Today in a BBC interview producer Ian Brennan of the Zomba Prison Project said something very interesting.
On Saturday, the Weekend Nation wondered why the amateurs of Zomba Prison get a Grammy nomination, and no Professional Musician in Malawi has gotten to that point.
Ian Brennan, when quizzed about the quality of the musicians in Zomba Prison answered:
“What I was looking for in this project is not musicianship. I was looking for expressiveness.”
Get the point?
The professional musicians in Malawi may be lacking on musicianship, or they may not. But they certainly are lacking in expressiveness. For a professional you expect a professional level of musicianship and some of our musicians have reached that. But that is not where it ends. That is
where it starts. Once you have learned to speak, you need to have something to say to be an interesting speaker. Most of our musicians say very little (“Move to the left, move to the right. Oh girl you make me feel alright” That, for the level of poetic technique: right does not rhyme with right. It rhymes with light, with quite, with might, with spite, but not with right. Now that is only technique, but lyrics like this are so uninspired they could never aspire to any artistic enjoyment for the listener) That is lyric wise, but also musically you need to come up with something expressive.
Something that will surprise the listener, something that gives the feeling of: Wow, I have never heard that before. If you have, why listen to someone imitating someone. And much Malawian music imitates an imitation. Each time it looses expression, and by the time it gets imitated by an imitator it’s gone.
Originality, personality, authenticity, creativity. Call it what you want. But that is what we need. And you need musicianship to be able to pull it off.