Monthly Archives: December 2017

Christmas Snapshots

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We wanted to know where and how everyone was spending their Christmas.

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Hotel Hope: Part One

By Sydney Chuka

Photo credits: The Shire Porter Photography


 Below is the plot of the play that was performed by the children.

The first scene was set in a typical Malawian village. The set was bare. You had to listen to the context of the dialogue to work out the location. As the step-daughter sat on the floor of the deck, sorting out beans for the meal in the evening; the father came home drunk. He hurled insults at her and accused her for stealing his money. She was not sure what money he was referring to: was it the money that he had just spent at the nearby pub or was he referring to the money that he had invested in her as his step-daughter. She defended herself. He attacked her. Her mother was not home. She freed herself from his grasp. She ran for her life. She did not look back.

She found her way to the city of bright lights, Lilongwe. Determined to be an independent young woman, she was the perfect prey. A Human Resources Manager of a street gang head hunted her. Without much of an application or an interview and with approval from the boss, they abducted her into their employee. She was the new starlet of their business empire. This was the hope that she desperately needed. She attended orientation. She graduated but not one of her family members were present to see the proud smile that she wore on her face. She was a professional ruse. Her role in society was to distract men as they get pick pocketed.

Back in the village, her mother Juliet came home and found her daughter to be missing. She asked her small-village Romeo of the whereabouts of their daughter. He denied ever having a daughter. Armed with a heart of love, he beat her and the other children under the roof of his protection. The scene resounded with a different but yet applicable meaning to the Shakespearian words of Friar Lawrence; “These violent delights, have violent ends.”

Elsewhere their missing child had become a masterful pick pocket. Her beautiful smile got the attention of men. She sold an alibi that was so captivating that few would remain indifferent to. The street gang watched her every step as they were on full alert to provide tactical support should things not go according to plan. She reported another successful stint and handed over the loot. She got a meagre commission for her efforts. She struggled to make ends meet. She needed a new job that would give her a worthwhile bonus for her stellar performances. She expanded her professional offering. She solicited her first customer. She sold the only thing that was completely her own; her own body. The admission fee was K10,000. For the first time in her career, she made a profit. She now had real hope. A small reward for an otherwise costly transaction.

As she became a hit on the street, another head hunter spotted her. A gold mine she was. He invited her for a coffee and told her of their boss lady, a respectable woman who could provide access to the big shots. No more dark alleys for her. She would now eat in the finer restaurants, wear glitzy dresses and most importantly, she would become somebody. A force to be reckoned with. Same job, greater rewards. She liked the proposition. She joined. Not long after, her seven-to-five employer noticed the trails of her unexplained wealth. They called for an investigation. It revealed reports of an ever expanding social network. Her two employers fought over her.

A few months later, the golden goose returned to the village. She was ill and pregnant. The violent ending of an otherwise colourful career in the city of bright lights, Lilongwe.


As one drives through Lilongwe on the M1 road, one cannot ignore the bright red lettering “Simama Hotel”, one of the Capital City’s most notable developments in recent years; nonetheless many people ignore another hotel right across the entrance of Simama Hotel. Having lived in the Capital City for most of my life, I only discovered its existence yesterday. As much as I call it a hotel, it is not registered as a hotel, you will never see them advertised at a tourism expo; but they do have staff, a kitchen fitted to feed a large group, a dining room, guests and a checkout registry. Unlike most hotels, the staff of this hotel actually stays in touch with its guests upon their return to normalcy. It does not have late checkout fees and its doors never close. The beauty of this hotel is not in its architecture, frivolous pomp or great reviews on tripadvisor; but rather in the stories of its inhabitants: the street children of Malawi.

I contacted the organisers of the event after I saw the event on Facebook. The poster simply read “Christmas with children from Lilongwe”. Since we are a newsletter focussed on the youth of Malawi around the world, we did not need any further motivation to attend. The future of Malawi would be there and so would we. The date was set. The directions to the venue sounded simple enough but that did not prevent me from getting lost. I was to get to Simama Hotel, turn left and then a right and before me would be signpost. I drove around the neighbourhood for some 15-20 minutes, stopping occasionally to ask for directions. In all fairness, the hawkers in the neighbourhood did not even know the place. About to give up, I met an elderly lady who directed me to the Social Rehabilitation Centre. As I drove in, I realised why I could not locate the venue, it barely had a readable signpost.

