By STEPHEN KAPAMBWE- Times of Zambia
HE sits on a low stool covered in cow skin under the shade of a stunted guava tree chopping away at a piece of mukwa wood.
Now and again he is disturbed by children running in the scotching sun around the neighbour’s yard.
He steals a glimpse of the bare breasted boys through an opening in an unkempt hedge of flowers as the sound of a car, accompanied by that of a barking dog, goes by the dirty road near the front door of the house.
He imaged pieces of paper and bits of grass rise in the subsequent cloud of dust before lazily settling down mostly on the veranda that his mother had obviously laboured to polish that morning before she went to the market.
His name is Edward Mwanza.
He is not a sculptor, but a prolific player of the traditional kalimba musical instrument.
Mwanza was at his father’s house, not far from his own, in Lusaka’s Zingalume Township.
Since learning how to make the kalimba from his father, Mwanza fancied working under the same guava tree shade. It had become his makeshift workshop where he made a number of kalimba most of which were meant for sell.
Mwanza doubles as a musician and a traditional music teacher at the French School of Lusaka. In his teaching career, the 31 year-old has made a startling discovery that Zambia is fast losing the country’s culture through the demise of talented players of traditional musical instruments like the kalimba and replacements are not forthcoming.
One can talk of the likes of the Kalambo Hit Parade who married conventional music instruments with traditional ones to produce a blend of sound that no other band has produced after them.
But having lost some of their members and the rest being too old to continue, their music would be nothing more than a memory in a few more years.
What of the legendary Charles Muyamwa who recorded some of the sounds of traditional music instrumentation which the national broadcaster ZNBC plays some times? Muyamwa is now late, having passed on early this year. His death, yet again, robbed the country of a talented player of traditional musical instruments.
In the course of doing his job, Mwanza – who teaches school pupils from the first grade level to secondary school level – has over the years realised that whereas pupils from foreign countries eagerly learned the art of playing traditional music instruments, local pupils often frowned at the idea.
Mwanza who goes by the stage name of Mafrika, said people from countries like France and other parts of the Western world seemed to be very interested in learning how to play traditional Zambian music instruments like kalimba. But this is not the case with locals.
The musician, who is passionate about playing the kalimba and the conventional guitar, said unlike local people, foreigners are not only eager to learn how to play the traditional instruments but also?buy them wherever they had an opportunity.
“The only difference which I have seen is that we (the local people) are born with the ability to learn music easily compared to most foreigners, especially the whites, who find it very difficult to learn. But they tend to be very anxious to learn,” he said.
Mwanza learned to play the kalimba at a tender age from his father Sonny Mwanza, a carpenter by profession. He often listened to the musical instrument whenever his father played it. He got interested in the instrument and started learning not only how to play but how to make it using pieces of Mukwa hardwood and bicycle spokes. The spokes are heated and hammered into flat shapes. Once the flattened spokes are arranged and attached onto a piece of wood, a calabash is attached to the bottom of the wood to amplify the sound of the kalimba, making it audible and melodious.
Mwanza, who has been in music for the last thirteen years, once showcased his kalimba skills during a live television show on ZNBC which was organised to mark the fifth anniversary of Sounds Arcades.
The show led to Mwanza meeting dreadlocked Rastafarian Matthew Tembo, a talented player of the marimba (xylophone). Tembo who has had musical stints in Europe, introduced Mwanza to a French music instructor at Alliance Francaise in Lusaka where he was offered the job of a traditional music teacher at the French School of Lusaka in 2010.
The Salif-Keita-inspired musician says the French music instructor who introduced him to Alliance Francaise sent some of his music to France where people have been appreciating his manipulation of the kalimba ever since. In his efforts to promote the playing of traditional musical instruments, Mwanza has over the years made futile attempts at forming an association.
Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) immediate past president Maiko Zulu warns that Zambia may lose the heritage of traditional music instrumentation due to failure to preserve the skill of departed?musicians. “We are losing our musical identity at a fast rate and stuff like the kalimba may be extinct in a few years from now.
“It sounds like a joke when people are saying it, but believe me, our musical heritage is at risk of going into extinction,” warns the Kora?Africa Music Awards winner.
Zulu, a Ngoma award winning reggae musician and human rights advocate, says the situation has been compounded by the fact that ZAM is not in?a position to initiate interventions that can have an impact on the?music industry in the country. The Bob Marley look-alike calls for the establishment of proper structures that include ZAM because of the association’s vision to, among other things, preserve the musical heritage of the country.
“My team’s focus in the four years that we ran the association was to?bring back the credibility of the association, to make the association viable and also to get it linked to the various sectors that may be interested in areas of preserving our culture and our heritage so that ZAM becomes a viable institution that is able to coordinate all these things,” he says.
Zulu decries the lack of effort in preserving the national musical heritage, sighting the example that Zambia even lacks a museum depicting the country’s history in music. Zulu is of the view that up to now, music has just been taken as a hobby, a view that is not only held by some individuals but the whole society as can be seen in the manner those charged with the responsibility of managing organisations that run the arts without having the welfare of musicians at heart.
“I think there is need for us to turn around because as much as most people may look at music as a hobby in our country, it is actually one of the major sources of employment for our young people.
It is something that can be turned into a huge economic activity but it has to start from somewhere,” he says. He explains that proper infrastructure has to go hand in hand with the review of the policy on music so that statutory instruments and by-laws are put in place to halt the extinction of traditional music?and to begin reviving what has already been lost.
He says the Government, through the ministry of Tourism and Arts as well as the National Arts Council (NAC) must be decisive in evoking proper policies to ensure the musical heritage is safeguarded and what has been lost is recaptured. He feels that once a proper policy is put in place, then the country can begin addressing the issue of giving capacity to musicians who are in the forefront of creating music before efforts are put in place to ensure that up-coming generations do not lose the skill of playing traditional musical instruments.
“If up-coming generations are not given an opportunity to develop interest in the country’s culture and traditional music, then it will die. But if you can create opportunities for school leavers at Grade Twelve to pursue a course in kalimba where they can be awarded a degree or PhD, our children will be aspiring to study it if it will be an academic qualification that will earn them recognition,” he says.
He laments that the current education syllabus is limited, because people only want to study subjects like mathematics, biology and geography, even if these subjects do not appeal to them at individual level. He feels that the establishment of a creative industry that encompasses music is very important to a country like Zambia.
Zulu paid tribute to the Technical Education, Vocational an ?Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA) for creating a syllabus that addresses the playing of traditional musical instruments like the drum and urged people to encourage and support TEVETA in its endeavour. He says the demise of illustrious players of traditional music like Lubula Katako who was originally a drummer, Thomas Mulemwa formerly of Tikwiza theatre and a host of others mostly from the Zambia national dance troupe was regrettable. He says it was unfortunate that the county would never regain the talent that had been lost with the death of such people.
He appeals to stakeholders to take decisive steps towards preserving the skill that is still available in musicians like one Brian Shakarongo and Matthew Tembo who have distinguished themselves in playing the xylophone. He also appeals to the media to review their coverage of musical events.
He says in the past, media institutions especially those in television, have exacerbated the problem by rarely focusing on traditional folk music. But he pays tribute to ZNBC television for having been the only institution that encouraged the use of traditional music instruments through programmes like Folk Night at Ridgeway.
While some conventional musicians may shun traditional musical instruments, the likes of Salif Keita, Mewe and Angelique Kidjo have not only become continental musical giants but also defined the identity of African music.