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How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albinism musician and has featured in a Madonna-produced documentary

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How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi's musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe's Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Like scores of other buskers, Lazarus Chigwandali plies the streets of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe hoping for a few coins from appreciative passers-by.

But Chigwandali is not your usual street musician. He is an albino, releasing a professional album, and the star of a documentary produced by Madonna.

Albinos are often targeted in brutal attacks in Malawi and other southern African countries because they have white skin due to a hereditary condition that causes lack of pigmentation.

Killings, abductions and gruesome dismembering of body parts for witchcraft and rituals are all real dangers.

Despite the risks, Chigwandali, 39, has been out in front of the public for years playing his upbeat tunes on a homemade banjo and a drum that he hits with a pedal operated by his right foot.

His big break came just last year when a tourist took a video of him on a cellphone and the footage was seen by Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who asked him to record an album.

Chigwandali, who sings in the local Chichewa language, draws on his tough upbringing for his music, telling of constant harassment, suspicion and the threat of physical attack.

“Growing up, people didn’t want us being close to them because of our skin,” he told reporters.

“People would leave when I went to watch a football match with my younger brother (also an albino), others would jostle us.”

“The album talks about the plight of persons with albinism. How people should not stigmatise others.”

‘Blows you away’ –

Chigwandali’s music stands out on its own — energetic with sharp vocals that catch everyone’s attention as they walk by.

Hugo, the Swedish producer, was so impressed by the video clip that he tracked down the Malawian busker and offered to record his music.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism, Lazarus Chigwandali, poses with his managers Siphiwe Zulu (L) and Esau Mwamwaya before leaving his home at Likuni to go and perform at Area 3 Market in the capital Lilongwe. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A few golden times in life something blows you away in such an amazing way you just cry and laugh and shake your head,” Hugo said later on social media.

“(It was) one of the coolest and most emotional moments of my life.”

Chigwandali still busks occasionally to provide for his wife and three sons — two of them albinos — though he hopes the blossoming projects he is involved with will soon bring in a regular income.

He wears a wide-brimmed hat to keep off the sunlight that causes painful damage to his sensitive, heavily-freckled skin, and a traditional handmade shirt with a matching pair of trousers.

Ikponswa Ero, the UN’s chief expert on albinism, told reporters that Chigwandali was playing a unique role in tackling prejudice against albinos.

“He is using the arts for advocacy, which is a powerful tool because it touches people’s hearts, so he is really doing something important here,” she said.

“People like Lazarus complement people like myself who report and help build policy.”

And Malawi has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism.

In a report last year, Amnesty International said that since November 2014 there had been 148 crimes reported against people with albinism, with at least 21 deaths.

For Chigwandali, he says his “recent status as a famous musician has made it difficult for me to be a target because I am more prominent. So, now I go to the village without the fear of being abducted.”

‘Give voice to albinos’ –

Originally from the town of Dedza in central Malawi, Chigwandali moved to Lilongwe after his much-loved younger brother died of skin cancer in 2006.

Superstar singer, Madonna met him during a visit to Malawi last year, and took an executive producer credit in the documentary, simply titled “Lazarus”, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.

How Malawi's busker is fighting myths about albinism | News Central TV
Malawi’s musician with albinism Lazarus Chigwandali performs in Lilongwe’s Area 3 Market. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

“A powerful voice of a new generation in Malawi,” Madonna wrote beneath a picture of the pair on social media when they performed together in Malawi.

As well as Madonna, Chigwandali hopes to emulate Salif Keita, the Malian afro-pop star singer who also has albinism.

Now preparing for his album launch, he has released a promotional track “Ndife Alendo”  (“We are strangers”) which has been played on several BBC radio stations.

“My message is reaching the whole world now,” he said. “But there’s also been really amazing support from Malawi radio and TV — I want people in my home country to hear this music and appreciate it.

“This has all been a rollercoaster ride for me, these things don’t happen in real life normally. I don’t know what to expect. But I trust that people want the best for me. 

