From taking up music at the age of 7, to performing her first gig at the age of 14, Annemarie Quinn, a musician from the U.K, graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a First Class Degree in Music. She has performed at a number of venues and festivals around the U.K, and regularly featured on BBC Introducing.
In 2016 she and her husband decided they wanted a change, so they packed up their life and moved to Malawi, Africa! From the moment she arrived with her guitar, she dived straight into the country’s music industry, and has spent the last 4 years composing, collaborating and recording with the most amazing Malawian musicians to create her upcoming album, Blue Sky Thinking!
Since moving to Malawi, she has also performed at Lake Of Stars (for three consecutive years), Tumaini Festival, Sand Music Festival, Nkhotakota Music Festival, Blantyre Arts Festival, and venues across the country including Jacaranda Cultural Centre, Grittah’s Camp, Kwa Haraba and Mayoka Village, to name a few. “It’s been the most incredible experience having immersed myself in this country’s beautiful culture, and I have been so welcomed into the Malawian arts community”, she says.
We caught up with her to learn more about her work in Malawi and her soon to be released album.
When did you realise that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
I’ve always loved music. I grew up in a home that was filled with music, all day everyday! My parents would always have the radio or CDs playing, I grew up surrounded by the likes of Paul Simon, U2, Bob Marley, The Drifters, Bruce Springsteen – our house was never quiet. I took up the violin at the age of 7 and began singing in my school choir. Even at such a young age, I found music to be such a release and a way to express myself. I’ve always been fascinated by how something so emotive and beautiful can’t be seen, but only heard – this made me want to explore further. I studied music through school, took as many instrument lessons as I could get, and I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. I then went on to study music in university and learnt so much – and that’s the thing – we never stop learning. I think sometimes people think that if they’ve learnt an instrument, then ‘that’s it! I don’t have to practice anymore!’ But the truth is, we should never stop pushing ourselves to learn. Moving to Malawi has taught me so much, both in my personal and professional life. I’ve listened to chord progressions, harmonies and rhythms that I’ve never heard before, and welcomed it into my compositions – it’s been wonderful!
What or whom would you say has been the most important influence when it comes to your music?
The most important thing is to be open minded – I remember my guitar teacher telling me to listen to all different kinds of music; whether you like it or not, it’s important to form critical opinions rather than just ‘this sounds good, this sounds bad’. There’s something to be learnt from all different genres of music, so listen to as much as you can!
As I mentioned, my parents played the most awesome music to me which definitely had a subconscious effect on me. My all-time favourite musician has to be Paul Simon. My Dad is a huge fan, so we’d always listen together. Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ was my soundtrack growing up; at the time I loved it, but had no idea just how much of an inspiration it would be to me. ‘Graceland’ is still to this day, my most favourite album. That’s what’s amazing about music; each part of your life can be mapped by the songs you were immersed in at the time, and as soon as you listen to them, you’re transported back to that moment.
As someone who studied Classical Music, would you advise upcoming artists who have the opportunity to do so, to take the time to study music formally as well? Advantages and/or disadvantages?
For me, music is a balance between natural talent and studies. Formally studying music is brilliant, especially music theory, as you’re able to understand not only what you’re playing, but why the notes fit together, allowing your compositions to progress. But studying can only take you so far; passion and talent is also needed! I’ve seen the most incredible musicians here in Malawi who can’t read a single note of music, yet they’ve managed to build themselves a guitar from an oil can and bicycle brakes and have taught themselves chords. How amazing! But often without music theory, it can be difficult to progress further. So for me I think it’s important to have a balance of both elements, which then allows the other to excel. Nature vs. Nurture – that’s a difficult one. Don’t get me wrong, I think you can have a natural talent, but unless you nurture and develop it, there’s only so far you’ll go. I’ve always loved music and sure, it came naturally to me, but I’ve worked SO hard over the past 15 years to get to where I am now. Extra classes, self-studies, revision, exams, there’s so much that’s needed to help yourself grow and succeed, other than just ‘talent’.
What inspired you to take the leap of faith in 2016 and move to Malawi to work on your album, here, out of any other place you could have gone to in the world?
We just wanted a change! We were living in a part of UK that had recently flooded with bad rains so we just thought, why not, if we don’t try, we’ll never know. I visited The Gambia when I was 17 years old on a school trip and was totally blown away. I fell in love with feeling out of my comfort zone and experiencing new cultures. I always knew I’d love to go back to Africa at some point! My husband, Andy, who teaches at an International School here in Malawi, had never been to Africa before, so we just went for it and have zero regrets! But I really do believe everything happens for a reason, and you make your own luck. We’ve had a brilliant time here in Malawi, but we’ve put a lot of hard work in too, and made sure we’ve made the most of every opportunity – life is what you make it.
What has your move to Malawi proved wrong in terms of any misconceptions you may have had prior to you actually living here?
