Malawi music documentary launches in UK

Outside Malawi, it is difficult if not impossible to hear the words ‘Music’ and ‘Malawi’ next to each other or in the same sentence.

The words poverty, hunger and malaria are the only words that are commonly used next to each other in the same sentence with Malawi to describe the life and living of the people the warm heart of Africa.

And when the word ‘tourism’ is mentioned in a sentence, chances are that the words ‘music’ and ‘culture’ are always omitted because focus is put on only on what is considered as the country’s treasures; Lake Malawi and Mulanje Mountain.

But one man is on a mission to change all that and have people all over the world start using the words ‘Malawi’ and ‘music’ in the same sentence. His name is Kenny Gilmore, a British scientist and musician who grew up in Malawi.

Kenny Gilmore

Kenny Gilmore of ‘Ngati Mafunde’ fame is on a warpath to a battle against the world and to change people’s mentality on how they think about Malawi and start appreciating Malawi in a positive way through the country’s music and traditions in a big way.

“Malawi is rich in culture and has phenomenal music and dance traditions and the people are warm and friendly. Malawi is a melting pot of African music,” says Kenny Gilmore.

And to take Malawi music to the outside world,  Gilmore who attended Saint Andrews schools in Malawi, embarked on a journey to document Malawian music and produced a movie titled ‘Deep Roots Malawi’ and recently launched the film in Liverpool in the United Kingdom.

He says: “True African music all comes from a traditional dance somewhere… and Malawi has got unique dances with unique rhythms. I made this film to showcase to the world the authenticity of Malawian rich culture in music and dance.”

Inspiration

Gilmore cites dances such as the Chewa’s masked “Gule Wamkulu” (the big dance); the Ngoni’s “Ingoma” war dance; the Beni military dance; and the healing “Vimbuza” spirit dance of the Tumbukas, the smart dance of the Tonga’s, Malipenga, Makhanya, Chioda, Tchopa, Manganje and M’bwiza among others as Malawi’s rich dance and music traditions which the outside world can appreciate.

Inspired by the late musical archivist Alan Lomax’s famous journey to collect early blues recordings in the deep American South, for six weeks last year, Kenny Gilmore and his team travelled to villages across all the regions of Malawi hoping to document and record some of this musical heritage, both past and present.

Gilmore says that he hoped to record as much as possible of what is left of these traditions before the memories and the music are gone forever because only a handful of these were recorded in the 1940s and 1950s.

“It is sad that outside Malawi you never hear the words ‘music’ and ‘Malawi’ next to each other or in the same sentence. I’m on a mission to change it; I think the world needs to hear music and Malawi in the same sentence,” says Gilmore.

In the film, which was directed and produced Gilmore in partnership with Promote Africa, features most of the country’s music greats such as Wambali Mkandawire, Lucius Banda, Ben Mankhamba, ethnomusicologist Waliko Makhala and Black Missionaries among others.

Gilmore who has just released a new Album entitled ´Colourblind´, released in Portugal recently talks about the history of Malawi music and its traditions and the richness of the culture telling the world how significant Malawi music influence has in the world.

“People don’t know much about Malawian music because very little is documented. Imagine, I found the story of Dr. Daniel Kachamba in Portugal in a museum and yet it is hard to find such information in Malawi. It’s high time Malawi start putting the history of its musicians in the museum for the generations to come to be able to appreciate their culture,” said Gilmore.

 Treasure

Gilmore using a portable studio, musicians from Malawi’s most rural and remote areas were given the opportunity to record, promote and preserve their musical heritage.

He said what he got was a mix of individual musicians, small groups and cultural dance troupes, some of it purely traditional, some of it more of a fusion of traditional with contemporary and jazz influences.

Gilmore who once had a music group Sangalala band in Malawi, promoted his film, the only project so far to showcase the rich, yet often overlooked musical traditions of Malawi at the Africa Oye festival at the Sefton Parkin Liverpool, England on Malawi’s Independence Day.

Watching the film is like opening a treasure chest that has been kept as a secret for a long time. It has so many saccharine stories about Malawi and gives such an animated history that each word in the voice-overs is like a sparkling pebble.

Gilmore who is a professional blues harmonica player which he learnt from New Orleans in the USA has a deep passion for Malawi and her musical heritage confesses that he is recurrently annoyed with the rest of the world’s lack of exposure to Malawian music.

“Deep Roots Malawi” aims at promoting Malawian music and dance culture to the rest of the world. I am so keen for the world to know Malawi’s music origins,” Gilmore explains, “It is said that for a tree is to grow tall it must have deep roots.”

Meetings

In London, Gilmore who sees himself as a musical storyteller met Malawi’s minister of Sports and Youth development Culture Enock Chihana and Malawi’s deputy envoy to the United Kingdom, John Tembo Jr.  at Claridges Hotel and presented his copies of his film to them.

Chihana says it pleasing that Gilmore is taking an initiative to put Malawi on the map and assured the British Malawian artist that the Malawi government will support his efforts.

“I am very impressed and I can assure you that the Malawi government will do all it can to help you in your quest to put Malawian music on the international podium. I’ll liaise with the Minister of tourism to take up the matter,” Chihana told Gilmore.

And on his part, Tembo Jr. pledged the Malawi Embassy’s support in the UK for the promotion of the film in the UK.

Gilmore who is now based in El Salvador in Central America says he is proud to be associated with Malawi saying wherever he goes his heart is always in Malawi –a place where he grew up.

“As a musician I’ve played in many countries and I find that when you play in Malawi, people dance passionately and express themselves through music and dance. Malawians understand that music is a celebration of life. That’s what people of the world must see – the deep roots of Malawi as – a place where happiness and enjoyment are next to each other next to the word Malawi,” he says.

The shooting of Deep Roots Malawi began in 2009 with Kenny Gilmore, Waliko Makhala, and Benjamin Cobb the creator of Promote Africa.

Gilmore with Malawi minister of Sports, Youth and Culture, Enock Chihana in London

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