“I hope my music gives a voice to people with albinism, so they understand they’re as worthy as any other human being.”

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Muziki: Top 10 African music video chart for this week [countdown]

Here is our top 10 African music chart this week

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African Music Chart

It is an established fact that African artists are shining brightly on the global music stage. From West to East, South, North and Central Africa, artistes are relentlessly doling out amazing songs. On this week’s edition of Muziki, our official African Music Chart, we bring you a list of the top 10 songs that have continued to dominate our airwaves and keep fans and music lovers thrilled.

Number 10: Anybody – Burna Boy 

At number 10 on this week’s Muziki music chart is Anybody by Burna Boy. The hit song off his African Giant album, released on July 2019 has found its way to the hearts of many music lovers. With a whopping 12 million views on YouTube, ‘Anybody’ is indeed a seasonless song. Play it at a birthday party, nightclub, in your sitting room.. the song will definitely get everybody doing the ‘Fela Dance’ spontaneously! 

Burna Boy – Anybody (Official Video). Courtesy Burna Boy on YouTube.

Number 9Online – DJ Vitoto ft Moonchild Sanelly

DJ Vitoto’s Online is number 9 on the list. The song which features South African musician and dancer, Moonchild Sanelly, leaves one asking for a repeat whenever and wherever it is played. Released July, this year, ‘Online’ has continued to enjoy both commercial and musical patronage from music lovers across Africa. 

DJ Vitoto – Online [Feat. Moonchild Sanelly] (Official Music Video).

Number 8: Kiza Kinene – Nandy ft Sauti Sol 

Sitting at number 8 this week is Kiza Kinene by Nandy featuring Sauti Sol. The song from Tanzanian’s award-winning female singer and songwriter featuring Kenya’s Afropop band, Sauti Sol has continued to hold listeners spellbound. With its smooth African rhythm and strong lyrics rendered in French, Kiza Kinene has taken the stage since its release about a month ago. The video, which features an impressive dance performance, has garnered over 1.9 million views on YouTube.

Nandy Featuring Sauti Sol – Kiza Kinene (Official Music Video)

Number 7: Doyin – Mr Eazi ft Simi

Mr Eazi is never found wanting when it comes to releasing mad hits. The ‘leg over’ singer has taken it upon himself to always give his fans something to dance and vibe to with every release. On this one, he features Simi to produce this beautiful soul-enriching song. With 5.9 million YouTube views and millions of streams and downloads, the song is undoubtedly a major hit. 

Mr Eazi & Simi – Doyin (Official Video)

Number 6: Ololo – Stonebwoy ft Teniola

Released in September this year, Ololo has continued to appeal to music lovers. The Ghanaian Afropop, dancehall and reggae artiste features Nigerian songstress, Teni on this one. Ever since Stonebwoy released his debut single, Climax, featuring Samini, he has been serving it hot to millions of his fans.

Stonebwoy – Ololo (Official Video) ft. Teni

Number 5: I Like – Kojo Fund ft Wizkid

At number 5 on our top 10 is ‘I Like’ by Kojo Fund. The Ghanian-British born artiste who calls his music genre Afroswing featured Wizkid on this one. With 7.4 million views on Youtube, the song deserves to be in the ranks. 

Kojo Funds – I Like ft. WizKid [Official Video]

Number 4: 49-99 – Tiwa Savage

The much-anticipated song started dominating the waves immediately the former Marvin records queen released it. With a uniquely conceived video to accompany the song, it’s been taking out the competition. Tiwa has been doing big things nonstop from Mavin Record to Universal Music. The fact that she could come up with such an amazing song did not come as a surprise to her fans.  

Tiwa Savage – “49-99” (Official Video)

Number 3: Yo Pe Remix – Innoss’B ft Diamond Platinum

Innocent Didance Balume popularly known by his stage name as Innoss’B has remixed his single titled Yo Pe. The Congolese singer and songwriter featured Diamond Platnumz to add a whole different vibe to the remixed version. It made it to number 3 on the Muziki Top 10 chart. 

