5/30/2017

June, the Malawian literature month

This blog, unusually, dedicates the month of June to Malawian literature.

I have discussed about Malawian literature on this blog, of course, but none has ever been as constant as I challenge myself to do in this month of June.

The lasttime I commented on Malawian literature, I only remained with a few steps to declare it dead. But, it was because of the material that I was focusing on which, much as it might be generalisable to Malawian literature, it was not the absolute.   

Nevertheless, to be cautious and safe, I am not assuming that June is the month for this blog to celebrate Malawian literature. I am not focusing on celebration. I will just focus on it as it comes – the Malawian literature.

So, if it gives the reasons for celebration, I will celebrate. If it takes away the reasons for celebration, I will commiserate. In the end, I aim to try to give a picture of Malawian literature – mostly as it is published in the weekend papers. This picture from an ardent follower of the Malawian literature with the rights to brag to having been close to it as a producer, consumer and even 'server'.

Enough of the poetry, so this month I will be focusing on published stories in the weekend papers of the Malawi News and The Weekend Nation.

I know, and appreciate, that there has been a mushrooming of online websites (such as Tiwerenge and Nthanda Review) that publish Malawian literature. However, for this particular moment, I will disregard them in a way owing to my opting to be practical as well as their reach (the lack of it, really, at this material time).

So, in this month of June, I will aim to at least provide a commentary on a Short Story that appears in one of the weekend papers. I am hoping that the editors will not have to stagger one story over three weeks or the whole month because that would be a stumbling block.

I do not want to do a random selection. So, my plan is that I will start with the Malawi News and will move to The Weekend Nation the other week and go back to the former before finishing with the latter.

I hope to have my little commentary ready and up at least by the Tuesday following that Saturday.
Is this achievable? I hope so, although I know how lazy I get these days with writing but, for this cause, I want to be faithful.


So, if you are a fan of Malawian literature (or what passes for it), then stay with me for this month. We might find a common ground – or not! I will appreciate that, anyway. 

5/03/2017

That PAM anthology, my friend, is something you should not read

There is a difficult place in Malawian literature. A seat that can pass for a hot one – literally and literary. That, of a critic.

To start with, Malawian literature is just a difficult place for anyone. For the writer, it is a space riddled with a dying publishing market, a less (actually non) paying market and of course a shrinking pool of opportunities for writers.

For the reader, it is a place where original and refreshing literature is unavailable. A place where you really have to dig hard and harder to find something appealing; when you do find it, it is hardly affordable – the price!  

However, much as the two groups face those challenges, none can be equated to the agonies of a critic. The critic of Malawian literature lives in a place not enviable. 

It is worse if that critic, at some point in time, was also attempting to write. It means that all one is left with is criticising friends’ work. And, no one takes criticism worse than a Malawian writer. There are few, countable with half of the fingers of one hand, who are open to criticism. The rest either personalise the criticism and take personal offence or personalise their response and intend to offend. So, to criticise Malawian literature is to burn bridges. To make enemies out of pretentious friends.

At the same time, Malawian literature has come to be treated with kid gloves. Any outsider peering into Malawian literature comes with a certain kindness, a certain sympathy. It is understandable. Outside the exploits of Stanley Kenani, Muthi Nhlema, Shadreck Chikoti, Beaton Galafa, Q Malewezi and a few others, there is hardly anything to celebrate about Malawian literature on the global or regional scale. In a way, it is as if Malawian literature does not exist.

So, for anybody patient enough to accidentally land on something like literature from Malawi, they feel that obligation to nurture it. In the end, in appreciating Malawian literature, we do not appreciate the beauty or the skill, we sympathise with the passion. We want to nurture the hard work with the hope that, miraculously, it will mutate into something we can be proud of.

In the end, really, honest (and add: brutal) criticism for Malawian literature lacks.

I am writing this having finished reading a so-called poetry anthology by the Poetry Association of Malawi (PAM). It is beautifully titled A letter for Gumbi town and other poems.

The time I read on social media that Poetry Association of Malawi was calling for poems to compile an anthology, I was thrilled. I thought: finally, we would be able to have a feel of what current Malawian written poetry is; because, now what serves as poetry is mostly either performed or recited. 

More than once, some mischievous feeling kept tempting me to submit mine but when I remembered that the best I have ever gotten from poetry is misunderstanding it, I told myself to keep calm, let ‘poets’ own the stage and not embarrass myself like the last time I contributed something-like-poetry I do not want to be associated with for some anthology.

But…I should have sent in mine.