I remember as the date for leaving the UK came closer, I felt nervous. I was leaving everything I’d known – family, friends, all the links and work I’d built up. Would anyone be interested in playing with me?! I was this random British girl rocking up with my guitar – I had these big ideas about recording an album, but didn’t actually know any musicians, and hadn’t written any of the songs yet! I did as much research as I could before leaving the UK about music in Malawi, but couldn’t find much online. Fortunately, I was booked to perform at Lake Of Stars before I moved so I was looking forward to that. But as soon as I arrived in Malawi and started to get to know artists, I realised there was SO much music happening here! There wasn’t much online but I’d managed to find out what was going on! It was brilliant, before I knew it I had met so many musicians and was booked to perform at all different festivals and events around the country. You’ve just got to work hard and get sucked in!
You have raised a lot of money for charity, and you also give of your time by teaching music at Jacaranda school for orphans in Blantyre. How has that experience impacted you, not only as an artist but as a person?
Whilst living here in Malawi, I feel it is important to help in a sustainable way, rather than handouts or quick fixes. I was first introduced to Jacaranda School For Orphans in 2017 after visiting and performing at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC is linked with the school and helps to raise funds for them). I visited the school and was totally blown away by the work they do. Straight away I knew I just had to get involved and help with the music programme, it’s the least I can do whilst I’m living here. Over the past 2 years I have been working with the Jacaranda students, teaching music theory, guitar and violin, song writing and vocal training. The students have the most amazing voices, and it’s been such a privilege to have them sing on my album. Back to the nature vs. nurture comment – these children have the most incredible natural talent, I don’t ever want to alter that, all I have done is given them the tools and knowledge to further themselves and pass these skills on to other students, creating a sustainable model.
I am also co-founder of the NGO, Music Against Malaria, working with Musician Code Sangala, to raise funds and awareness in the fight against Malaria, whilst promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of Malawi. It’s an absolute honour to contribute what I can to this work.
Your words “Do less, but well,” stuck with me. You spoke about focusing more on sustainable ways of helping those in need. What would that look like to you and what would you say to other people who have the desire to help but are not too sure on how to go about it?
(This is more linked to the album) I believe this to be such a powerful phrase to live by. It’s not saying to make your dreams or goals smaller, but rather to break down what you’d like to achieve, start small and take manageable steps to what you imagine in a conscious and kind way to yourself. If I arrived in Malawi and tried to record this album in the first couple of months, it never would have worked, and I would have felt like I’d failed before I even started. No, the best things in life take time, put the work in, and do the best you can everyday, that’s all you can do, and what will be will be. But that’s not me saying sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you – definitely not! It’s great to let things naturally develop, but there’s also nothing wrong in giving it a good push in the right direction too!
(This is more linked to the charity work) I believe there are so many people who want to help and I’m in a great position to facilitate this sustainably whilst living here. I really wanted to create a clear and transparent grass roots NGO that shows people exactly where their donations are going. And I think that’s what people like, the transparency. As humans, we like to see results, and our efforts being appreciated. So rather than donating money into a big pot, I’ve been able to follow the donations through and show donors exactly where their contributions are going to, whether that’s to Music Against Malaria, or The Jacaranda School For Orphans. For example, some friends from the UK sent clothes and stationary for Jacaranda, and when the items arrived here I took them straight to the school and donated them personally, sending photos to the donors as evidence. This creates a personal connection and it’s a great feeling for donors to see what they’ve given making a direct change. So many people want to help, and I’m in such a great position to facilitate these donations!
How has working with artists that may not have the best in terms of resources or equipment affected the way you view the process of making music or creating art?
The recording process has been super interesting – each recording session has a story of some kind, ones of laughter, friendships and struggle, transport breaking down, power cuts, musicians unable to make the session due to malaria, and some turning up with malaria and recording anyway – you name it, it happened! But where there are problems, there are always solutions to be found, and Malawians are amazing at that!
The Blue Sky Thinking album has been recorded in a number of different locations, mostly in the studio I built in my home here in Blantyre, which we’ve named Pamodzi Studio (a collective word in Chichewa meaning community). For my studio, I wanted to support local Malawian traders in its construction, so I used local carpenters to build two huge baffles, creating a vocal booth, and covered the walls in foam and chitenje. We also recorded Ituma Music Productions for drum kit, The Music Farm Studios in UK for some of the acoustic guitar and on location around the Malawi! For example, I packed up the studio and travelled to Nkhata Bay to record Lusubilo Band, right on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi, and it was amazing! We recorded The Jacaranda School For Orphans in their school hall, and met with Lazarus in Lilongwe, where we made a vocal booth out of a mattress in a hotel to record his vocals! I began collaborating with Faith Mussa just as Covid 19 hit Malawi, so we weren’t able to meet physically; so instead I sent him the tracks, and he recorded his parts in his studio in Lilongwe and sent them to me. There’s always a way!
You have a few notable Malawian artists such as Faith Mussa on the list of people you have collaborated with. How much of an influence do you think this has had on the overall sound of Blue Sky thinking?
