Previously I covered how I discovered the trio called Home Grown African, and within weeks of signing a Management Deal to Hookline I was tasked with disbanding the group, legally securing the name which was in dispute and moving on as a duo.
Now that I had a strong and talented team around this unknown brand, I got to work. I needed them to make new music, I needed them to develop performance skills and stage presence as neither Classick or Hayze Engola had ever performed in front of a crowd at that point. I needed to put them in various scenarios and see what I was working with in terms of talent, character, personality and discipline. I also needed to give them exposure, but not too much so it didn’t distract or inhibit the growth they had to go through as artists. So I put together a simple plan, we would perform at this poetry joint opposite Ryalls Hotel called, Mibawa Café. The demographic of its attendees fit the description of their needed fan base; young English speaking Malawians who loved international music, but were craving something local of the same quality to call their own. I figured poetry crowds were very open minded and welcoming therefore, would be the right environment for Classick and Hayze to build their confidence and stage performance.
My main concern was how to market them and make them successful in Malawi first, when they didn’t sound very “Malawian”, when they spoke only English and had heavy profanity in some of their work (which are rather inconvenient things in a very conservative country), without ruining what made them special or watering them down or forcing them to be what I wanted them to be as opposed to who they needed to be. I was an Artist myself before, I couldn’t fit in and I couldn’t find my audience or people that could channel who I was. So I ended up letting the dream go. I didn’t want this to happen to them.
Meet Joy Nathu
The first radio Dj I consulted on getting Home Grown African airplay was Joy Nathu. We met in 2014 at Mount Soche Hotel in Pablo’s Bar by the lounge area. I told him who I was, that I had a new act and was looking for the right way in. He listened to a few tracks I had from their mixtape and he also fell in love with the track How We Get Down like I did when I first heard them.
However, as much as he liked their music he was not going to be able to play them on any of the shows he was doing at MBC2 because, they did not fit his “profile”. He also cautioned on how they were going to struggle finding airplay in Malawi because, of their profanity and foreign sound in general. Regardless, he recommended I talked to a guy called James Gumbwa who had a show called Born n’ Bred at the same radio station and after that maybe DJ Sleam from Power101FM.
I knew Sleam because, I was managing a show for Airtel on Power101FM during this period. However, I didn’t know who this James Gumbwa guy was. I took his advisement, but felt kind of blow off because, Joy Nathu seemed like the bigger name out of the three of them. None the less, I believed in myself, my team and the music we were going to put out and I knew that if your success was going to depend only on one Dj then you were not special enough to change an industry. People are hard wired to share and gravitate toward things that standout or make them feel good. Home Grown was that, I had no doubt. Any good Dj was going to do. People just needed to hear them once. We just needed a way in.
Every week we would have a meeting somewhere chilled. Either at the Studio, Gelatos, Steers Khonde, Mount Soche or Mibawa Café. We would set goals, discuss strategies and assess progress. I did this to create cohesion in the team, to keep the guys motivated and to create an avenue through which people could raise any questions or concerns about anything organically. Most importantly I did it to instill in them a culture of careful planning. Because, if you don’t intentionally try to understand your landscape and what moves you need to make in it, then you are not serious about succeeding or beating your competition.
It was out of these meetings that two HGA guiding principles were formed. These were Quality and Clarity.
Quality; when we were putting out any material we would ask ourselves, “is this the best we could have done (effort) and can we stand by what we have done even if other people disagree with it (principles and values).” If the answer was “No” to any of the questions we would go back to the drawing board or reconsider the project.
Clarity; when we decided to take action no matter how big or small the endeavor was or how much money was involved, we would ask ourselves, “why are we doing this and what are we hoping to achieve (consistent goals and motivation).” We recognized how easy it was to sell your soul for fame and money, doing things that compromised who you were or what you were about. We valued our image and quality of output. If the goals and motivations did not align, we either started over or tried something else.