From what I have seen in the anthology, everything that anybody wrote passed as poetry for that anthology. I am not hallucinating. 

Actually, in the foreword, the editor just falls short of congratulating himself for including every nonsense he received into what had to be a heartbeat of current Malawian poetry.

Of course, the editor mostly knowing that what he was doing was traversing the sacred path of literature, he quickly disclaims: Defining Malawian poetry can go a long way to the numerous examples in this book and other collections. As such, we cannot agree completely on what should constitute a good poem. As far as poetry is concerned, we shall accept all the definitions including those that are self-contradictory. 

It is a safe claim, you would really think. However, for anyone who pays keen attention to art and literature, that claim is as vain as it is unsatisfying. It is, in a way, a similar excuse a paedophile would use to justify his perversion: 'that love (like it is even love) sees no age; it is incomprehensible'. Useless!

It is just a lame excuse that, as one of the sources I interviewed in my newspaper days once said, is used by men playing football (using their feet, head, chest and everything but hands) on a netball court yet still insisting that what they are playing is netball – not football! Anybody, really, would see the funny composition of such an argument. I am really surprised how a whole Vice President of a Poetry body would make such an outrageous claim which, if it is to be paraphrased, basically reads: everything you feel like poetry, it is poetry. We would laugh were such a claim not outrageous.

However, in line with that conviction that poetry is anything, including what would just pass for gutter sentences before serious people who know that poetry has a definition and any variance brings such adjectives as dub and spoken word before the noun ‘poetry’, the PAM anthology really carries everything. It is a dustbin of mutilated sentences, abused language and attempting-to-be-suave thoughts.

That collection carries lame unartistic sentences that simply metamorphose into poetry because they have been chopped midway for them to start on the other line or paragraph. They lack any tools or style that would really pass for poetry. For them, it is enough that they flow in something you would forgivably call a stanza yet the metaphorical approach of presenting issues lacks. 

I will just present examples, randomly selected and advance my case (this does not mean these are the only worst ones or the very worst, just random selection):

This silence;
is not stupidity
does not announce death.
There is plenty of breath.

In all honesty, what strengths can one pick in the above to say it is a poem? Wait, I will help you around that question. It is because there is a misguided rhyming pattern in the last two lines, because the sentences have been chopped off and some articles have been left out, because it has been arranged in what appears to be a stanza – it is those ‘qualities’ that earned it a place in an anthology that is meant to reflect what poets in this country are. It is a shame, if we are to be honest.

But that ‘Poet’ is not alone in simply butchering lines and then shove them down our throats as poetry. Actually, I can argue that if we can just take out four if not five poems out of the 45 somethings that make the anthology, the book is just a collection of sentences ‘surguried’ by a bush doctor with no skill, no training, no anesthesia whatsoever.

Consider this:

Look and see
Look and be
Look and feel
Look or flee
Look, it’s free

I do not know really what this thing is communicating. The only thing I am sure of is that the person who scribbled those lines has excellently failed at being sophisticated. You know what they say about poetry: it should be sophisticated. There, you have it. Your poetry. Sophisticated and rhyming. Worthy publication in an anthology.

They say love is blind
But I disagree to this saying
Love has got ears
It hears
Love has got eyes
It sees
Love has goat heart
It cares
If you agree with me that Jesus is love
And love is Jesus
You will also agree with me
That love is not blind

Allow that joke, in the last four lines, to go 'un-commented'. It is not worthy any serious attention. Read it and laugh with a glass of water nearby. You may choke. Let me, however, take you to the words I have underlined, as picked directly from the anthology. What is that, really? 

Is it not a shame that a mistake as huge as love has GOAT heart would pass unnoticed and be published in an anthology by a body that claims to be an umbrella for all poets in Malawi?

I will leave you to judge. 

A bitter bite but still on a bended knee,
Ones pride on a swallow against all odds,
Instant despair then indignation,
Suspicion, excited, mortals start to murmur in ugly stares,
In a scene of picking up pieces of love.

Ask the owner of the lines above what is poetry. I can bet they will go by the new ironically-named ‘Poetry’ Association of Malawi definition that Malawian poetry (as though Malawian is some genre) cannot be defined. Or, most likely, they will say it is just re-arranging of words in a sentence to make them as confusing as they are senseless; that the sentence swallow one’s pride against all odds does not qualify to be a line in a poem until the poet – in all his skill – confuses those words and comes up with something unintelligible like Ones (there should have had been an apostrophe of course between one and s but in Malawian poetry who cares?) pride on a swallow against all odds.