I really wanted to take my time with this album and get to know musicians, rather than just a feature. I feel like I’ve made some great friends throughout the recording, and I’m so grateful to each and every artist. Blue Sky Thinking features over 40 musicians including Faith Mussa, Code Sangala, Lusubilo Band, Agorosso, Goma Nyondo, Kennedy Phiri, Jacaranda School For Orphans, Patrick Chimbewa, amongst others. Rather than just diving straight into the music, I took the time to get to know musicians – we met for jam sessions, hung out and played gigs together. I fee that that’s when the true collaboration comes; when everyone feels comforatble with each other. I’ve felt so welcomed into Malawi’s music scene, it’s been an honour to have worked and performed with such amazing musicians. People have reached out from all over the country to let me know how much they enjoy my music, and it means so much to me to hear that. I’ve tried my best to make my music accessible to both Malawian and international audiences, I’ve even added some Chichewa in my album too, with one of my tracks titled ‘Osadandaula’!
I’ve always been aware of cultural appropriation – I didn’t set out to write an album that sounds ‘African’ – I’m a British, so why would I do that?! Haha! But rather to explore and create a balance between my singer songwriter sound with a flare of the Malawian vibe. When I started explaining this idea to people, I was met with nothing but love, encouragement and enthusiasm by the Malawians. The artists I’ve collaborated with are all so different, but equally inspiring. They’ve brought ideas and created parts I never could have imagined. I sometimes feel collaboration is seen as a sign of weakness, that you can’t do it on your own. But I believe this couldn’t be more wrong, we are stronger and more efficient together. It’s been amazing to watch these musicians bring their own flare, styles and ideas to each piece of the album, I’m so grateful to every single artist that has been a part of Blue Sky Thinking, it’s been a celebration of merging cultures; we had the most amazing time creating it, and I hope you can hear that in the music!
Blue Sky Thinking is essentially the bringing together of two different worlds to create a space in which they coexist. Is this album anything close to what you first imagined it would be?
Good question! It’s funny, at the beginning I don’t think I really knew what I wanted the record to be like! I had ideas, but never thought the outcome would be what we have created. It fills me with so much pride and gratitude to listen to the songs, it’s everything I could have imagined and more! I think the title ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ sums this up well; the title has two meanings; firstly, to create and think without limitations, and if we want to live limitlessly, we must be daring. I feel this represents the creation of the album itself – when I arrived in Malawi I knew I wanted to create an album but didn’t know a single person. So putting yourself out there and working hard pays off, and it’s been the most amazing journey!
And secondly the phrase ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ means, to always look for the positives, a dedication to the incredible determination, optimism and innovation of Malawians I’ve had the honour of experiencing whilst living here.
When we spoke, the album had just been sent to the UK for Mastering, (the post-production process of optimizing music and preparing it for distribution). After 4 years and over 40 Malawian artists on it, are you ready to finally listen back to the labour of love that is Blue Sky thinking?
Oh, so ready!! There are so many emotions – excitement, gratitude, relief, nerves, I just can’t wait to hear what people think about it, I really hope you like it! I just want people to love it just as much as we do and to enjoy it – we certainly enjoyed creating it and surely that’s the whole point; why do something if you don’t enjoy it?
‘Music’ is so vast and there are so many incredible albums out there, I’m honoured to be adding my work into the mix. It’s scary, but I’ve always approached the music industry as a place to carving out your own space rather than feeling it’s a competition- there’s room for everyone to succeed.
I really hope when you listen to Blue Sky Thinking, that first and foremost you enjoy the music itself! But I also invite you to take a moment to find out a bit more about who and exactly what you’re listening, the stories behind the songs, the recording process and the Malawian artists featured- each are so different yet equally inspiring with incredible stories, which I feel will enhance the connection to the record.
Blue Sky Thinking has been shaped by the bustle of a thriving Malawian market, the beats of a bao game, the sunsets over the national parks, choirs singing on the back of pick-up trucks and the constant push and pull between loving this amazing country and respecting its culture whilst staying true to my own. I can’t believe it’s finally done, I’ve loved every single moment!
They say music is a reflection of self; do you think the album represents who you are at this moment in time and, is the rest of the world ready for it as well?
I couldn’t agree with this more! Music is definitely a reflection of yourself and that’s exactly what Blue Sky Thinking is. It represents the most amazing chapter of my life living in Malawi. Blue Sky Thinking is four years of experience, emotion and the total immersion into a country’s culture, connecting and merging humans from all walks of life. I hope people will get lost in the in the stories of this album and hope the music takes you somewhere you’ve never been before. I hope this album brings you as much joy listening to it as we had creating it!
Blue Sky Thinking – available to download on all major platforms on 22nd January 2020 (Pre-order Saturday 12th December)
Connect with Annemarie via her website, www.annemariequinn.co.uk and via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – @AnnemarieQuinn
Interviewed by Bongani Mahlangu, Twitter: @Originalboi_b
Zimbabwean Musician and Model Rudo Amor Talks About Her Invisible Scars – #EndGBV
“I would just sit and try to calm him down, which would only make him worse, until one day he “accidentally” hit my jaw. But even after that, I stayed.”