Once the guys had embraced this way of doing things I introduced them to the Art of War by Sun Tzu and to some important Jeet Kune Do concepts. These philosophies revolved around a simple principle, effectiveness. It was more important to be effective than it was to be popular. The thinking goes like this; if a venue can hold 500 people then it doesn’t matter how many fans a big artist has, if a smaller artist can charge the same price and also fill it with 500 people he will still make the same amount of money per gig. We needed a fanatical niche following, not necessarily to be embraced by the masses (a thousand loyal fans, can do more for you as an artist than twenty thousand followers on social media).
In Jeet Kune Do they also say learn from everyone and every fighting style then create your own style. “Take what is useful, reject what is not” Bruce Lee said. I needed the guys to focus on developing their own approaches and not to care too much about people’s dogmatic views. They needed to understand that the same people criticizing them would admire and praise them later on once their methods had worked.
With this they agreed to my Puff Daddy-Notorious BIG strategy. Half and Half. Give radio a little bit of what they want even if it isn’t entirely your thing (songs like Big Poppa or our single Radio) so that the exposure and notoriety opens doors financially. Which meant little to no profanity for all HGA singles.
This guaranteed the people with the most influence and money – companies and media houses would have less resistance to promoting our material and hiring us. It also meant casual listeners would also have a greater chance of listening to our music and associating it with positive vibes, instead of zachibwana zama yo (hooligan music). This would draw in a general audience and boost hype at performances. The other half would be for the day one fans, this is the stuff that people would be bumping at home and in their cars. The raw grimy stuff that would give the brand street credibility and display their ability to push the bar, as well as their proficiency on the mic.
Hello Lake Of Stars
Home Grown’s first encounter with what actually works in real life versus what you think will work in theory, was when I refused to let a banger that had leaked from the studio, called “Die Rich”, play on radio. It was a dope track for 2014 and still is, with a legendary Classick intro and a Hayze Engola Hook going “F@#$ you we gon’ Die Rich, we gon’ Die Rich! …”
Instead I opted to release a more relaxed very listener friendly song called “Can You Hear”. The guys couldn’t believe it. Die Rich was a sure win, it was already buzzing on the streets. They felt this was a terrible blunder doubting me saying to themselves “guys koma maniwa atithandiza?” (guys is this dude really going to help us?). But I knew something about marketing products they did not know, you do not get a second chance at a first impression. Therefore, you should not get something like that wrong. Die Rich would have made them ma yo amu hood, would have immediately dropped their status and relegated their listenership to one show on one radio station, Dj Sleam’s “Gowelo Beats” on Power101FM where he played edgy local urban music. However, “Can You Hear” was a song with a message like Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is The Love.” I knew with the right marketing the right people would embrace it and even radio stations like Capital FM that did not play any local Hip Hop would play it.
As I suspected the song was embraced by every radio station we gave it to and the instrumental was safe enough to be played on shows by both James Gumbwa and Joy Nathu, as well as other Djs on non-urban radio programs. I remember telling the boys never to forget the DJs that started it for them, Sleam, James Gumbwa, Dj Mbuzi and Sam Kabambe. To find varied ways of releasing music on all their shows and not to be biased towards one Dj only. To respect them all and never make them feel like servants once they got big as artists. I then got word that someone from Lake Of Stars had attended a poetry session and heard Hayze and Classick perform the words to “Can You Hear” as a piece and was impressed. They were coming back with a team to quietly assess the crew as a potential act at LOS.
We quickly called in a last minute favour from our new friend, a small gospel artist named Patience Namadingo who was signed to Nde’feyo Entertainment. He was experimenting with a new sound so he would also occasionally come to the Sessions at Mibawa Café. He let us use his band to put together an impromptu performance to try and impress the guys from LOS. The music didn’t gel, the pianist was playing the wrong chords, Classick and Hayze were nervous, it was a mediocre affair but it worked. It got us a private performance at Chez Macky where we ironed out our kinks and delivered. An important lesson in winning; 100% of chances you don’t take fail and if you wait for things to be perfect you will never do anything.