Feeling guilty for showing up 10 minutes late, I got to work immediately. The children were gathered in a dimly lit room with green and black plastic chairs, cream burglar bars and light green walls. The children were playing Lilongwe Got Talent, a localised version of Britain Got Talent in which each member of the audience was also a judge. The participants would dance to the song being played. The audience would then cast a vocal vote as to whom ought to be eliminated from the contest. The dancing was competitive as every participants used every ounce of energy to twist their bodies to the rhythmic reverberations played by the DJ, Chifundo Tembo. The audience cheered fervently. The finals were between a volunteer, Jabulani Maseko, and one of the children. Jabulani was older than his competitor and from the dancing, one would tell that Jabulani was no longer close the streets, the academy of African dance. The audience unanimously voted against Jabulani. The winner stood in front looking rather exhausted. The audience asked for an encore and the winner obliged. He had fought hard. He was awarded a pair of purple framed sunglasses by one of the volunteers, a much deserved Christmas present. In an act of humility, Jabulani carried the winner when he held him by his legs. The audience cheered once more. The audience joined him on stage and they all danced along. The winner held his neck up high, head above everyone in the room. A good seed fallen on bad soil.

As lunch approached, the guest of honour had not arrived. I feared that she might not show up at all; which would be a let-down for the children who have not even been priorities in the homes of their birth. Whilst we waited for her arrival, a volunteer talked to the children of the role of their initiative, Thanthwe, a non-profit startup by Sellah Singini, Tionge Kulemeka and Violet Machika. The volunteers seamlessly filled the time with a hip hop freestyle contest, stand-up comedy and poetry recitals. Whilst this was going on, the guest of honour, Hon. Patricia Kaliati entered the room. She apologised for late arrival as there had been a mix-up after the rescheduling of the programme.

Most people know Hon. P. Kaliati as a politician but here in this unmarked building, standing before people too young to vote, she became a mother. Until now, I had not ever been in the same room with the Member of Parliament. As a student, I remembered politicians paying our school a visit to give a speech that had next to no relevance to the audience. The teachers would smile and the students, the ploy of a political photo opportunity, would clap that the speech was finally over. As these recollections were racing through my mental processor, the guest of honour started to speak. She opened by saying “Giving is not about having much but it is about the heart.” She pointed out that most of the children at the Social Rehabilitation Centre and those in the streets of Malawi actually have parents who are still living. She called on the attendants to make the right choice of having the right number of children and to make the commitment to provide sufficient support their children. She called out irresponsible men who plant children everywhere they go and subsequently neglect to meet their basic demands. Of the women, she advised them that bearing a child for a man is not a way of buying the love of the man. To the yet-to-be married youths, she said that marriage is about choosing a great prisoner, someone with whom you can work within the confines of your circumstances to raise a happy family. She said that bearing children irresponsibly does not provide justifiable grounds on which the children should now be sleeping under bridges. She told the children present that God has a plan for their future and welcomed them to take up civic duty in the country in whatever capacity they find befitting should it be as President of the Republic of Malawi or as Members of Parliament. She closed by saying a truth that should be obvious but is not as obvious: God never created a street child.

Lunch was soon served. I met with Mary Malunga, the matron of the Social Rehabilitation Centre, a part of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development. She said that the children coming to the centre were either street children or were referred there as part of the social welfare programmes operating all over Malawi. Sometimes, the children get to the centre before they are even old enough to enrol in primary school. She cited that parental divisions (usually involving a step-parent of the child or grandparents of orphaned children), peer pressure in unconducive environments, and poverty were the primary reasons that drove the children out of their homes and into the streets. The centre also partners with Sweet Aroma; a faith organisation that teaches the children music amongst other things that will help them to integrate in their communities when they eventually check out. They later on performed some songs such as Udolo from their CD.

