Poetry (both oral and written) has enjoyed a huge fan base in the country, and it bears a rich history dating from pre-colonial times. Unlike other genres, poetry embraces a unique feature of inviting other forms of art such as music into its play. Poetry can be performed in myriad contexts. In Malawi, the genre has stood the test of time. That is undeniable. At the heart of poetry stands a poet who happens to be the subject of our story today. To cut the story short, in the next 30 minutes we will be introduced to a new name in the family of poets.
With a rich history in oral culture, like most African countries, Malawi’s oral poetry has well stood on the shoulders of its brother written poetry. That is a debatable argument. In recent years, we have seen and heard the Robert Chiwambas, the Sitimas, and numerous veteran poets in our local television and radio stations.
As mentioned earlier on, our story takes us to a young poet. Born on 13th March 1998, Erick Makwinja is a name that needs a seat in the house of Malawian poets. The artist argues that he discovered oneself skill at a tender age. “When I came from school, I was like spending much of my time in my room writing something”, he says. Unfortunately, we do not have enough platforms in the country to showcase youth’s talent hence most of Erick’s early writings ended up as part of garbage in the bin after spending months in his bedroom. That did not stop him. The fire and desire in art tolled in his heart.
Regardless of writing several pieces, it is only years later, at 15 that he mastered out a plan and recorded one poem. He recorded it using a phone and shared with people who encouraged him so much.
The artist whose original home is Chiradzulu kept walking in the shadows but his zeal to write sparked like a lightning. In 2021, at 23 years and almost 8 years since his first unofficial recorded poem he stormed the recording studios. For a beginning, he has recorded 4 poems. “I have more pieces but they are in audio format”, Erick speaks, “I am planning of shooting videos as well”.
Makwinja’s poems centre on current social issues. Of the recorded poems there is “They Did Nothing” which talks about people living with albinism; “Tears” which talk about heartbreak; and “Crying for the Gift” which talks about gender-based violence.
In Crying for the Gift which he has also shot a video,” there is a family which has been together for some years without a child. So as a family this would be supposed to be a challenge to both but the man in the house is pointing a finger at his wife as a problem.” The poet who is studying Public Health at Soche Technical College in Blantyre adds that the man harasses the wife by beating her and hauling all sorts of insults to her. As if that is not enough the brutal man goes around sleeping with concubines. Out of weariness, “Amama” (the woman in the poem) finds her bundle of joy in tears and crying. Perhaps this poem is a true reflection of most Malawian families where GBV cases are refusing to die.
Erick whose desire is to take his poems internationally has done all the recording in English. However, he says that being a Malawian he will as well record a few pieces in the native Chewa language.
One wonders about how long it takes for Erick to compose a poem. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? He says: “As far as I am concerned, I can tell you it even takes me 3 weeks or a month to complete one poem writing…”. That speaks volumes of how much effort he invests in his work of art.
Art goes along with inspiration. For Erick, he is inspired by Raphael Sitima, Yankho Seunda and Malumbo.
Although Erick has 4 official recordings and one video, he struggles financially as an upcoming artist. “To come up with a good thing needs sacrifice so from recording, video shooting, as well as premiere, needs a lot of money”, he chips in. Above that, the budding poet reels lack of appreciation by Malawian audiences as a major challenge disrupting poetry in the country. He argues that the talent is being wasted due to lack of curiosity. The Kachere-Blantyre based young man also cries of lack of support from veteran poets to novice poets. “People who do poetry lack a spirit of pushing each other. I can call that jealous”, he speaks. However, Erick has strong faith that one day people across the country will come to the realization that poetry is the greatest and mother of all art.
Erick ends with a call to all Malawians to welcome him. He says: “My last words are that people should receive me as their own, and I am doing these things for them so I need them in this field. Together we can do a lot, and they should expect more from me.”
Perhaps we can relax and expect more of Erick poems in the coming days. As a poet who puts his weight in oral poetry, we may watch more of his works. Perhaps soon we may see him performing live in shows. Perhaps.