That one, is not alone. Here is another set of confused words:

Transparent our shrouds are
Our faces beam with deceit
We open to speak when conversations in us with evil thoughts are
A people we talk but divided we sit
Promises we share: trying to conceal the only truth not afar
Hearts we break as with hurt we hit: closing the love jar

Once again, this was laughable were it not disastrous! But the disasters are many in the anthology.

This is how far the road has taken us
By far the wealth has led us
The intelligence has guided as to

This is by far our mistakes have made us
Like they are tools fixing our lives
This is how far the food has kept us

What is happening above if not just a meaningless play of words? I tried to bring two stanzas to maybe create an impression that the future of the thing is clear but, nay, it is not really. The whole of that thing, any poet writing poetry with a stable and proper definition, would condense into two lines and communicate whatever the thought behind those words wanted to communicate – effectively!

I could have picked many but they hardly are deserving of the space and time that it would take me to dissect them all and leave the reader to decide what is not poetry in them. Somewhere, here, I should stop. 

I will stop with lines stolen from Felix Mnthali’s short story, Fragments, which appears in the anthology, The Unsung Song:

I returned to the desert
to embrace the miracle
dancing in the whirlwind
and perhaps to stumble
on the memento of millennium that was
when I discovered to my joy
a butterfly conversing with the sun

There, I think, you have managed to dilute the raw hard stuff I have subjected you to with some real poetry. There, for aspiring Poets, I hope you can learn the art – not from the shame that PAM is serving us as poetry.   





4/08/2017

Songs you should be listening to

Have you ever heard of Neil and the New Vibration? Maybe yes, most likely not. But, you needed to have heard of them.

For the record, this post is about music. Malawian music. In this case, Malawian music is really a loose term stretching from songs done in Malawi, by Malawians or people who have some sort of affinity – no matter how loose – to Malawi. It is, in a way, as I wish. And, I do not say that to sound dictatorial.

There is a song, Chemwali, by Neil and the New Vibration. It is from the album, Made in Malawi.

The places that I patronise, the people that I talk music with, have neither played nor told me about the song. They have not told me about Neil nor the New Vibration. I chanced on their music not long ago. I just went on the internet to look up Malawian music. There, they came. I played Chemwali, I was awestruck.

You should listen to the song. You should pay a particular attention to the Malawian-sounding guitar in the song. There is a sadness in the guitar. It is beautiful yet in a way, that sad guitar.

The voice, when Neil sings, is careful. It carries delicate emotions. I could have said a lot but you can find the song here.

***

Erik Paliani is good with the guitar. Very good. I am excited that lately I have seen a number of Malawians paying attention to him. And, his music. I think, we all should. We must.

However, I do not know how many have listened to his songs. Or, do know that he has an album to boot.

Well, if you do not. I will tell you just about a song in the album. Kumalewule. It is a song you must be listening to.

Kumalewule does not just boast of a guitar that can be heard and felt. It boasts of a patient voice riding on the guitar. Atop, for those who understand Chichewa, it has some of the most beautiful lyrics.

In Kumalewule, Erik does not only sing about love. He sings about love in a unique style: with a careless assumption that gives too much credit to the listener – in a way only a genius can.

As he sings tikachezadi bwino, mu bottle store ya a Kameza (we will have a decent chat/in the Kameza’s bottle store), Paliani takes a risky move to bring an unknown place to the known. It is as if the audience, who most likely do not know such a place, are long time lovers of his.

And, he paints with words. The opening lines of the song do not just describe, they are a brush with which Paliani paints an ideal world for most lovers. Listen to the song here

***

Peter Mawanga is well-known. But his project with Andrew Finn Magill is hardly known in Malawi. The few people I have talked with have expressed surprise and ignorance at the album: Mau a Malawi: Stories of HIV and AIDS.

There is a song, Emily and Graphiuld, which I think is the best in the album. It is the best, to me. And, I think, if you have not listened to it, you must.

Whereas the story, the hope it carries, is a positive in this generation and context – the presentation is the reason why I think it is a must listen.

There is a kind of familiarity in the rhythm. Something most people can easily identify with. The drum, rising and falling in all the right places, is my favourite. Together with the guitar that plays on its own, the one that introduces the song before it keeps playing through in that fashion -unabated – and then concludes with falling in a harmony with the other instruments.

I do not know how long did Mawanga and team practise before they were satisfied with the perfect harmony of instruments that carries that story of Emily and Graphiuld. I think it must have been for long.

Just as I am insisting that you should listen to the song for the rhythm and the beauty that it carries, you should also listen to it for the message.