The lunch itself was special. The children enjoyed a humble Christmas feast. No one went without. The guest of honour actually served the children. They sat on their chairs and ate quietly from their takeaway boxes. I wondered how many of them couldn’t wait for the day when such a meal would be provided at their tables for them to enjoy with their own children in the comfort of their own homes. There was a harmony I don’t usually see between young children and those slightly older than them. There was no sign of bullying. No one was hustling another for an extra piece of chicken. Had the children learned to treat each other as brothers and sisters, looking out for each other’s wellbeing? The guest of honour joined the children and ate with the children; she actually went around the room getting a spoonful from the children’s boxes. The children ate together with the guest of honour.

Reflecting on the event, I realised that I watched a different kind of a Christmas play. The children were not enacting the work of a strange playwright, they were enacting their lives. Last week, I wrote about attending a different kind of Christmas Carols at Gateway Mall. Maybe the world is changing. Maybe Christmas for the young generation is not about getting but rather giving. Watching the young organisers working to organise the event, prepare the food, provide the music; it made me realise that even if Santa doesn’t land on roofs in Malawi, there are many santas in the form of young people who are devoted to improving the condition of those coming after them. The message to those children was that Rudolf the Reindeer is not here but we, your fellow Malawian brothers and sisters, are here for you. There are many stories that tarnish the image of street children; reports of theft, assault and even murder. For myself included, I avoid them where I can. It was safer to avoid them than to understand them. The term “street children” is one that I never examined at length until I spend a day with them. Watching them dance, joke, chat, perform a play, sing, eat as children do all around the world; I had the epiphany that even though they might have no valid residential address, they are just children.

 

This article has been written in the spirit of #malotoathu.

A sad year: 1,791 lives lost on Malawian roads

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Written by: Sydney Chuka

Photo credits: The Shire Porter Photography

Malawi commemorated the African Road Safety Day on 25th November 2017. The Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services reported in The Nation that 1,719 lives were lost in road accidents in 2017 to date. At the time of reporting, we were 327 days into the year; thus translating to 5 or 6 deaths every day on Malawian roads. Projected for the full year, at the same fatality rate, we are looking at 2000 deaths for 2017. I have used a straight line projection and I have not made any adjustments for the festive season. Once you account for the festive season, the number could be higher. The article in The Daily Times read “a large percentage of the victims being those between 25 and 44 years”. I would like to know just how large is a “large percentage” and for a very good reason.

On 17th November 2017, I witnessed an accident that has incited this article. I was driving towards Capital Hill in Lilongwe and I was about to turn towards the Malawi College of Accountancy Lilongwe Campus when a blue Audi came cruising down the road. My first thought was “where is this guy rushing to?” As I turned to get into the main road, I saw the car collide into the back of a bicycle taxi (locally known as a kabaza). The taxi driver and passenger, who were not wearing helmets, were both hurled a couple of meters into the air. Then they came crushing into the asphalt a couple of meters away from the place of impact. At that point, the car had not braked. Instinctively, I chased down the car. I did not want to witness a hit-and-run scenario. The car did eventually stop and we both came back to attend to the victims. For a while, the passenger was listless but the taxi driver was wailing at the top of his voice ndi kufa ine (I am dying). I will not divulge the graphic details. The bystanders were now attending to the victims and two G4S security cars stopped. The guards stepped down from the car and they helped the bystanders to place the victims in the security vehicle en route to Kamuzu Central Hospital. I took a picture of the Audi driver’s license and waited for Police to arrive. One off-duty Police officer stopped by and called his fellow Police officers who were just further up the road and arrived on the scene within a minute. When I stopped by on the scene a few hours later, I learnt that both victims were recovering but had suffered some broken bones. At the time of writing, the driver has been released from hospital but the passenger is still in hospital.

It later turned out that the passenger was a student at the Malawi College of Accountancy. She had taken the bicycle taxi at the Area 30 crossroads. The taxi driver was crossing the road to drop her at school when the accident occured. That decision to get on the bicycle taxi that morning not only jeopardised her education but also her life alongside that of the taxi driver. Out of the 1,971 fatalities reported, how many were just like her? A casualty of an unregulated and uninsured bicycle taxi industry.