Award winning musician and professional model, Rudo Nyoni, popularly known as Rudo Amor, is not a stranger to speaking out about Gender Based Violence (GBV). She took time to share her experiences with us, and to give a few words of encouragement to women who are afraid to leave abusive relationships.
You’ve had all the success as a musician and professional model; however, you have also experienced your fair share of heartbreak, as well as ‘aggressive’ partners in relationships, as you put it. You actually did an Instragram post quite recently, about a very emotionally abusive relationship which you managed to get out of. Can you tell us briefly about that, and how you managed to pull yourself out of those kinds of relationships?
I was involved with a guy I had known for years and we dated for almost 4 years. At first he was the perfect gentleman; he was sweet, thoughtful, funny, and he would sing to me… but then things started changing! He started getting jealous of my friends and the amount of time I would spend with them, till he would insist on seeing me every day, and he would humiliate me in public by shouting at me or making me feel stupid. I thought it was a bit much, but because I was in love and wanted him to be happy and secure, I went along with this. He then started getting emotionally abusive when we would argue, and most times it was about how I had somehow disrespected him. He would lock his office door and shout at me for hours, and tell me not to speak. He would punch walls and break chairs at times. I was terrified to do anything, so I would just sit there and try to calm him down, which would only make him worse, until one day he “accidentally” hit my jaw. But even after that, I stayed. I broke it off after spending more time in prayer and with my friends who never gave up on me. I believe if it wasn’t for God and for those good friends of mine, I would have married him, despite the fact that I was so miserable.
At some point a few years ago you were dating someone else, and you went as far as calling off your wedding to him just three or four days before the big day. Can you tell us more about that situation, and what gave you the strength and courage to put yourself first and get out of an unhappy relationship, despite the fact that you had spent thousands of your own money on the wedding preparations and knowing that people will talk?
Firstly I would like to say there was nothing really wrong with my ex, he was a great guy and very passionate about God. We just were not meant to be together, and God made it very clear towards the wedding. I still feel like I was a fool at times for not asking more questions, and why I could not just put my foot down and refuse to pay for the things we agreed to get for the wedding, and why I believed in him so much. But well, I was naïve and in love, and under the philosophy that ‘you always trust your man’.
A lot of people thought that I was the one pushing for the wedding, because people could see that he wasn’t ready for the financial commitments involved, but I believed him when he said he had it all figured out. So when he came to me a week before the wedding to tell me that he had no money and couldn’t pay me back or pay his portion of the wedding, and that he had been lying about his business and finances, I forgave him – on the condition that he wouldn’t lie to me again, and that he would ask his parents to assist him, and I would get mine to do the same. Well… that promise was broken two days later when he asked me to postpone the wedding and forfeit all the deposits and money I had paid for, so that we could then have the wedding in the manner which his father wanted. I felt shattered because I had worked 7 days a week, seeing service providers and making payments, and he didn’t even appreciate the efforts I had made and would still want to please his father, even though the father wasn’t willing to contribute.
I had been praying and fasting the previous two weeks with my mum, so I somehow found the strength to call off the wedding and engagement. My eyes were opened and I realized that things would never change, and that if I continued, I would be doomed to a life of investing myself in a relationship where I hardly get any support from him, and that our lives would be dictated by his family and what they wanted. I chose to leave for the sake of my peace of mind, and it was a very difficult decision to make because we were attending the same church and horrible things were said about me, even though I was the one who was betrayed and financially drained. I recovered no funds, but I turned it around and donated a lot of the things I had paid for to other brides and people as a seed offering to God. It was the strength of my family, especially my mum who would sleep with me for a month, praying for me daily after the break up, the relatives who drove from Harare just to see me, and relatives who called, and friends who prayed for me and my grandfather’s love and support that brought me through it. I did not return to my former church because too much was said, and I felt I could not heal and move on if I continued going there.
You have had all the success as a professional model for corporates and big organisations. Can you tell us if you have faced (or continue to face) any form of gender-based discrimination, seeing as most firms are usually male-dominated, and if yes, what did/do you do to stop that from happening?
I have been fortunate to have worked with big brands such as P.P.C, Edgars, Econet, Delta etc., and to have been under a great agency, AM Model Management, and these great companies I have mentioned were so professional. I was shielded from unsolicited attention most times, except for events that were with other companies and event organisers. As I am also a singer, most events are organized by men and sometimes the lines of professionalism are blurred, especially when dealing directly with them, and even in terms of music producers.
It isn’t easy being a female singer and model in Zimbabwe… well Africa in general (laughs); because we are taught as females from a young age to respect men, specifically older men, as they are ‘father figures’, but there are so many times that men try to take advantage. I’ve had cases where I have had men approach me wanting to be my manager or offer opportunities, only to then try to date me, and when I would refuse, the show would be cancelled or the deal withdrawn. I have since learnt that the only way to deal with these things and to stop them from happening, is by avoiding meeting potential male managers and booking agents and promoters alone. Through the grooming lessons I have conducted with Open Eye Studio (owned by Samantha Tshuma), I have highlighted the need for models to set boundaries and personal goals, so that no one can attempt to take advantage of them and succeed in doing so all because of an ‘opportunity’. I continue to talk to models and singers about the dangers in the arts industry and the business world in general.