There is a powerful imagery that is invoked in using the words: sikangandilume/kachilombo kachita manyazi/iwetu mkazi wachikondi/unandiululila chinsinsi chako (it can’t bite me/the virus will be ashamed/you are such a loving woman/you told me your secret).

You can listen to the song here.

***

Sometimes, I try so hard to understand why I like Nkomba’s Mbvundula madzi. There is a kind of chaotic yet orderly drumming in the song which I like. There is a guitar that appears to be on its own, somehow, in the song and that is a beauty. Then there is a way through which Nkomba sings that I like.

The message is powerful but my liking is not really for the message, I think. It is the heavy drumming. The guitar. The vocals.

It is sad that not many have listened to Nkomba, at least among my friends. Actually, I did not even know him until my friend, Hastings Ndebvu, introduced him to me. I hardly remember the song he directed me to but when I listened to him, I went digging for more from him. I found three, if not four, songs from him. But, it is Mbvundula madzi that I feel more strongly about to recommend.

On another day, I think, I could have recommended Mama, but today I have the pleasure of directing you here

***

There might be a number of songs you should be listening to or you should have listened to. But, for now, try those four. Do those four.


2/20/2017

The road is not to be smooth

I am writing this while listening to Peter Mawanga's Meditation song. I am busy thinking; but about writing.

These days, I hardly write serious things: short stories, essays, features and such. Even Facebook status updates.


These days, it is as if I have hit a dead end. I get an idea, beam at the prospect of writing it but once I sit to write it, I slump into confusion. I most likely abandon that project or, if not, the end result hardly makes me proud.


My friends tell me how much they write per day and I can only envy them. For me, even writing a proper text message seems a tall order.


Even now, as I have no energy with which to respond to WhatsApp texts, I have logged off. Pretending to be asleep. But sleeping I am not. Instead, I am here. Thinking.


I am thinking about my situation. Wondering how that little boy who would write a story, an essay, in a day metamorphosed into this grumpy unfocused me…when did that even happen?


As I am thinking, Mawanga and his Amaravi moment sing:


Pomwe walingapo, a Maravi anafikapo
(where you are, we once were there)


They are not talking to me. But, they are also talking to me.


I like the simplicity of this song. I like the emphasis it places on the instruments, the de-emphasising it does on the words. The words are few. The beat is everywhere.


In this moment, it talks to me. Here I am, once there was this team of talented people that is Peter Mawanga and the Amaravi.


It is as if, here, on the road to Golgotha where the thirst of the muse leaves, the Amaravi also passed through.

Somehow, I connect. Somehow, you can connect too if you are on your rough path to Golgotha. The Golgotha of whatever that bothers you. 

1/02/2017

The little things you steal

We do not steal. We, the common people.

It is the Politicians, the Clergy, the actual robbers that steal. For us, stealing is a foreign concept. We do not steal. We have our things stolen from us.

If anything, we get. Without the owner's consent, or even knowledge. Sometimes, they might not even remember that they had something which they cannot remember anymore.

Say a book...

I have a library. A small growing library that is growing at a snail's pace. Still, it is my library.

I used to have books. In stock. A few classic titles and, of course, my favorites that some might not even have heard of. And, titles that I only boasted of or had found them in my patient moments at the DAPP Library which was in the trade fair. Now, it is closed.

I used to have Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner in my library. Now, it can only be traced in my memory.

Somebody helped himself to it and, I can only pray, somebody also helped herself to it from him.

It is as if, they stole nothing. Those people.

Some, when I meet them and remind of a book they set free from my small library, they laugh. That rude mocking laughter. You would be forgiven to think I ask them with my zippers open; the whatevers that those zippers had to hide, exposed.

For them, they stole nothing. They just got what they think I had no use for.

Some of such people, unsurprisingly, are in the forefront castigating politicians, the clergy and people like them for doing something they did. Stealing!

I, personally, value books and stealing them is as good as stealing my tax. I am, actually, somehow used to the politicians and robbers like them stealing my tax -- with no violence. My books, however, I am not used to having them stolen. Either through the use of pleas, arguments or otherwise. They are my books.

So, this is a call to those of you who won't read this post but still keep my books which you stole with violence. Yes, that violence...that sweet tongue you used to get my book because you needed it for an academic assignment is violence. It was the gun with which you used as a weapon against my unassuming kindness.

You, who used violence, may your conscience bother you until you remember to return my books. Or, stop crying wolf when politicians rob from you. Have you not heard of Karma?