I am an amateur cyclist that has recently branched out into being an unofficial cycling administrator. I am no Martin Luther King Jr., but I too do have a dream (#malotoathu) that young Malawian men and women will race down the streets of Paris past the Champs Élysées donned in the glorious “red, black and green” as they compete for Gold in the Paris Olympics of 2024. I honestly look forward to the day that Malawi has a national cycling team and a national cycling programme for people of all ages. It takes time to develop Olympic talent; you need three years to identify the competitive cyclists and probably another three to train them to Olympic standards.

To achieve this goal, I have met with some parents in the year to ask for their permission to let their children cycle so we can grow the sport. Most of the parents I have met have cited the same reason for not allowing their children to cycle on our roads: safety. We need safe roads for these young men and women to train daily for an hour or two without raising their parents or guardians blood pressures. Reading the road fatality statistics further highlights the road safety concerns as a cause worth fighting for. We are not fighting for any ulterior motives but for our own lives.

Unfortunately, there is very little or no policy that one can point to regarding the safety of the cycling community in Malawi. We do have a cycling governing body and several other stakeholders that directly or indirectly influence road safety for cyclists. I do not have any statistics on the number of cyclists on Malawian roads but there is not a day that goes by when there are no cyclist on the roads. Every road user in Malawi has seen the ubiquitous black-framed single-speed bikes across the country.

To emphasise the challenges we face on road safety; particularly for cyclists, I will provide some context.

For cyclists

  • A crush helmet is not a legal requirement for cyclists on the roads of Malawi and neither are visibility aids such as dynamo lights or reflective vests.
  • Cyclists can cross the roads without dismounting; without which, it can be challenging for cyclists to accurately assess what is happening behind them. As was the case in the accident I witnessed.

For the bicycle taxi industry

  • The growing bicycle taxi industry is completely unregulated and uninsured.
  • The bicycle taxi industry operates late into the night. Without adequate visibility measures, cyclist safety is severely compromised beyond sunset.
  • The emergence of bicycle taxis in the last few years has relieved pressure on the transport system in both urban and rural areas. We have also seen the introduction of bicycle ambulances in rural areas. However; this has also increased pressure on the shoulders of the roads.

Safety infrastructure

  • The country does not have roadside emergency services. It is very rare to see an ambulance or a fire engine at a road accident scene. The need for an ambulance is clear but less clear is the role of the fire engine. The fire engine crew is crucial in extracting people from mangled cars with high-powered hydraulic tools commonly referred to as the “jaws of life”. Professional emergency services operate on the principle of “The Golden Hour” which states that professionally attending to the victims of an accident within the first hour of the accident occurring prevents death. (This brings up another pertinent question: how long does it take for road accident victims in Malawi to be professionally attended to? I have a friend who was driving when a drunk man fell in front of his car at close range and he collided into him. The patient was alive when they arrived at the hospital, but the hospital personnel refused to treat the patient in the absence of a police report. My friend watched the patient expire.)
  • The country does not have mandated shoulders on the sides of the road to facilitate cyclist safety. Thus cyclists are usually disadvantaged as they negotiate for adequate space on roads. Sometimes the sides of the road are so eroded that they form mini gullies and there is no way one can ride a bike there unless one dismounts and pushes the bike. However, pushing the bike means that most people who cycle remarkable distances to get to work, will not make it in time.
  • The country does have speed limits that are only enforced by Traffic Police presence. This becomes problematic in areas with a high density of cyclists within a few millimetres of fast moving vehicles and there is no Traffic Police presence to enforce the speed limits. There is a need for unmanned speed limit enforcement.
  • Looking at the developments and challenges above, there is a need to consider introducing safety regulation for bicycle taxis in particular and for cyclists in general. We should also consider introducing insurance for all road users as is the case in the Republic of South Africa where they have the Road Accident Fund.