The world has just been commemorating 16 Days of Activism Against GBV. What have you as an influential person in Bulawayo done during this period to raise awareness of the need to curb GBV?
During this period I have used my social media to share on my own experiences, and we have a series we are working on under SisNxtGen. We want to focus on the root cause of GBV, which in most cases is how a child is brought up. We have many boys growing up being told to not show their emotions because that is weakness and it’s only for girls, and as such, some grow up with anger and resentment, and because they were not taught healthy ways of expressing their emotions, they lash out at women and men and children. We also have girls growing up being conditioned for abusive relationships through watching their mothers being abused, and being told that this is normal and okay. I believe that raising awareness must be a daily thing and not just over a certain timeframe, as cases of GBV keep rising and have alarmingly done so during this Covid-19 pandemic.
You are currently the Programme Manager for SisNxtGen, an intitiative founded by Culture Fund Zimbabwe and supported by EU in Zimbabwe, whose aim is to train upcoming female musicians in production, management, sound engineering, radio presenting, podcast and DJing. What inspired your decision to want to get involved in that kind of a programme?
As a female musician having faced so many challenges in music production, like how to communicate to producers exactly what I want when recording, and the lockdown forcing music recording to come to a stop, I decided with the team that we have to come up with a programme to address such issues. You will also notice that there are very few female music producers and sound engineers in Zimbabwe, and those professions have been male dominated for years, worldwide.
In your opinion, do you think that such programmes are useful in empowering women to become independent and to stand up for themselves? Are you already seeing tangible results from this particular programme?
We believe that this initiative will firstly empower young female artists to get more control over their music, and be able to produce for themselves and other artists. The various programmes which we are running will assist them to earn an income in fields normally reserved for men.
We have already finished the Music Business Management trainings where 15 females were trained and I watched them come out of their shells and regain confidence that they could make it in the music industry. Some who are already managers have already begun implementing the information they received with the artists they are managing.
We completed the training in Music Recording and Production on the 19th of December, and some of our participants have already almost completed their own original compositions. All the participants now know how to set up a studio, capture vocals and instruments, and have learnt the basics in mixing.
Cases of GBV have been on the rise this year, especially during lockdown. What are your words of advice to women who would love to get out of abusive relationships, but because of financial dependency, and cultural and societal norms, are finding themselves stuck in those situations?
You are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and He is your source – not a man, and if He is in your corner, then He will provide for you, if you will just believe that everything you need in life to survive and succeed is already inside of you. You carry gifts inside of you that only you can give, and no man can ever take that away. You have the potential to carry and give birth to life, and that is by far the greatest miracle on earth.
Remember that you can only live your life once, and once its gone, you can not get it back or redo it. So today, decide to choose to love yourself enough to leave that man who doesn’t love you, and let the man who was created for you love you as you were created to be. “Love is patient, kind, doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, it doesn’t dishonour others, it is slow to anger, forgives all things, it protects always, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres; love never fails”. 1st Corinthians 13:4-8 (paraphrased).
Connect with Rudo Amor
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Sango Edi – Giving Cameroon’s Makossa a Facelift
“The search for my identity as a Cameroonian inspired me to switch to Makossa.”
Born and raised in Buea, south-west of Cameroon, in West Central Africa, Sango Edi is a a recording artist and music producer who is taking the Cameroon music scene by storm. Currently based in Douala, Cameroon, Sango is making waves with his latest hit single, Moukanjo, which will have you nodding your head and feeling ‘some typ’a way’.
Sango started music in 2007, but his career as a producer began officially in 2010 when he started working as a music producer for a music studio which his uncle owned at the time. Before then, the singer and producer says he used to make music uncomfortably at friends’ houses, until he had the chance to run an actual studio – which became more of a learning process for him. “I wouldn’t say I learned music in school, I am more of self-taught, with plenty of assistance from my mentors, and of course, YouTube (chuckles).”
We caught up with him to learn more about his music and what inspires him.
You have been very passionate about assisting young people grow in their music careers in the region where you come from. What motivated you to take that path?
There’s an African saying which goes, “One hand no fit tie a bundle”, and I believe that sentence speaks for itself. We come from a place where people are selfish with ideas, and people want to only have the final meal from themselves, meanwhile there’s enough to go around. I have this personal saying that “Teach one person and you create a legend, but teach and uplift as many as you can, and you create a fleet of legends”. I mean, what’s better than one? Two, right? And giving back is my own way of thanking those who taught me and brought me up. If I don’t pass on the knowledge, then that would just make me a selfish person who doesn’t want to leave any legacy or create one.
You have switched genres a few times along the way, can you tell us more about that, and which genre are you focusing on now?
