Previously, I chronicled how HGA blew up, how we strategized our market position and got our music playing on every top radio station even though it did not sound “Malawian” enough. We had a hit single, had performed at Lake of Stars and had just made waves performing at one of the biggest student activations in recent memory, Kuphaka Life with Coke.
“I wish I had known then, what I know now. That when you finally reach the top. There is nothing there.” Jack Higgens, Novelist.
Success had finally come. It seemed like there was no one who did not know who Home Grown African was. Everywhere we went, screaming girls, swarming guys and mandatory selfies. Every other upcoming artist wanted a collabo, we had made it. Expectations, blogger rumours, invitations to parties and what not, we were the in thing and everything was happening fast. I made sure to lead with a level head, but understood that these were young guys living their dream and to never make the mistake of trying to be their fathers. I only had to safe guard them from the worst vices and most detrimental decisions, especially the ones that affected the music. Outside that, their personal lives were none of my business. Something I picked up in a Jimmy Iovine interview once.
Chinks in the Armour
Money was coming in, between KPL tours, The Daliso Chaponda Show in Lilongwe, Carlsberg Urban Legacy and private gigs. We easily must have done close to 1.5million in a few months. Which isn’t that much money in the grand scheme of things, but for a Malawian act coming out of nowhere it was something. We had made it.
One of my favourite epic stories, is the story of Beowulf as depicted in the 2007’s 3D animated movie. What fascinates me about it is the idea of human flaws leading to a repetition of mistakes by each generation. You would think with all the cautionary tales out there, that we of all people would have been avidly saving money or reinvesting in ourselves and not just eating through it. Looking back maybe I should have insisted more, but I have learnt not to be too harsh when judging yourself, everything is clearer in hindsight and we often forget the pressures and political realities that plagued us at the time. Doesn’t matter how exposed or talented you are. You are only human, if you don’t safe guard yourself from yourself your ideals will be corrupted.
I remember this one occasion we had agreed prior to a performance that we should put money from that gig towards shooting a video, but once we got the money some parties felt no one should be telling anyone else what to do with their share. It was one of these awkward situations with battle lines drawn. It wasn’t worth it so I let it slide, after all we could still use Trevor’s gear which we had used to shoot the video for Radio at the end of 2015. So maybe it wasn’t that important.
Unfortunately Trevor had moved to Lilongwe by early 2016. So we lost our videographer. Buying studio equipment also seemed like a premature investment, which had the potential of making Bengobeatz feel like there was a conspiracy to make him redundant. Why would we be investing in an HGA studio when Day One Studios was our default studio, where all the winning chemistry had happened. Everyone lived within 10 minutes of the studio, it was not necessary. I was going to just end up creating a wedge and opening a can of worms if I started pushing for that. So I left that issue also.
As the months progressed. The guys were partying and drinking more and more, some more than others, but I could always trust them to work their issues through and get their heads in the game when it was show time. I was never privy to their creative process, how they found inspiration or created the music. I was never around for that part, I preferred to come in when the pots were already on the stove and the cooking was partially done. So that I can comment on the seasoning or what wines or table dressing would best suit the meal they were trying to prepare. If there were any issues that were there as a result of that creative process I wouldn’t know and would not be the one to share them.
Whatever the case the novelty of fame was wearing off and each new achievement no longer brought the same high. Something nobody prepares you for, the transition from play to work. Some artists survive this phase, others do not. Those that do are the ones who understand that the attitude or behaviour you needed to have to blow up is not the same attitude or behaviour you need to have to stay at the top or to remain successful.