Before I close, I wanted to graphically quantify what 1,791 people actually look like. An Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, can ferry a maximum of 868 people comfortably. In other words, enough people to fill two Airbus A380 planes and 55 more have died on Malawian roads in the first 327 days of the year. Think about it. If two A380 planes had crushed in Malawi this year and there was not a single survivor in both incidents that would be catastrophic world news. All major news networks would come to cover the story. Yet more people have died on road accidents this year alone in this country and somehow it’s business as usual. Those 1,791 people are not strangers. They are our brothers and sisters. As I look forward to 2018, I hope that the safety concerns raised in this article will fall on receptive ears and empathetic hearts.

  • This article has been written in the spirit of “#malotoathu”.

A Love Hip Hop Christmas

By Sydney Chuka

Photo credits: Fusion Multimedia

As a teenager, I had a friend who introduced me to Hip Hop music videos. Back in the day, no one had satellite TV in Malawi and the only music videos were on VHS cassettes. It was the only way we saw what life was like for young people elsewhere. For the first time I came across artists like: Ghostface Killah, RZA, Capadonna, Rakim, Guru, Craig Mack, DAS EFX, and Busta Rhymes just to mention a few. It was music at a scale I had not envisioned prior. My point is this: we breathed American music in the 90s. The entire music selection at birthday parties comprised of songs by American artists. When Snoop Dogg released “Gin & Juice”, it went viral amongst Malawi’s youth as if Snoop himself had come for concert at Njamba Park. I bet that not one of the American Hip Hop record labels at the time even had a marketing budget for Africa. In hindsight, they did not need marketing in Africa, the music came over through some cultural osmosis. American music, not just Hip Hop, dominated the airwaves and youth culture of Africa. We understood that Hip Hop was American.

As I looked forward to the Hip Hop Christmas Collective, I knew the work of some of the artists namely KBG, Suffix and Faith Mussa but was absolutely oblivious to the works of Sho Baraka, MAG44, Mista Gray, Khetwayo, Liwu and Cozizwa. The weather did not look too promising either, rain clouds hovered above the Capital City. Like most events in Malawi, the fans are either there or they are simply not. The message from Malawian fans is always loud and clear. It is also unpredictable; worse yet for a free show where people can flake out at last minute at no financial cost to them.

When I turned into the Gateway Mall Complex, there were small groups of young folk scattered all over the car park. The stage was still being set. The rain clouds were still eminent. There were no Police officers around but there were private security men and women dressed in black t-shirts. This was comforting. My Psychology lecturer, Dr. Eric Benjamin, used to say that whenever he saw Police officers; it meant one of two things: something had gone down or something was about to go down.  Clearly, nothing had happened here or was going to happen here. This was assuring.

Whilst I waited for the show to begin, I came across some five young men with whom I shared an interesting conversation. Their names are Terence Mataya (18), Mphatso Banda (19), Joseph Mwaibasa (17), Hope Goliath (19) and Austin Lwanda (24). They are aspiring artists in their individual capacities. They collectively emphasized that they believe music plays a unique role in bringing together young people in a spirit of love. When asked about the challenges they faced as young men in Malawi; they expressed that “the future of their generation is at stake”. Most of their anxieties are about the education system in which an individual’s field of study is determined by chance and not by choice. Austin, a tall young man with frizzled hair, had aspired to be a medical doctor but was enrolled in an Agriculture undergraduate programme instead. They all said that they were interested in studying abroad as they felt that the academic programmes in more developed countries challenged students more to be at the forefront of developing new knowledge and technologies. The collective dream for their generation was that more young people remained in some form of formal education until they reached an age of economic productivity. Not all students in primary school get to enroll in a secondary school or a tertiary education institution of some form or another. They also hope that the youth of Malawi would have more avenues to be civically active without necessary engaging into the throes of politics. When asked what that avenue could be, they could not immediately think of an answer. Talking to the young chaps made me realise why I first listened to Hip Hop; it remains the voice of the voiceless.