Innoss’B Ft Diamond Platnumz – Yope Remix (Official Music Video)

Number 2: Ghetto Love – Wizkid 

Ever since the ‘Ojuelegba’ singer released ‘Ghetto Love’ his first single of the year, the song has enjoyed high youtube views. Even when it seemed the follow-up single Joro, would douse the popularity of Ghetto Love, the song has continued to appeal to people.

WizKid – Ghetto Love (Official Video)

Number 1: Blow My Mind – Davido ft Chris brown

Sitting on our number one throne is Davido and Chris Brown’s first collaboration, ‘Blow My Mind.’ The song which is worth every bit of attention, is still on repeat for many and still being massively streamed. Fans have gotten a taste of the latest collaboration between Davido and Chris Brown with the audio release of ‘Lower Body.’ But that hasn’t stopped ‘Blow My Mind’ from continuing to dominate the charts. 

Davido, Chris Brown – Blow My Mind (Official Video)

Bonus tracks of the weekHonourable mentions

Beginning – JoeBoy

Following his break out hit ‘Baby’,  Joeboy has made it obvious he has come to write his name in the sands of time with his follow-up single titled ‘Beginning’. This is surely one young artiste to look out for!

Joeboy – Beginning (Official Video)

Saara – Sarkodie ft Efya

The Ghanaian Rapper featured Efya to come up with ‘Saara’ which is doing just great on music platforms. Coming from the Ghanian rap legend himself one already knows the song cannot fall below expectations.

Sarkodie – Saara ft. Efya (Official Video)

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M.I Abaga vs Vector the Viper: Nigeria’s battle for rap supremacy [Updated]

Rivalry in the Rap genre of music is not a new thing as it has always been in the scene

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M. I Abaga vs Vector the Viper: Nigeria's battle for rap supremacy

The Nigerian music space was on fire during the weekend with the rap war between M.I Abaga and the “lafiagi” crooner Vector. Vector had released a diss track titled ‘The purge’ on 20 September 2019, in which he featured Vader and Paper Corleone. Barely 7 days after the release of ‘The purge’, Vector released another apparent diss track titled ‘tetracycling’. 

Unable to hold it any longer, M.I released ‘The Viper’ a comprehensive reply to Vector’s diss tracks. The Viper which he, M.I personally directed served as an expository of some sort to the genesis of the bad blood between them as well as a clapback to Vector’s two diss singles The Purge and Tetracycling. 

With many Nigerians hailing the Jos-born rapper for schooling the Lafiagi crooner on the social media space, one can guess Vector’s mood at the moment. In the 5 minutes Viper track which the 38 year-old rapper claimed to be an advice to Vector instead of a diss, he rated Vector below the top 5 rappers from Yoruba land and goes further to make a shout out to indigenous rappers like Olamide and CDQ for making farbetter impacts in the industry than Vector has ever done. 

M. I Abaga – Viper (official audio). Courtesy: MI Abaga on YouTube

Pay Attention: Wizkid News: Four latest news on Wizkid you probably missed

Rap battles – the origins

Rivalry in the Rap genre of music is not a new thing as it has always been in the scene. It is even worse in America, where one can rightly say rap originated from. It has also been alleged that it was the remote cause of the untimely death of legendary American rappers,  2pac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G both of who engaged each other significantly during their lifetime. 

There have also been rap rivalries between the pairs of Jay Z & Nas and T.Pain & Gucci Mane. And more recently, between the Carribean rap queens, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. 

Coming back to Nigeria, what many may not remember, is that M.I Abaga is not new in rap rivalry in Nigeria. He has gained notoriety with the vice years before Vector even came to limelight. Years ago, M.I had battled it out with Kelly Handsome. This time, he was the first to provoke the verbal war. He lyrically got the attention of Kelly Handsome with the following lines;

                                       Kelly Handsome is handsome

                                         i don’t need you to tell me

                                         ….short black back dude 

                                        Says he is sitting on top

                                       Sitting on top Naija Hip Pop

                                      …But i am the ladder to the Top

Read Also: Sex for grades” – Another sad reminder of our failed education system

This obviously infuriated Kelly handsome who replied and later released his own diss track against M.I, titled ‘Finish you Boy’.