Switching genres was a way for me to find where I’m at now, which I think is the perfect place to be, because I am sitting on a solid rock that my forefathers constructed. I started off as a rapper before turning into a trap beat producer, then I had to start singing around 2012 when my long-time friend “Arrey”, forced me into singing. From there I decided to sing more and rap less, while simultaneously producing for others more than myself. The genre I’m focusing on now is Makossa, a very huge brand from this side of the world, and it is a genre which was once engineered by the likes of Manu Dibango, Kotto Bass, Sam Fan Thomas, to name a few. I chose this genre because it is my identity, it is a part of where I’m from, and it’s a means for people to know and understand where I come from, and be able to get inside my world. I could say that that’s what inspired me to get into this genre.
What or who inspired your decision to switch to Makossa?
The search for my identity as a Cameroonian inspired me to switch to Makossa, and one of my biggest motivators was/is Jules Nya, who is my ‘Artists and Repertoire’ (A & R), and mentor. He is a very monumental figure in these parts, and also one of the pioneers of Cameroonian urban music. He pushed me to find myself, and I’m grateful that I found the right direction during my search.
In your opinion, how important is it for an artist to have a manager who supports his/her dreams, but is also upfront and frank with the artist, and tells them when they think they can improve on their music?
I think that’s a very important and key factor to every successful artist. Having ‘yes-men’ around you doesn’t help you or anyone grow. If anything, one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing now and getting better at it every day, is because my manager and mentor told me straight to my face that the song I dropped before was “total sh**”, in those exact words (chuckles). I believe if people learn to be as real with each other as possible, the world (the arts industry especially), would be better and greater than it already is.
Your current genre speaks a lot about your journey as a musician, and particularly your growth, self-awareness and appreciation of your ‘Africanness’. Tell us more about that.
We come from a place where westerners stripped us of our identity. For hundreds of years we have had generation after generation growing up to know and understand that the western ways are the right ways of doing things, and in that light, ignoring our core identity and cultural values. We tend to copy from the wrong people and kill our own, thus barking up the wrong tree. I believe that as Africans, we need to start embracing our cultures and making sure that we have strong and solid core cultural values, because Africa was built on cultural values. I use this as a process of learning and finding out about myself and my motherland, as well as connecting with Her. It is very important for the African child to know the amount of greatness they carry, the amount of love and power buried deep within them, and the riches hidden deep beneath these soils we walk on. I grew up knowing another person’s perspective of Africa, which was completely incorrect information, and I wouldn’t want my kids and their kids to grow up in that kinda world. Africa is now.
Your new single, ‘Moukanjo’, has done extremely well. It has a very deep meaning, and as you say, you didn’t want it to be ‘just another regular love song”. Can you tell us what the song is about and what it means, and what message did you want it to convey to the world?
The song MOUKANJO is a very communicative song, if I can put it that way. MOUKANJO, from where I am from, is a certain type of fish which was a delicacy back in the day, and was used mostly for important events and occasions. So I was/am expressing my love for a girl and telling her how important she is to me – as important as the fish was, or still is, from these parts. That’s the reason why the song has a water or ocean setting. It’s a way for people to not just listen to a regular love song, but also pick something from it while listening. I believe part of my job is to educate the youth and shed more light to their knowledge.
How has the response been to the new path of music which you have taken?
Oh my, the response has been amazing. I am really grateful for everyone I work with; my team, my co-writer (who happens to be my mother-tongue coach and translator), and everyone contributing to this new journey of mine. It has been really beautiful, and I applaud everyone supporting me so far – ending out God’s blessings to each and every one of those people who took time to consume my music and connect with me.
Judging from what we have seen on YouTube, the Cameroon music industry is quite ‘lit’, and there is a lot of competition. How do you set yourself apart from the rest of the musicians, and how do you maintain a unique sound?
First of all it’s key to note that we don’t do Afrobeat in Cameroon, but we generally do Makossa, Bikutsi, Bendskin, Njang and pop. Makossa is the most popular of them all. It’s an urban music genre from Cameroon with a rich heritage, as big or even bigger than Afrobeat at its prime. A genre that produced world-class acts like Manu Dibango,Sam, Fan Thomas, Ekambi Brilliant, Ben Decca, and Petit Pays. My music already speaks for itself and stands out – more like Pizza, you know. I figured that doing what you love and not what people want, sets you automatically apart from everyone else, and that’s a very soothing vantage, right?!
It is quite sad but common in Africa that even some of the best musicians do not make enough to earn a decent living out of their craft. You are quite blessed to have a job as a producer and audio engineer to supplement your income. What do you think we can do as Africans to empower young, upcoming artists and to raise awareness of the need to have other streams of income?
I believe it’s up to the youth to learn from the right people, instead of copying the ‘social media’ lifestyle which, of course, every youth that comes into the music or entertainment scene wants to live. It’s also up to those who are already there to make sure they educate the younger ones that there’s a great need for them to get regular jobs until their music starts paying, before they can solely depend on the music as a constant income. But even at that, we should learn to teach the younger people about investing and owning property. That’s how you stay winning. For some people, music ‘blows up’ fast – those are the lucky ones. But for others, it takes a longer time; so while waiting to get your big break, I will always suggest that you get something to do to fuel that musical engine of yours, that’s how you get to be twice as serious, because you know it’s literally your sweat and blood. That’s just my point of view.