Whilst I was having this engaging conversation, the first act, Mervyn Speaks, came on stage and I totally missed it as I was a distance away. Then the speakers started thumping. Liwu was on stage, his fans were rapping along to his songs Ndiwachifundo. Cozizwa soon joined him for a song. At around 2:30 pm, it started to look more like a concert as more and more people flooded towards the stage. Khetwayo was next. He opened with a Christmas special before he sung Eternal Life amongst his other hits. Mista Gray followed and had his fans on their feet with Chimwana Chosamba. KBG opened his set with Jah Rule. Suffix accompanied him on a song, their styles did not lyrically sync Ieaving me to ask the whereabouts of his usual partner, S.A.M.U.E.L. I have seen KBG and S.A.M.U.E.L perform together before and their duo is electric (I met S.A.M.U.E.L after the show and he mentioned that he would be performing in the Blantyre show the next day). In all fairness, KBG and S.A.M.U.E.L are not natural solo artists. I compare them to another famous Hip Hop duo MOBB DEEP; Prodigy needed Havoc and vice versa. Given that the show was live, ESCOM earthed it with a blackout from 3:27 pm to about 4 pm. At 3:45 pm, people were still flooding in. The original programme did include a planned intermission but the spontaneous intermission was appreciated by the attendants as they got a chance to mingle and jingle.

The second half kicked off with Suffix who closed his set with the song Mkazi wa kumwamba, a well-known collaboration with Faith Mussa. The audience which appeared not to know Suffix’s latest songs, were thrilled to hear this familiar song that speaks against tribalism in romantic relationship in Malawi. The fans sung along. Faith Mussa, a meticulous guitarist and psychedelic musician opened with his latest hit Mdidi. I asked myself why he was placed on the line-up of a Hip Hop Collective since he is not a Hip Hop artist. The answer eventually came in a unique blend of a Hip Hop bass track, his amazing guitar chord surgery skills and his soothing voice. Listening to the perplexing but delightful deluge of melodies that only Faith could envision, he connected with the Hip Hop fans. The reaction of the fans was one of utter disbelief. I tipped my sombrero to him for bearing it on the line of very distinct and different genres. Then Sean Kampondeni came on stage. I thought he would give us his usual Barack Obama styled speech but when I saw DJ Kali get on deck I knew that the gloves were coming off. After watching that performance, I declare by the power vested in me by the State of Hip Hop that Sean Kampondeni will from now on be referred to in this newsletter simply as “Sean”. The man needs no introduction. Sean has dropped many verses over the years; but this time around he really dropped a verse and what a verse it was. He did his own hook too. It was that good. He then got all Barack Obama on us when he introduced MAG44.

MAG44, is a Zambian MC, whose name evokes memories of sounds a .44 Magnum cartridge. I haven’t spoken to him to find out where his got the inspiration for his artist name but I think I have a fairly good idea. Here is the thing about MAG44; he is a regular guy. There is no fanfare about his appearance. He got on stage dressed in black t-shirt, denim shorts, black sneakers and his only jewelry were wedding band and wristwatch. And then he opens his mouth. Your ears flinch. His voice hits you like a 44 Magnum coming straight at you from the barrel of a revolver. I would describe MAG44 as a lyrical unapologetic, in message and in delivery. His beats have different influences, he brings in a little of the famous Zambian pop rhythm that is characteristic of artists such as K’Millan, some elements of the Congo’s Kwasa Kwasa, and some Euro dance beats before smashing them altogether to produce his own fusion of Hip Hop. MAG44 was able to connect with people in his native Nyanja. Watching MAG44 and Sho on stage together, I understood why they get along musically and personally. Neither one of them is soft on hard issues. The two of them share more than a stage, they share a vision. Sho is very witty, his remarks in between songs were clearly polarizing but you had to be quick to grasp what he meant. His first song was Kobe Bryant on ‘em was an ode to a recently retired basketball superstar and he had the audience shooting hoops. For a first time listener to Sho’s music, seeing his energy on stage made me understand what he had said the previous day in the press briefing, he does not do this for the money which may not be great but for the chance to learn about other people. He just learned how to rock a car park in Malawi. The reality of young people in Atlanta and in Lilongwe are quite different. Yet the message carried in the songs is relatable to both crowds. Sho put in as much effort on a stage in the car park of Gateway Mall as he would have done in Madison Square Garden. You have to respect him for that. He didn’t give us a half show. The crowd eventually ran for cover as raindrops started to fall. It was not a disaster, it was a blessing. For die-hard fans like me, it was pure bliss to dance in the rain. We were sad that the show was coming to an end; so we savoured every second before the turntable would come to a chilling halt.