In 2009, an American based Nigerian rapper by the name, Iceberg Slim also involved M.I in his song titled ‘am i better?’ with lyrics that implies M.I already knew who was better between them. As was expected, it did not go down well with the American trained economist cum rapper, M.I Abaga, who released a clap back single titled ‘Somebody Wants To Die’, featuring Chocolate City mate, Ice Prince. 

Finally, expectations are high with regards to what is coming next. Will they makeup or continue this diss saga that has already pulled a lot of attention? Is Vector going to be the mature party this time and not think of releasing another diss single? Only time will tell! Meanwhile, Vector is currently busy working with Davido on a new song.

Just when M.I must have taken a deep breath for putting Vector in his place, it seems, that feeling of accomplishment has been cut short as Vector has vowed to throw the last punch. Determined not to be ‘the vanquished’ in this war of rap superiority, Vector has released another diss track titled ‘Judas The Rat’ dedicated to M.I Abaga. 

Vector – Judas The Rat (Official Audio). Courtesy: Vector on YouTube

In the 4:03 seconds track, Vector unleashed unexpected blows on M.I. In the audio track he posted on YouTube in the wee hours of Friday, 11 October 2019, he calls M.I a rat and enlightened the 38 year-old rapper on the reason he, Vector is not his son (recall, that M.I had called vector his son in his track titled ‘The Viper’). 

What is indeed interesting in this latest track is that, Vector did not only mention M.I but also mentioned M.I’s younger brother Jesse Jagz. He raps that M.I claims to be helping people but have not helped his own blood brother Jesse Jagz. With this latest track, one may conclude that they are still far from calling a ceasefire.

Who do you think has the last laugh? Let us know in the comment below.

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Morocco’s renowned “Critical” cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrids

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable

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Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"

Morocco’s rugged Rif Mountains have long been renowned for their cannabis but traditional varieties are being smoked out by foreign hybrids offering higher yields and greater potency.

The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the kingdom.

Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.

Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”

Major cannabis producers decide what to plant and “hybrid plants have become a market all on their own,” said Moroccan anthropologist Khalid Mouna, who has written a thesis on the economics of Ketama’s cannabis production.

READ: Morocco’s last woman-potters hope on social media for survival

Critical, which Mouna said comes from the Netherlands, is the latest hybrid created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco.

With names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla”, hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability. 

Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo, while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told reporters. 

Buoying production – 

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Morocco has long been a leading producer and exporter of hashish — refined cannabis resin — even though the production, sale and consumption of drugs is illegal in the country.

READ: Sand Miners threaten Morocco’s coastline

A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.

In 2003, 134,000 hectares were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion programme, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) of hashish per quintal, a traditional unit of weight equivalent to 100 kilos, compared to a single kilo for kif, as local cannabis is known.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.

Livelihood –

In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.

Producing it and smoking it are tolerated by the authorities and its cultivation provides a livelihood for 90,000 to 140,000 people in an otherwise deprived region known for its poor soil.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

People in the area told reporters that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.

READ: Lesotho is pioneering Africa’s medical cannabis industry

Hicham divides his time between his cannabis field and a cafe, where he and his friends smoke joints and watch satellite TV — a distraction from unemployment, he says.

In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.

Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.

Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.

Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.

Environmental cost –

The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost, however.

The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT.

Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas. 

“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.

To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.

Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain. 

Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.

To legalise, or not –

Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical. 

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.

READ: Kenya denies it has given a US company licence to produce cannabis

“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels,” Mouna said. 

“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation.”

Cannabis decriminalisation remains controversial in the conservative country. 

Proposals to legalise cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.

For Mouna, legalisation could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.

And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya.

“The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”

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