You are so passionate about Africa and its talent and potential. Given a chance, which African country would be your first choice to visit and why?
You are so passionate about Africa and its talent and potential. Given a chance, which African country would be your first choice to visit and why?
Nigeria, no doubt. I love how passionate they are about their own things. They are very patriotic people as well, and they’ve just got so much which one can and should learn from.
Which music or musicians from other African countries inspire(s) you, and why?
Burna Boy is always on the top of my list. It’s simple – he is an African man, a very conscious African man; exactly the type of person I would love to be – merging my musical Heritage with a perfect blend of my personal originality, and giving it back to the community. The late James Brown too; his performance energy and the amount of work and passion he put in his art as I read, was fabulous and extremely beautiful. He touched and still touches so many lives with his art, and he gave music that would last generations. That’s something to look up to.
Usually in life it takes a long time for one to reach their full potential and to realise their dreams. What is your advice to young and upcoming African artists who are trying to make it in the music industry? And what advice would you give to those who have made it while young, in order for them to maintain their status?
This advice goes to myself as well: “Every young artist, while struggling to get into the music or entertainment scene, should get a steady source of income. That’s the only way they can stay consistent in their art – invest in yourself, because you are your biggest product. For those who have made it, do the same, and invest and own assets, more than liabilities.
Photography by @gettoknow_mimshack
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Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Music and the Arts With U.K Based Radio Personality, “The Air Marshall Commander” – Phillip Sibanda
Phillip Sibanda talks about his latest community project, as well as what is lacking in the music industry in Matabeleland, and what can be done to bring about change.
Born in a family of many radio personalities, it was only inevitable that MC, Radio Presenter, Producer and Media Researcher, Phillip Sibanda, also became a prominent radio personality. Currently working at Wythenshawe FM 97.2 in Manchester, and freelancing at Radio54 Panorama, Phillip talks about his latest community project, as well as what is lacking in the music industry in Matabeleland, and what can be done to bring about change.
What or who inspired you to become a radio presenter?
I come from a family of three renowned Zimbawean broadcasters namely Eric Knight, Kelvin Sifelani and Comfort Mbofana. So without a doubt, they definitely inspired me to get into radio broadcasting.
How are you related to the famous Zimbabwean former radio DJ Eric Knight and what is your current working relationship with him?
Eric is my cousin, we grew up together and thus we are very close. When he started his latest project, Radio54 African Panorama, I was the first one to get a call about it and we are now working together on that project.
How important do you think radio still is in this day and age where people can use podcasts, be their own DJ and stream all the music they like?
Radio is still very important because when you look at it, a lot of the people doing podcasts and live streams are actually emulating, and are inspired by conventional radio DJs. We as conventional radio DJs also very much embrace podcast and live streaming tech, because it affords us a wider reach from all over the world. It is only unfortunate that in countries like Zimbabwe, WiFI or data is very expensive and not everyone has a smartphone, thus we cannot reach as many people as we would love to.
Is radio a dying art or is it still alive and kicking?
In my opinion, radio will never die! Radio stations whose content is well-balanced and cater for various demographics will certainly thrive, or continue to thrive.
Tell us about Saving Souls Community Development Trust. How did it come about?
Helping the less fortunate has always been a part of me from a young age. My grandfather was well known in our village community for his charity work, and my mother was a Social Worker, so naturally, they taught me that you can, and must make a difference. Having grown up in Matabeleland which is socio-economically marginalised, I decided to team up with a group of people from Matabeleland, which includes musicians and artists and other professionals who are based mostly in the diaspora, so that we could start this initiative to help disadvantaged people in our region back home. We are still in the process of registering the Trust, and we believe that together we will be able to make a difference in our people’s lives.
What are the long-term goals of the initiative with regards to supporting the arts and music industry in Zimbabwe?
We want to see artists from our region recognised, especially the young and upcoming ones. It hurts me to see young, talented artists whose music is not recognised and does not receive much airplay for various reasons; therefore we have taken it upon ourselves to promote their talent and give them that recognition, at the same time assisting them to raise the standards and quality of their work.
Do you have any plans of establishing a kind of Pension Fund scheme for retired Zimbabwean artists?
Yes, that is definitely in the pipeline. I personally do not know much about technicalities and legalities, so I am fortunate to have a team of professionals assisting me with drafting the documents. First and foremost of course, would be to sit down with the artists themselves, and hear what kind of a future they would want after retiring from performing, and see if we can assist them with making their dreams a reality.
So what inspired you to take the necessary steps to make that a reality?
Frankly speaking, this is a topic that I have been discussing for a while now with musicians such as Jeys Marabini, Madlela and poets like Obert Dube and Mehlo kaZulu. I was touched when Jeys Marabini told me that he had been booed and pelted off the stage in Harare simply for singing in isiNdebele. This is one of the reasons I decided that we need to do something to appreciate our musicians while they are still alive.
How do you plan to get artists to buy in and believe in this initiative?
