoir to draw from if we were to step back a few decades with the likes of Akim Simukonda, Paul Ngozi, Mike Nyoni, Patrick Chisembele, Joyce Nyirongo, Anna Mwale, Muriel Mwamba, Rikki Ililonga, Michael Kumwenda, Daddy Zemus, Laban Kalunga, Lazerous Tembo the legendary Nashil Pitchen Kazembe or the apotheotic Alick Nkhata giving us some of the country's most popular and at the same time influential music over the years.
Paradoxically, none of these famous names, past and present made it on to the recently released UNWTO music compilation CD, “Take Zambia Home with You”, “A Compilation Of The Best In Zambian Music”.
|The back cover and playlist|
The CD was put together by the National Arts Council (NAC) as a small token that visiting delegates to the 20th general assembly could “take home” with them as the writing in the cover jacket suggests.
“This CD compilation comprises some of Zambia’s finest contemporary music. The theme, ‘Take Zambia Home with you’ was specially coined to convey a message of Zambian hospitality to the participants of the 20th UNWTO General Assembly, 24th to 29th August 2013. We hope each and every person will be able to enjoy Zambian culture and heritage by taking the best of Zambian music with them when they travel back to their homes,” reads the CD jacket text.
The 15 track compilation only features Emmanuel Mulemena, Maureen Lilanda, Smokey Haangala, Lily T, Keith Mlevu, Glorious Band, Amayenge, JK, Exile, Dandy Crazy, Alice Chuma, Sakala Brothers, PK Chishala, Nasty D and Indie K in that particular sequence.
These are without doubt some of the biggest names ever to grace the Zambian and to a certain extent international airwaves and the playlist makes a point of acknowledging pioneers such as Mulemena, Mlevu and Haangala while keeping an eye or ear rather on PK Chishala, Amayenge, the Sakala Brothers and the newer crop of artistes.
However, the list is somewhat anaemic in that it is lacking in folk anthems, of which we have so many, some provided by bands such as Green Mamba, Mashombe Blue Jeans, Los Comrados, Masasu, Oliya, Serenje Kalindula Band, Kalambo Hit Parade, Black Power Band, Julizya or the Mulemena Boys.
But again most of these are the kings of Kalindula, at their peak in the 1980s and it is not clear whether the CD was intended as a historic anthology of Zambian music, but judging from the hodgepodge of the selection one gets the feeling that it was.
Again why NAC so easily makes its own decisions without occasionally consulting the general public is a question an arts writer, thankfully, does not have to speculate on. There was enough time to compile this CD, there was no harm in calling on the public to vote for their favourite songs from the 1970s through to 2013 while at the same time categorising the genres. There are a lot of brains out there including within NAC itself and a transparent voting system through either the national broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) or a telecommunication company could have been designed. Frankly, the list at hand looks like the playlist from a personal mobile phone or iPod.
Sadly, for most of the artistes on the CD, the works that made it on the compilation are not even their greatest or indeed most popular works.
Shuka Shuka is Mulemena’s offering. This is followed by Maureen Lilanda’s Mumba, Smokey Haangala’s Baala Ngombe, Osalila by Lily T, Isambo Lyamfwa by Glorious Band, Dailesi by Amayenge, Akapilipili by JK, Kumvela Nimvela by Exile (now known as Izreal), Chintelelwe Chandi by Dandy Crazy, Okondewa by Alice Chuma, Londole by Sakala Brothers, Chimbayambaya Nsenda by PK Chishala, Aitaya by Nasty D and Chipuba (chandi) by Indie K.
Those familiar with these tracks will notice that they are an assortment of love songs and moral essays, which is pretty much the main narrative of Zambian music, be it 1970s folk music and Zamrock, Kalindula of the 1980s and early 1990s, or the R&B-Hiphop- spiced sound of the late 1990s through to 2013.
It is alright to have all this music on one CD, no matter how varied it is in style, but there is no missing the sonic thinness on a few of the songs, particularly the older music most of which needs to be re-mastered. The audible difference between songs such as Mulemena’s Shuka Shuka and Lilanda’s Mumba is unmistakable. As the graceful guitar lines of Shuka Shuka die down, Mumba comes on with the ear-splitting, thump of a baseline that it may not necessarily have but is exaggerated and made noticeable because the newer song is played after an old recording that has not been upgraded by sound experts in the studio.
This continues as Mumba dies down for the older Baala Ng’ombe which is followed by again the newer Osalila subsequently creating an undulating audio pattern of lower to higher sound output. Not really the quality one would like to see a foreign visitor “take home” as a piece of Zambia.
Speaking of foreign visitors, as much as the delegates to the UNWTO meeting were very busy and almost kept within the confines of the general assembly at all times, a few of them did venture into the city of Livingstone to sample its vibrant metropolitan nightlife which is easy to “bar hop” owing to the close proximity of the club scene circuit namely; Limpo’s, East Point, Pub & Grill, Masaka, Chez Ntemba and Fairmount Hotel.
