Home Grown African (HGA), is and was arguably Malawi’s most promising urban duo. Destined for great heights, determined to forge their own path and legacy. So unique in their style and content, HGA became its own category. You had local rappers, then you had HGA and fans loved it. After 3 years of unorthodox releases on the scene, suddenly the storm from Blantyre that seemed inevitable subsided. They stopped putting out projects. The unstoppable hype that got the attention of people like “The Very Best” and MTV Base following the release of their debut EP, Blantyre Blues, seemed to lead to nothing. What happened?
I am Talumba Chirwa, Manager of Home Grown African. I discovered them from the hood and helped build them into the force they became. This is the story of what happened. How they were discovered (Part 1), how they blew up (Part 2), and how they suddenly just stopped making music (Part 3). Its a story about success, fame, money, internal struggles and the creation of good music. It’s a story every fan needs to know, a tale about life, growing up and friendship.
This is my recollection as a manager and is by no means a monopoly on the history of the band. It is a perspective from an insider to the group, but as an outsider to some experiences that happened within it. In that sense this is my version of the HGA story. Everyone involved has theirs and I hope maybe in time we will eventually get to hear those versions as well.
I promise to be truthful, but above all I promise to tell this story in a manner that upholds the tremendous love and respect I have for all the people that helped create Home Grown African. And if you stick around till the end I might even tell you whether fans should ever expect a project from HGA again or not.
So here it is, The Story of Home Grown African.
Home Grown African as a movement, would not have existed if it wasn’t for one person, a super fan. A kid named Mordecai. It is really unfathomable how an opportunity of a lifetime, for both Artist and Manager, could have been created by such a random and unlikely force. This element of chance is humbling because, some people equally talented never cross paths with the right person to synergize and create something great with.
I was friends and Business Partners with Mordecai’s cousin, Trevor, and whenever I was at the house he kept trying to convince me that there was this dope local group that needed someone like me to manage them and I kept blowing him off. I wasn’t interested, I was just coming off my first attempt at managing an artist, a friend of mine called Tanaposi and it hadn’t gone well. Trevor had also discovered a dance crew and I was asked to train them since I used to work as a dance choreographer part time when I was in Joburg. These guys didn’t show value for input and ideas from management and would sell items bought to help them with communications or practice for a quick buck. I wasn’t interested in Malawian talent, they seemed to lack vision and discipline. They just wanted to land at the top without honing their craft to perfection or without having to carefully think about who they wanted to be and what they wanted to bring to the table that would be different. So no matter what he tried I didn’t even want to listen to some mixtape of theirs he had.
Eventually one day after he had gone on and on about some song these guys had written that was about a girl they called Mona Lisa and how she left them or broke their hearts or something, I gave way momentarily. The track was called “Bad Bitch Mona Lisa.” I laughed, I found the name of the track amusing, but audacious coming from a local Malawian outfit. He insisted I had to at least listen to that track. I said, “alright, you get three songs. You get to play me three songs by these guys that you think best capture what they are about and their level of skill. If I am not hooked by then, that’s the last we will ever speak of them.”
He frantically setup a play list and gave me his phone whilst he quickly went to fetch a pair of earphones. He wanted me to have a proper first impression. I wasn’t expecting much and found his devotion to this group unbelievable as well as intriguing. He was a real fan, not just a listener, a real fan. You could tell he was invested in their success. This coming from a kid that loved international music and was critical of some international acts even. Yet here he was, absolutely immersed in this local Malawian hip hop band. As he foraged away in the next room I casually asked, “what are they called again?” He said, “HGA.” I asked what it stood for and he said, “Home Grown African” and I thought hmmm, that’s actually a good name. Simple and very marketable. Alright, they seemed to be giving me the right vibe, but what did they sound like? As I looked at the album art, I started to feel something, could it be? I put on the earphones and played the track.
My goodness, they were artists. Real artists. The track was experimental, the production wasn’t perfect not to mention some of the lyrics were a little weak, BUT all the ingredients needed for greatness were there. The track even featured Nyokase who is now part of Zathu Pa Wailesi and is the original voice tag that says “Home Grown” at the end or beginning of their records. I found myself smiling this wasn’t a waste of my time. I played the next track, Bigger Than Average, the only track where all Three HGA members were on (I later got permission to release a version with only Classick and Hayze). There was a line about Michael Jackson telling Classick something at the start that was hilarious. At the same time a line about Hayze wanting to jump into his mother’s coffin that was really moving. I thought my God they can capture such emotion.
“The good die young so the bad are probably aging…” – Hayze Engola
Finally, Mordecai scrolled and played a track called How We Get Down, this is the track that officially made me a Home Grown fan. It was old school tag team rhymes from a 19 and 20 year old in 2013, it showed a genuine love and respect for the art form and its origins. Everything came together on this track the cadence, delivery, hook and Bengobeatz’ production. It was a complete song. They could be fun, they could be serious, they could tell stories, they could deliver bars, they sounded like they cared about what they did, they had a clear image, and seemed to have a rough idea where they wanted to go with their music. They had a marketable name. I was sold.