I got drenched but most importantly, I was refreshed that Hip Hop is no longer American. Hip Hop is now truly universal. Its future and ability to connect people rests not only in the money it brings, the attention it gets in the media, the ratings of reality shows of former Hip Hop artists; but rather in the message that it carries. For young people like Terence, Joseph, Austin, Mphatso and Hope; Hip Hop is that art-form that will keep them from falling into the many pitfalls that suppress the vitality of young people in our country. I remember someone saying that Hip Hop started with young people who had nothing talking about having everything. Hip Hop has always been aspirational. We accept that it has taken some violent turns in the past, but the intrinsic dream of the music lives on. Observing how the audience was glued to the stage throughout the performances, I realised the power of music to unite people across cultures, religious divides, tribal lines, political ideologies, age groups and socioeconomic strata. The princes and princesses of Lilongwe’s Bel Air and the princes and princesses of Lilongwe’s ghettos waved their hands in the air, from side to side, to the sound of Hip Hop as one people.

 

This article has been written in the spirit of #malotoathu.

 

 

 

Voices: Sho Baraka

 

By Sydney Chuka

Photo credits: Innovision

I will admit at the onset that I had no prior knowledge of Sho Baraka, his music nor his values as a person or as an artist before the briefing today. As much as I listen to hip hop on occasion, I am not up to snuff beyond the odd hip hop song that I will catch on Trace Urban or Trace Africa. I tend to throw on the hip-hop I grew up listening to, artists such as Naughty by Nature, Lost Boys and Queen Pen – the sort of artists people don’t talk about as much anymore. As a matter of fact, I had slowly shifted away from hip hop as a genre and moved closer to home with African house music which is now very trendy and makes me look like a man of the season. It does feel great to roll down the windows in one’s car as one plays the latest Heavy K or Black Coffee track. It tells the younger bystanders, if there are any nearby, that I still got it; lest they mistake me for a cultural bygone.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine posted on his Whatsapp status about a show that Flood Church had planned and since I was looking for new articles for The Zitheka Monthly, I decided to jump onboard. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was getting myself into: firstly, I had never attended a press briefing and was afraid of embarrassing myself and the brand; secondly, I do not know any of Sho’s lyrics in case he asked me about my favorite song of his or something along that line. He would know that I had not done my homework. As I write, I have not listened to any of Sho’s music. I have strictly left the music to be discovered tomorrow as he sets the stage ablaze. I know that I will not be disappointed.

Around four this afternoon, I walked into a nondescript mustard-coloured building in Area 15, Lilongwe. The paint application is evidently recent as the previous tenant’s signage is still barely visible. The windows are blocked to the left with black film whereas the door and the right window are covered in a blue-peach flower-patterned film. On a pillar outside the door is a sole poster of the pre-show performance that will happen later on that evening. Welcome to 1Five, the venue for the press briefing.

As I walk in, I can tell that this is some underground movement. No article of furniture advertised the flamboyance of “new money”, yet the ensemble was quiet homely. The room was welcoming in an authentic Malawian demeanour. It was dimly lit with some  LED lights for the videographers. On the stage were two seats made of car types, a mark of ingenuity on the venue. The stage was flanked by two large ghetto blasters; the mouthpieces of DJ Chizmo who calmly guided us through his selection of hip-hip, pop and dancehall songs. To the back of the room, hidden from the lights, were the seats for the audience. We waited for the briefing to start.

At around 1650h, Sho Baraka, Sean Kampondeni and Suffix entered the room. They took their designated seats, the lights dimmed once more, DJ Chimzo muted the music and the briefing began. The first question to Sho was about his inspiration to perform in Africa. I was expecting that he would say something about Africa being the next business frontier and that it is his long-term plan to get African fans in readiness for the potentially profitable economic shift. His response was more heartfelt. His American parents made the decision early on to give their children Swahili names; Sho Baraka literally means “final blessing” in the pan-African language. Coming to Africa has not only been about the music for Sho; but also has been an avenue for him to get closer to his ancestry. When he comes to perform in Africa, he is not coming to a concert, he is coming home to his fellow brothers and sisters who face common injustices in this world. His Swahili name has helped him reclaim his authentic identity whilst most African-Americans, like him, were stripped of their African heritage.