When I told the guys I had successfully negotiated their being at Lake Of Stars 2014 they were over the moon. So much so that they channeled that energy and wrote their biggest radio hit that week, T.I.A (This is Africa). My, how things come together. The track blew and was circulating on every top radio station. Furthermore their play on sound made it difficult for station managers to lock them down to a genre, so Home Grown unofficially became its own category. Allowing the band to by pass gate keeping on different programs at radio stations. Their confidence and self-belief soared. If they suspected they could have taken over the industry before, now they knew for sure.
Since we only had 2 singles on radio and we had no band or money, we called on Patience again to let us take his band to LOS in return we would let him perform half our set and take half our pay. He agreed and the rest was history. The best 15 minutes of our Lives.
Coming back from LOS we could smell blood. Through wit, creative marketing and ingenuity we had done the impossible. Performed at an International Festival virtually unknown. Jealousy was in the air, there were artists with more hits than us that had never set foot at that event, but we found a way in through the back door. People wanted to know who we were and what was so special about us. The guys trusted me now. I had taught them everything I knew about live performance and sets, and they had seen the value of unorthodox thinking, careful planning and effective execution. It was now time to blow up, I just needed a mechanism.
SO HAYZE JUMPS INTO THE CROWD AT 1:08 (SMH). EY, KAYA, IT WORKED OUT WELL THOUGH. NOTHING OUT OF CONTROL HAPPENED, SEE IT FOR YOURSELF. WAS RISKY BUT DOPE, RAPPED HIS VERSE FROM THE CROWD AT THE Carlsberg Urban Music Legacy #TIA NEVER FAILS. ANTHEM KAWAWA!!SO NEW CAMPAIGN, NEW EVENTS & ACTIVITIES COMING UP FROM US FROM NEXT WEEK. WATCH THE SPACE WILL KEEP YOU POSTED 😀
Posted by Home Grown African on Wednesday, August 31, 2016
As 2014 came to a close Hayze commemorated it with a calm contemplative solo track called Good Year. There could not have been a more perfect way to end that chapter.
2015 on the other hand begun with explosives when Classick released Bola Kunthazi on his birthday as a celebration with the fans. It was the first song ever to feature a rap in Chitumbuka and the joint was fire! People could see that the two artists had their own personalities and were individually dope. It was also the first time people understood that HGA was actually what happened when you brought them together. They did not necessary sound like HGA on their own. Interest peaked.
Through leverage I convinced the guys at Carlsberg Malawi to let me add HGA to the Kuphaka Life Student Campaign Finale roster. No one knew who they were and did not want to spend K145,000 on a group that was unknown and that didn’t have any songs they had heard of. It was allowed simply because, I had run the whole KPL Campaign flawlessly for Coke and brand managers respected my campaign ideas. I told Classick and Hayze, “I got you another quality booking and this is it. This is where you prove you guys are the best. Every other top act will be there, from Dan Lu to Daredevils. If you guys can hold your own or even upstage some of them, there will be no more doubt.”
And they delivered. Their KPL Finale Performance at College of Medicine in Blantyre was epic. Fans rushing the stage, security fighting to keep people off, sound engineers struggling to keep the volume loud enough for us to hear Classick and Hayze over the screaming crowd chanting line for line. It was the first time in my life I ever heard a Malawian audience say “FUCK YOU!” so freely at a public event. As Die Rich played I realized we had just changed the game and so did all the artists there.
The Coca-Cola brand manager amazed came over and asked, “who are these guys?” I said, “Home Grown African.” She said, “Wow, good call Talumba. Well done, this event has been a success. We will definitely have it again next year and I want these guys touring with us.” Boom! “Level cleared, new skill unlocked.”
But as it often happens, when things are going well the devil is never too far behind. The money and fame was about to pour in, the vices were about to manifest and Home Grown was about to get tested.
Coming up next Final Part, The Story of Home Grown African: Disillusionment (Part 3). Follow Talumba Chirwa on Twitter @Thii_Cii and Facebook to be notified on other interesting content when it is posted. Please also share this content with those who may be interested. Really Appreciated!
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