Online gossip and expectations from people around was starting to take a toll on the crew. People always seemed to want something from the boys. I was also starting to feel overwhelmed and was upset that Trevor was a member of the outfit in name only, but was not contributing ideas or resources. In his defense how was he supposed to do that from Lilongwe with everyone else in Blantyre. His hands were tied. Some members of the team also felt like I wasn’t pushing hard enough to get more gigs and music videos done. This was partly true and made me very defensive as I had pulled all my stops and brought all my best ideas to get us where we were now. All of which I did whilst still being under fulltime employment with very limited free hours. Coming off a KPL pay cheque I wasn’t about to start making nice with club owners to book a team of four for K95,000 or less. The maths didn’t add up. I needed better/original ideas for generating as much cash as possible and I didn’t have them or the money for it. We hadn’t paced ourselves well, guys had writers block and I had brain drain. Small frustrations like those were starting to grow and the group seemed to be settling into some Malawianisms, and was not showing the same level of commitment to ideals and the highest levels of discipline.
Just as we were about to be taken over by a loss of direction. I got a call from Hayze to come to the studio. He had an idea to put together an EP with a different sound and feel from anything they had done to date, we were going to call it Blantyre Blues. They explained to me how they wanted it to sound and played one or two unfinished tracks they had been working on including the title track. It sounded amazing and it seemed like a unified effort. Classick was in on it, Bengo was in on it and they were all clearly excited about it. I said, “let’s do it.” We all got to work. We set a release date for before the year ended and started recording. This was a much needed second wind. But Lucifer had already arrived at the door and we didn’t even hear him turning the door handle.
As the project progressed it seemed that the guys artistically were not on the same page. Class felt he had outgrown this need to be a rapper and just wanted to be an artist. Something he had articulated to me when he was making his solo projects like Anaconda and Brand New. He felt like everyone in the industry was trying to box him in. He was feeling increasingly frustrated by his own inability to explain what new sound he was trying to create and producers were unable to deliver on his demands. This is something you would not understand unless you are a talented artist who feels their music needs to sonically represent their mental progression as a person. Its not being difficult, its dedication to the craft, its passion. He wasn’t even sure about some of the tracks on the project and in a fit of artistic rage had Bengo delete all the tracks and takes he was unhappy with. Luckily Bengo had given me a headups that Classick had threatened to burn the studio down and/or delete all the projects and he suspected these were not empty threats. So I had gone to the studio two days before and saved some of the projects onto my external hard drive. If it wasn’t for that, Blantyre Blues would have been no more (I shared this in a post about saving the song “Chosen” on our FB page).
Something was wrong. Classick had stopped coming to the studio altogether. As I returned a few days later to reinstall some of the projects for Bengo, we got a phone call. Classick had been stabbed during a mugging they said and he had been rushed to Queens. I thought Jesus Christ guys, the drama just never ends. We all pooled into my car and headed over to the emergency ward. We asked around for him and eventually found him. Very weak, but he was conscious and all bandaged up. We were worried. He was in a fragile state so we didn’t want to crowd him. We spoke to him briefly and then promptly left to give him space at such a sensitive time. I posted on the Home Grown African page that Classick was injured in an incident, but that he was ok.
We got together in a huddle in the parking lot and agreed that we were now in damage control mode, either cancel the project or finish it without Yankho. We chose the latter. We had come very far, so much work had already been put into it and we all really believed in this project. We had three days to complete the project and we only had Blantyre Blues, K.S. and They Don’t Know finished and they still needed mastering.
Bengo was drowning in the work and there was no way he was going to get through all of it without us pushing the release date. I called in Sonyezo to help lighten the load, he mastered the completed tracks and assisted Bengo with some presets he could use on the remaining tracks once they were mixed and then he left. You could see the weight of several planets lift off from Bengo’s shoulders as he now worked tirelessly to finish the project.
Exhausted with 24 hours left the EP needed 3 more tracks. I had an idea, where Classick was needed, but was missing we would fill in with voices from other people. We started with the T.D. Jakes sample on The Vision, it fit perfectly and gave us goose bumps because, the message spoke directly to us. So we went into over drive, collecting Voice Notes from our Fans via WhatsApp and sifting through them all night to a select few that worked as a verse on Bullet Proof. I spent the night arranging the order of the tracks, whilst Sainty (the Vocalist in the song Can You Hear) finalized the artwork from an old picture of the City of Blantyre I had found.