In all these pubs and clubs, the buttock-clenching tunes – or club bangers as they are called – No More Love by Macky 2 featuring K’millian, Go Mama Go by Karasa, Cry of a Woman by self-proclaimed king of Zambian dance hall music B Flow featuring Judy or Foolish Me by Chef 187 Ft. Mo$Money are the everyday anthems and without doubt any delegate – and there were quite a few – that found themselves on a night out surely had a go at dancing to these tracks.
As such there would have been no harm in having them all on the CD because they are not essentially available in stores as some of the artistes have opted to sell their music from their car boots and backpacks; surely the adventurous delegates would no doubt bop their heads to these catchy pop tunes when they get back to Sri Lanka, Columbia, Spain or wherever it is they came from as they remember a night out on the town in Zambia’s tourist capital.
In essence, a 15 track CD was insufficient. What NAC could have done was arrange a double CD or even a three disk gift pack with different genres of Zambian music, this was surely an opportunity, and it is not every day that government funds a music compilation. It appears just as we missed the opportunity of having an updated and comprehensive catalogue of Zambian visual arts for the UNWTO exhibition at the Livingstone museum, we missed the opportunity to have a comprehensive compilation of Zambian music probably ranging from the unbreakable Big Gold Six Band’s Msinje Wazaza to meteorically rising hip-hop group Zone Fam’s Translate.
Of course here, one can argue that the most popular artists of today despite their bubble-gum character also deserved a chance to be on the CD even though they may appeal primarily to a younger demographic, and possess a sound that may not exactly be identified as Zambian. After all there is nothing authentically Zambian about Akapilipili by JK, Kumvela Nimvela by Exile or Chintelelwe Chandi by Dandy Crazy except for the languages in which they are sang.
Still on popularity, some of the country’s most popular singers are gospel artistes. Even though a few may seem to be teetering along the thinning line between Christian music and secular music, the only difference often being the mere mention of Jesus Christ. You have well-liked acts such as hip-hop gospel artiste Mag 44, the eclectic Pompi and Kings with his DRC influenced, highly danceable brand of gospel that rivals secular Congolese singers Werasone and Fali Ipupa’s in its trouser-tearing ability.
As to whether they garner their popularity from the fact that they too appear to have adopted the trendy African American influenced “bling” lifestyle popularised in R&B-hip-hop videos, characterized by fancy cars and flashy clothes, or indeed there is some salvation to be found in their lyrics, it is not clear but it remains a matter of fact that they are extremely popular, they sing to sold-out audiences, enjoy regular airplay and they are also favourites on long distance buses.
But still, it appears no amount of popularity or artistic merit can land these recording artistes on to the UNWTO CD because their Christian themed lyrics, and regardless of whether Zambia is arguably the only self-proclaimed Christian nation on the planet, this is no licence to include religious music on a disk that will be handed out to delegates of varied cultures and belief systems.
Anyway, some of the gospel artistes have collaborated with secular singers and musicians particularly on Chipolopolo football anthems. During the short period that Zambia reigned as African Soccer Champions, our airwaves received a barrage of new songs dedicated to the victorious Zambia National team and some of them do make quite good listening, there would have been no harm in tossing one on the CD. Besides, football is deep rooted in Zambia and how better to take a piece of the country home than a popular football song that has Zambia’s name chanted continuously in its lyrics.
But in any case, maybe non-Zambians have a better ear at determining what can be classified as authentically Zambian than we do ourselves. Take the Zambia Roadside 1 and 2 series of CDs for instance, you can tell that a lot of work and research went into compiling a Tonga, Ila, Lozi, Leya, Aushi and Bemba CD.
“Zambia's musical diversity and richness is indeed a true natural resource, but to this day it is still underestimated and relatively unknown. Michael Baird presents here upbeat rural recordings with deep dance grooves, marvellous drumming, an old xylophone master, exquisite vocal harmonising, uplifting gospel music Zambian-style, the ancient kalumbu bow - a mixture of youth and tradition!”, reads the text on Roadside 2, a CD put together by Michael Baird of Holland recently through the Dutch imprint Sharp Wood (SWP), the same label that compiled Zambush Vol. 1: Zambian Hits from the 80s, Zambush Vol. 2: Zambian Hits from the 60s and 70s which features The Big Gold Six, Emmanuel Mulemena, Nashil Pichen Kazembe and Bestin Mwanza.These CDs have very high audio quality despite most of the music having first been recorded in the post-colonial 1960s. These well compiled CDs would have been gems to give delegates to take home with them, but it is not clear what piece of us it is that we really wanted our guests to take home with them. But then, there is always a next time.