Fast forward a few weeks later I met all Three of them and got them to sign to Hookline Avenue, then operating as Hook Line & Sinker Media. From the start I was able to gauge some things that would come in handy as well as eventually become an impediment. Hayze listened a lot, asked questions and lead the direction of the conversation. He was a man with a plan and clarity, and he wasn’t someone you could impress with money or words. He could read people, he understood the value of principle and good character. He was well spoken, seemed pretty well grounded, he was a thinker, a man after my own heart. Classick on the other hand was quiet and elusive. He was down to earth and was only concerned with the main things; where are we going, what are we doing and sometimes why are we doing it. But he wasn’t concerned too much with details or how something would be done. It was almost like he woke up and freestyled every day of his life. Flawed, but fascinating, strong willed and independent. He was a free spirit who was always loyal to his friends and down for whatever. The exact opposite. The third member, Eminent, was hard to read I couldn’t place him, but he had been there since day one and I believe he actually might have coined the name “Home Grown African”. So it was what it was.
From the very start however, I could see there was a problem with their three-way union. Within a week of their signing it became apparent Eminent was not interested in being a professional musician and he felt that he wasn’t going to be able to deliver what they wanted from him musically amongst other things. Accusations of being left out and accusations of sidelining each other erupted together with other unresolved issues. They were twenty-year-old guys with egos and there was an immediate fall out to my chagrin. I brokered a summit, it was heated and not amicable, with clear threats of the name “Home Grown African” not to be used. Yankho (Classick) felt betrayed, he was livid. It’s the first time I noticed how he either kept things in quietly and said nothing or exploded with emotion when what he was feeling was too great to suppress. My first task therefore as Manager, was to disband the group, legally secure the name Home Grown African with the registrar’s office, get written consent from Eminent on all the above and make sure a contract with clear terms existed between Classick and Hayze where HGA was a registered entity they co-owned.
After a few weeks of negotiating with the guys everything was signed and that was the last I ever saw or spoke to Eminent. Hayze rallied everyone at Bengobeatz’ Day One studios in Naperi, looked at me and said, “Alright here we are. What now? What do you need? We are trusting you and despite what has just happened we are committed and are ready to work” I said to them, “give me Three Years and I will turn you guys into a brand Malawi has never seen before. You are in the right hands, but we will have to do it my way. Here is how we will first conquer Malawi, then Africa, then hopefully the rest of the world.” I proceeded to layout the plan:
First year (Get Started), we do nothing but Study, Experiment and Hon our Skills. Our aim is to become dope artists, dope producers, dope performers and a great team. We will not be focused on making any money at all or being famous during this year. Everything will be pro-bono and on the low. We will be investing in ourselves, our skills, our discipline and character as men and we will build our fan base organically from the ground up.
Second year (Get Established), we will show we are marketable, build enough networks and have enough hits to be known nationally and to get hired for gigs. Now we will want radio hits and fame in order to blow. Getting as many followers as possible will be alright because, we would have already established a back bone of loyal fans who like us for who we are at this point. Without a home base you can never be strong.
Third year (Take Over) we will position ourselves as the market leaders and dominant players. Making more noise, shooting videos and pushing ourselves towards being on MTV, Trace, Channel O and Other Platforms. This year we will start to reap the financial rewards for our hard work and focus on making more money. If you are happy with how things have gone at the end of that, you will renew my contract as manager. If not, you will be free to cut me loose. But to take you from where you are now to being significant artists locally or regionally, I will need three years. That’s the plan.
We all looked at each other nodding our heads. We could all see it. We could all envision the journey and success. There was no hubris in the room or hi fives, no one was hypnotized with hype or fantasy. We were all very sober about the decision and commitment we were making. We were clearly excited to embark on this journey, but the serious look on everyone’s faces also revealed that we all understood we would each have to put in “work” before we could see any results at a designated time.
It was Classick, Hayze Engola, Bengobeatz, Trevor and myself. Between us we had Artists, Producer-DJ and Studio, Videographer/ Graphic Designer and a Marketer/ Manager. We were good, we were ready, we felt strong. This was October 2013.
Coming Up Next, “The Story of Home Grown African: Blowin Up (Part 2)”. I talk about how the hits were picked and made. I also chronicle all the obstacles we faced and tactics we used to get played on radio even though we did not sound “Malawian” (as Joy Nathu put it) and how I got the Team to perform at Lake Of Stars even before we had a major hit (Then in the final article, Part 3, we will tackle the losses and internal conflicts and I’ll tell you where things stand right now).
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