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.