Some years ago, some time between 2011 and 2013, there was an artist who called himself 'Frankie The One'. He had some pretty decent flows. His voice could carry a melody or harmonize a hook or two. He had some fire bars here and there, and he had enough stamina to put together a couple of full length projects. One of those mixtapes was The Illumination. One of the first full length projects out of Malawi to get over 1,000 downloads. It doesn't sound like much but in 2012, to get those kind of numbers for something over 50MBs in a country where only 1-3% of the population had access to the internet was a damn near Herculean task. Frankie The One went on to perform a few shows in various clubs and college campuses around Malawi, and even did a set on national TV. He even attracted some interest from some of the heavy hitters in the Nigerian music scene. The kid was making a little noise is what I'm saying. And then he disappeared.
We've entered an era of ADHD. The advent of social media and its ability to shift wave after wave of new information means that the average attention span in this digital age is pretty short. For a musician who isn't an established name to go silent for more than 6 months is virtually lethal to their brand. Go quiet for 3 weeks and already you'll have some quarters of the internet discussing how you've fallen off. Frankie The One hasn't put out any new music since 2013. So what happened to him?
Around the time of Frankie's last single, Enigma, I was in my final year of university studying for a Bachelor of Economics degree. I was writing a dissertation investigating whether the Hecksher-Ohlin Theorem on international trade held true for a developing economy such as Malawi (it did). As those of you familiar with the college experience would know, this was also around the time of our final round of exams. It was an understandably stressful period and most of my attention was focused on getting the hell out of school. I have a degree in economics so, yeah, it paid off.
The music business and most other creative/artistic industries in Malawi have proved to be economically unrewarding in the past. Before 2014, you could squeeze water out of a rock with more ease than you could get payment for a gig out of a promoter. Again, unless you were an established act with enough clout to host your own shows, or whose name was big enough to make promoters reach into their pockets, there was a good chance the only thing you'd be offered for your sweat, voice, hours of practice and presence on stage was 'exposure'. 'Hey man, I know you want to get paid in actual money but think about all the exposure you'll get for this performance.' As if you can go to Shoprite for bread and use exposure to pay for it at the till. For a Malawian musician with a relativiely small following and larger opportunities for income in the corporate sector, the decision to put music on hold for a while may seem pretty logical.
Soon after graduating, I started work as a consultant. Things were pretty good. I had a new girlfriend. I had a decent salary. I soon had a nice little car (some may argue that a Toyota Passo is a glorified lawnmower but I put my heart into that street legal go-kart, dammit), and I didn't have to ask my parents for pocket money any more so it seemed like life was moving along as well as it could. I slowly found myself falling out of touch with the music scene. A year later, in 2014, I left Malawi to pursue a masters degree in Management and Finance at the University of Sussex. The buzz around Frankie The One was dying down at this point. Only the most die hard fans of rap were still waiting to hear something new.
2 years later, I came back home, MSc in hand. It was a moment of personal triumph, having pushed myself to a new height as far as academics is concerned, and had developed professionally. But life back home had changed. The economic climate was less optimistic. Old friendships were estranged. On top of that, my girlfriend of three years decided to call it off. My academic and professional success was juxtaposed with uncertainty and personal failure. I felt sadness bordering on depression.
Frankie The One was built on a teenage desire to be the best and nothing else. To be able to construct complex rhyme schemes and deliver clever punchlines and double entendres. The central focus was on what could be said and not necessarily what should be said. These days, the persona of 'The One' strikes me as both arrogant and insecure: one wonders if the statement was an overconfident declaration to others or a chant of encouragement to myself. I forget why I embraced the name.
Frankie The One is dead. The desire to create music is alive again.
Enter: Black Isco. the meaning behind this name is pretty simple. My name is Francisco and I'm black. I have nothing more to prove. I have no one to impress other than myself. I'm here to make music from my heart and my only hope is that it resonates with the hearts of others. But I'm no longer here to prove I'm nice with it. I know I am. My job is translate that into good music. That being said, Lingua Franca the album is currently under development. It's due for release in 2018 and we have a new single coming very soon. I can't wait to begin this new journey and I hope that you're all on board for the ride!
Some of you reading this may remember the blog frankietheone.blogspot.com. I kind of deleted it by accident but from now on this is where you'll be able to read my thoughts. I'm about to sign off in familiar fashion.
P.S. I'll try to post at least once a month and keep things fun for you guys. Thanks for reading.