We pulled it off burning on fumes. Releasing a great project to a great response, but everyone’s systems had crashed. We were hopping on one leg and we wouldn’t be able to ever pick up from where we left off as Home Grown from that day.
2017 came, Sainty left for South Africa, Trevor and I were no longer business partners even though we separated amicably and remained friends. I resigned from my day job and took leave from HGA to concentrate on business. Bengo kind of retired from making music during this period, he sold all his studio equipment and bought a car to try and enjoy life with his new girlfriend. This joy was short lived though, as they broke up and he subsequently almost lost his life driving with friends on his way to Catholic University. Overturned into a mini bus and totaled his vehicle. No one was in the psychological space to create anything, and even if we did there was no longer a studio or producer we could create magic with. We were all just drifting. Classick no longer lived in Nkolokosa at this point, and had moved to Chileka so seeing him or doing anything with him was a mission.
And so, for the longest time, we all just went into our own little corners and stayed there. We would just hear about each other from other people. Admittedly distance and separation is fertile ground for rumour and misunderstanding. So mistakes might have been made. Eetu.
Seems obvious now, but I wasn’t aware of how much depression guys were going through till I read two concurrent posts one on Hayze’s Facebook page the other on Classick’s. They don’t have to share with any of us what exactly they have been struggling with, but it was good that they alluded to mental health struggles in different ways. Guy’s haven’t been okay.
There are so many subtle ways in which people communicate pain. As I reflected on the whole entire home grown saga something occurred to me that you wouldn’t believe. When Class had lost his mum early in 2016, we never rallied around him as a team for positive reinforcement, or to give him enough space to grieve. He seemed to bounce back up and jump straight into the Coca-Cola Tour like a champ. So being emotionally obtuse as guys we just thought hey he seems alright (or atleast we hoped). Instead of actively picking up on how he may have been hurting. I speak for myself here. I certainly didn’t know what to say or do so we just kept it moving. As much as maybe we felt there wasn’t much of a choice for us as up and comers, I wonder if there was a price paid for that. Its very difficult to be there for each other as men. We have to be strong you see. We either don’t open up to the fact that maybe we have been hurt/are hurting and we generally would rather just give each other space to let the other person figure out what they are going through on their own. Sometimes this is the best thing, other times not.
Please see the list of mental health service providers in Malawi if you need to talk to someone.
When I found out he had a son and that he had been through the most during this period we were all separated, I realized how little we sometimes know people or the variables that are affecting them.
Similarly, Hayze lost his grandma, who practically raised him, during this period. No one can quantify the impact of loss on any person and I know often it makes us take stock of what is meaningful and what is not. What sort of things you want to continue doing and what sort of things no longer hold value. One thing was for sure, he was tired of the drinking and shenanigans and the type of energy that lifestyle brought to him. He recognized he was getting older, he wanted to grow. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to people, but this may be all part of their healing process as human beings. So perhaps we need to pry less, ask less and just support more.
In the end
Guys, Classick and Hayze are only human. They get tired, broken, frustrated, angry or sad just like everyone else. Sometimes because of life, sometimes because, of themselves and sometimes because of us. Their friends, their colleagues, their fans. Nothing special about that, just another regular Tuesday on planet earth.
So what happened to home grown? Simply put life, fatigue and depression. Factor in different personalities and maybe a mistake here and there and voila!
How are the guys now? They talk, but they are all at different places as men. However, if you follow them on social media, between 2019 and 2020 there has been a shift towards appreciating people around you and finding positive energy. So one thing is for sure they are at a better place now than they have each been in a while.
Will they ever make music again? You know the guys don’t need to be Home Grown to make music together or by themselves. They were friends first before any of this started. So if they ever feel like it they will. My suggestion is, give them space and we will see. Sometimes its more important to find yourself than it is to be with someone else.
Oh and if you couldn’t pick it up in my tone. I am proud of these guys and all the experiences I had with them. I have no regrets or bad blood of any kind. I wish them well in every single endeavor that they choose to do, together or alone, with or without me involved. I look forward to the next chapter of their lives, hopefully making better decisions and achieving bigger things. It was an honour.
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