We plan to market and promote the artists who will be part of our initiative by organising shows for them. Gate takings from the shows will be donated to selected beneficiaries such as orphanages, and a percentage of the takings will be given to the musicians as tokens of appreciation. Each musician or artist who will be part of our initiative will be known as an Ambassador. As we have more shows, we hope that this will improve the lives of the musicians and those of the selected beneficiaries.
How do you think we can help artists to better understand the business side of the industry in order to have fewer stories of them being taken advantage of and being left with very little to nothing after many years of successful careers?
The same way I have trusted professionals in my camp assisting me with certain issues, I think that artists should also strive to find people that they can trust, and who have their best interests at heart, to manage their affairs. At the same time, one should always be wary and vigilant, because even those that you trust the most can still take advantage of you. Platforms like Spotify are now available, and it is now easier to sell your music and receive your money directly. Artists should take advantage of tech and be very proactive on their financial issues. We also need to encourage especially the young and upcoming artists, to invest in businesses and properties when they manage to get windfalls. If you are fortunate enough to get a big deal which brings you a substantial amount of money, do not spend it all on parties and entertaining friends. Humility goes a long way.
How can we as ordinary listeners help to support and invest in our artists in this modern age of sharing music via social media and illegal downloads?
First and foremost, it is of paramount importance that we discourage piracy all around the world. Secondly, as a presenter, I would encourage especially Zimbabwean musicians, to work on improving the quality of their music productions so that we can support them even more. Some of the best musicians in the world will take a whole year recording and producing just one album, meanwhile you find our own artists releasing a track or an album every two months or so. This leads to substandard, poor quality work which cannot be promoted or shared with the rest of the world. Lastly, I encourage artists to put their music on digital platforms such as iTunes and Spotify where people have to pay to get their music, and we as members of the public should strive to support them by buying their music. Radio stations and their presenters as well should avoid asking for free downloads from artists, and support them by purchasing their music.
A lot of artists from places like Bulawayo, for example Lovemore Majaivana, have decried a lack of support in their hometowns. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this happening and how can we change it?
A few weeks ago I interviewed Albert Nyathi, who happens to be Lovemore Majaivana’s cousin, and he narrated the sad story of how only very few people paid for tickets to watch Lovemore perform in Bulawayo recently. It is heartbreaking when your own people do not support you. The only way to get around that, is by pre-selling tickets before a show. Show promoters also need to improve on their work of marketing these shows. Even when economic times were not so bad, I have heard a lot of artists who perform in Bulawayo saying there were only 15 audience members in a theatre of 300 people capacity. We really need to remember that these artists make their living by performing, and we should try our best to support them.
Many artists feel that their success is dependent on their location as many aspire to “make it” in the capital city, Harare. As a radio personality, how have you seen the introduction of more community radio stations improve the lives or careers of artists in those smaller areas?
The introduction of stations like Skyz Metro in Bulawayo has improved the recognition for artists in and around Bulawayo. But still, it is not enough and more can and should be done. It is a very unfortunate situation that for you to receive a community radio station license in Zimbabwe, one has to pay thousands of dollars, and still it is not even guaranteed that you will get that license, as the process is very much politicised. Corruption is a pandemic which has kept our country so backwards, and further worsens the situation in already marginalised regions like Matabeleland. It would be wonderful for Filabusi, Binga, Tsholotsho and other areas to have their own radio stations. Children could grow up listening to people broadcasting in their own areas and in their own languages such as Kalanga, Tonga, tshiVenda, etc. The fact that everything is still centralised in major cities is a deterrent because people from small towns might not have access to, or the means to travel to a major city to submit their work. It is also a sad scenario where presenters of big radio stations allegedly take bribes from artists in return for airplay. If that is true, it is absolutely heartbreaking for talented artists from less fortunate backgrounds.
Why do you also think it is the case that local artists seem to be appreciated more outside of their countries? A case in point is Afro-Fusion musician Prudence Mabhena, who is a household name in foreign countries such as America and Switzerland, but not so much at home.
In Prudence’s case, it is quite obvious that she is not recognised hugely because of her disability, and this breaks my heart. Overseas, facilities and venues are wheelchair accessible and people are more trained on how to care for someone with special needs like hers, and therefore she is not viewed as any different from able-bodied people.
On other local artists not being recognised, again money comes into play – where only the big names can afford to market themselves more, or to pay presenters for airplay, as is alleged. I guess it is also a matter of who you know, which is quite unfair.
In your opinion, do you think the arts industry will ever grow to similar levels as the South African arts industry? What do you think can be done to improve all aspects of the arts and music industry?
I’m sorry to say, but some of the music from Zimbabwe is of very poor quality. As I mentioned before, a lot of artists do rushed jobs when recording and producing their music. Another problem is that our artists want to copy South African or American musicians, with very poor end results. In order for our artists to improve the music industry, a lot of them first have to improve on the quality of their products. Take your time when composing or recording, and do your utmost best to maintain originality. Plan, in order to succeed, and make sure the quality is perfect. We will definitely work to help artists improve the quality of their music, and maybe one day we could have the next Ringo Madlingozi coming out of Bulawayo.
Interviewed by Bongani Mahlangu, Twitter: @Originalboi_b
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