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‘Vernacular poetry is more popular’

Vernacular poetry in the country has become a form of entertainment. Our reporter, AYAMI MKWANDA caught up with Chisomo Mdala, Poetry Association of Malawi (PAM) president, and asked him a few questions about the industry. 

At the helm of Poetry Association of Malawi :Mdala

Q

: As president of PAM, what are your achievements in office so far?

A

: The association has done a lot to help and nurture the talent of budding poets in the country. We have had some training sessions for the poets. These sessions have helped artists learn few things that will help grow their talent. The aim is to see them realise their full potential. We have accomplished this through the Cultural Support Scheme. Many budding poets have been groomed through this initiative. We also have brought in established poets in the industry to motivate and guide these artists on their career. These are lecturers from various universities in the country. You see, the association has three chapters: Southern Chapter, Central Chapter and Northern Chapter. So we train poets from across the country. Before the end of the year, we will have seminars for poets. We will ask poets to identify areas where they need assistance.

Q

: Apart from recital shows, are there any activities artists can use to showcase their work?

A

: Yes we have them. However, sometimes we fail to hold these activities due to lack of funds. In the past five years, we used to have regular funds from the Norwegian Embassy but now we no longer have enough. The funds we receive through the Cultural Support Scheme are not sufficient for our activities. For instance we would like to come up with an anthology that will contain poems  from all the three chapters. This project needs funds to be accomplished.  We are currently amending our constitution to enable it to answer to the needs of the body. Once it is amended, we will accommodate many activities. Right now, almost 90 percent of the work is done. We are also trying to respond to some proposals that were sent to us about holding some activities. On top of that, we intend to invite some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the corporate world to partner with us. We are on television too. We have been on MBC TV. I know Mibawa TV has started some poetry project that will be beamed on their channel, and Times TV too has a programme that’s developing towards the art-form. With the growth of vernacular poetry I speak about, I wonder what other televisions are waiting for.

Q

:What do the NGOs and the corporate world stand to benefit if they partner you?

A

: They will benefit a lot. Vernacular poetry is a fastest growing genre in the country. It is becoming more popular each day. Many people in the country are beginning to like poetry. We as artists will add value to their work by promoting it through our radio recital programmes, live performance shows and other activities.

Q:How does the association help artists fight against piracy?

A

: First of all, I would like to categorically denounce piracy. It is undermining the professional work of our artists in the country. The rules of nature are that a person should enjoy the fruits of their labour. It’s bad for some unscrupulous people to pirate the works of others.  That’s killing the trade. People ought to know about the rights of artists. Another thing is that artists should register their work with Copyright Association of Malawi (Cosoma) to receive royalties. In due course we will discuss with radio stations and television stations to see how artists can be rewarded from their works they air. I think Cosoma lacks ‘enforcement’ powers to defend the rights of poets.

Q

: Doesnt Cosoma have laws that prohibit people from pirating artists’ works?

A

: No. I didn’t say that. Cosoma has the laws but they lack ‘enforcement’ mechanism. And this can only be done by engaging the Police. The Cosoma executive members should meet and take the complaints of artists to the Police.

Q

: Why should government help artists overcome piracy?

A

: Artists can help in the development of this country in a number of ways. What I notice is was that in the higher circles of leadership, art is not regarded as a career. Government can get revenue from the performances of artists as they use halls which they pay for. Again, government can incorporate artists into its programmes. For instance artists can go out of the country to perform and bring back money.

Q

: How would you rate the progress of poetry in the country?

A

: Vernacular poetry is more popular. It’s popular because artists saw how they should make it popular. The revolution of vernacular poetry started in 2002 at Chancellor College, the University of Malawi. There, Felix ‘Njonjonjo’ Katsoka and I would recite poems in The Great Hall. Then we decided to start holding more shows in order to bring poetry closer to people. It was Stanley Onjezani Kenani, then as president of Malawi Writers Union (Mawu), who helped poetry gain recognition. He took us to the British Council where we held poetry recitals. In 2004, Mawu organised Chiphwelemwe cha Msangulutso at the Warehouse in Blantyre where the audience enjoyed poetry performances. From then on, vernacular poetry has grown from strength to strength. n

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