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The Hidden Gem of Malawi’s Independent Music Market

Creative Freedom

Without the pressure of conforming to major label standards, we still have the freedom to create music that is true to themselves and their culture. This autonomy allows us to experiment with new sounds, styles, and themes, resulting in a more diverse and innovative music scene without conforming to the global pressure and trends placed on artists in top performing African music markets. We now need to experiment – combining musical knowledge with our cultural musical knowledge and traditions – that’s where one of unique selling points lie.

Local Ownership and Control

Independent record labels and artists in Malawi retain full ownership and control over music created, ensuring that profits stay within the country. This local investment fosters a sustainable music industry, where we have the opportunity to reap the rewards of our hard work.

However, the local industry has yet to mobilize itself by acquiring music business knowledge. This knowledge would empower local executives to establish robust business infrastructures and ecosystems, as well as hire knowledgeable individuals to foster the growth of global local artists’ brands and impact. This would benefit our local economy and creative industries. Additionally, leveraging access to the internet and social media platforms would enable us to influence the global perception and attention towards Malawian music and its artists.

As major music companies consider investing in the Malawian music markets, it’s crucial for our local industry to position itself strategically to reap the maximum benefits. During this interim period, it’s imperative that we establish more efficient pathways for artists and music creatives to nurture their talents and monetize them promptly. This endeavor requires robust support from the government, public sector, and private sector through avenues such as funding, grants, or business partnerships.

Community-Driven

Malawi’s music market is intricately intertwined with community and culture. Independent artists frequently showcase their talents at local events, festivals, and gatherings, fostering deep connections with their audience. This grassroots approach not only cultivates a devoted fan base but also instills a sense of national pride; India’s music market is a really good example of how national pride is propelling Indian music and artists onto international stages, as evidenced by the recent Coachella performances and statistics from research platforms such as Chartmetrics.

The onset of the pandemic accelerated Malawi’s transition into the digital realm. This shift prompted artists and their fanbases to migrate to online platforms such as Spotify, Boomplay, Audiomack, Deezer, YouTube, and TikTok. Consequently, there has been a notable surge in the consumption of local digital content, including music, among Malawians.

It’s imperative for local businesses and policymakers to not only support but also cultivate an environment conducive to seamless financial transactions and enhanced security measures. This environment should cater to the diverse needs of Malawians consuming local content, irrespective of their location, be it urban or rural areas. By prioritizing accessibility and reliability, we can empower individuals across the nation to engage with local content comfortably and confidently.

Authenticity and Originality

Free from the commercial pressures of major labels, we are more likely to produce authentic and original music that reflects our unique experiences and perspectives. This authenticity resonates with fans, both locally and internationally; and likely leads to generating steady revenue that can be reinvested back into the artist’s activities; growing their brand and influence overtime.

Opportunities for Emerging Artists

Our independent music market provides a platform for emerging artists to break into the music industry at a more minimal cost compared to an artist trying to make it in other music markets around the world or even across the continent. Without the need for major label backing, new Malawian talent is rising to the forefront, bringing fresh energy and ideas to the scene from their bedrooms & make-shift studios.

The hunger & tenacity needed to make it anywhere is already present in our generation of Malawian music creatives; with some taking on a more musical approach to their production and composition compared to others leaning into “copy & pasting” of sounds charting in other music markets. The opportunities are there for all artists to maximise on regardless of the stance they decide to take on how they make music; what will separate the bubblegum artists from the icons or legends will be time & relevance of their catalogues.

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Cultural Preservation

By maintaining control over their music, we can ensure the preservation of traditional sounds, instruments, and cultural heritage. This helps us safeguard our country’s rich musical legacy for future generations. Although for some previous generations of Malawian artists, the music business side of their cultural and musical contributions might never be linked back to them to their benefit. We need more research on how Malawian legacy artists have fared over the years and if they are financially secure from their contributions in music.

International Recognition

Some of our local artists have been gaining international success and recognition, with artists like Lucius Banda, Hazel Mak, Zani Challe, Onesimus and Tay Grin going beyond local borders with their music. This exposure not only puts Malawi on the musical map but also attracts new fans and collaborators.

Just next door, South African artists generated immense profit from the streaming platform, Spotify; with global audiences discovering new South African artists and music; and the South African artists themselves growing their global music print momentum through local and international collaborations, performances & touring beyond South Africa.

We have the potential to follow suit given the increase in local music consumption, and the responsibility of educating the local masses on the benefits of choosing premium subscriptions for platforms such as Spotify, YouTube & other monetising platforms; as means of supporting local talent and industry. Or we can focus on building our own local platforms that pay local artists and music creatives reasonably well.

This huge opportunity stands before us to create an African music market that can be an example of community-driven, profitable and sustainable music industry that is exportable and benefits creatives and the local economy. We can build differently by collectively continuing to put in the work where it matters; raising the bar of what Malawian music means and how far Malawian music artists can go (even while still living in Malawi); and the compensation creatives receive from various sources of income and activities.

The advantages of creative freedom, local ownership, community-driven initiatives, authenticity, opportunities for emerging artists, cultural preservation, and international recognition can equal big bucks and global influence for Malawi’s budding unique music scene. As the industry continues to evolve, it’s essential to preserve this independence and nurture the talents of Malawian artists.

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