He spoke about his surprise in his six earlier visits to Africa that whilst most Americans know too much about themselves and very little of everyone else; people in Africa knew very well about the developments in the wider world. As a student of the world, Sho learns a lot about people in general and countries in particular during each visit. His ever-expanding worldview influences how he sees himself as an artist reaching out to youths in Atlanta and in Lilongwe alike. His music carries a message of love and hope to young people everywhere.

When it came to the challenges he had faced as a hip-hop artist, he cited that there have been instances in his career when he wanted to compete in the industry but held himself back because such outrageous stances would have been against his own personal beliefs. As much as winning is important to him; what is even more important is how he wins. He talked about how the world was based around the value of love; not just love towards self, but love towards those we interacted with in our lives. He said that the state of the world is a reflection of how well we treat each other; that when we ignore the value of love in our lives, we corrupt the resources and the relationships we are entrusted with.

When all the other reporters had asked their questions, I hesitantly raised my hand up and posed a question to both Sho and Sean. My concern for the youth of Malawi is how we have seen entire generations wiped out due to the carnage caused by the deadly pestilence of HIV/Aids and how many have argued that foreign influences such as hip-hop music videos have shifted the moral landscape in the minds of young people to accept a laxity in our collective approach to the conservative values upheld in our culture historically; which some decades ago was extremely closed and had a strict censorship board. My question was how can the work of both Sho, as a hip-hop artist, and Sean, as a pastor of Flood Church, begin to reverse this moral laxity that left unaltered would lead to loss of so many young men and women that have worked very hard to develop their talents to the present only to be lost later to the killer of dreams, HIV/Aids?

Both Sean and Sho paused for a bit. The dynamics of the question needed to be digested and answered with tact and wisdom. Sean was the first to go. He explained his role in society as to first show love to the society and to subsequently substantiate that love with good deeds. He said that the church historically had done many good deeds on the continent but that it had also fallen short of recognising the good deeds that everyone else had done irrespective of their religious beliefs. He went on to share his own personal experiences with this killer, HIV/Aids, when it claimed the life of his father and five out his eight siblings. Sean’s own life was not any rosier. He confessed without flinching or shame that he had been a sex addict since the tender age of nine. He retorts that many young people in our society still struggle with unhealthy addictions and that the church is there to lead them out of this hopeless pit. He applauded the several organisations in the country that have forged a formidable offensive against HIV/Aids spread and early death. In his words, HIV/Aids is no longer a death sentence and that the affected individuals do need a second chance; the giving of second chances being the very tenet on which the church has been built.

Sho dove in with a lyrical twist and took us back to the original plan of the world in which love and harmony were ubiquitous. Man lived harmoniously in his environment, he did not pollute unnecessarily. Man lived harmoniously with the woman; he did not punch her. And beyond that, men and women lived harmoniously with each other and with the environment. Then things went wrong as can be witnessed in the sex industry in America and Africa where young men and women are being trafficked, in a world where many people have experienced molestation sometimes at the hands of trusted family members, where music has been used to promote unhealthy sexuality; and where people have been wounded in the most vulnerable parts of their personhood. It is in this world that music can come to offer a message of love, an education of healthy sexuality, and a cup of grace to those who made a mistake in their past.

Sean then tied it together by saying that Flood Church is here to stay for those young men and women looking for hope beyond tomorrow’s concert. He hopes that through the free show tomorrow afternoon many young men and women will turn up to enjoy themselves but will also get the chance to enjoy good music, hear some good news and support good causes.

As much as a hip-hop collective is not a traditional way to celebrate the Christmas season, it is a new way to bring together young people in Malawi from all walks of life, united by the love of hip-hop and dreams of a better tomorrow.

This article has been written in the spirit of #malotoathu.

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