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Kenny Gilmore talks Malawi music

By Sam Banda Jnr:

Harmonica player, singer and songwriter Kenny Gilmore— famed for the hit ‘Ngati Mafunde’— has nothing but good stories to tell about Malawi in his book Harmonica Diaries.

The book is set for launch on Saturday at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre.

Gilmore, who is based in Brazil, said he is excited to be back to the country.

“It’s been long, over 10 years, and it feels good to be back. I am also happy that the song ‘Ngati Mafunde’ still stands out,” Gilmore said.

Born in the heart of Africa to parents of United States of America and United Kingdom origin, Gilmore discovered his passion for music in London and emigrated to the city of New Orleans where he began performing and composing music.

He even won the Louisiana Rebel State Harmonica championship in 2004.

Along with the Sangalala Band in the country, he went on to top the charts with the song ‘Ngati Mafunde’, which was released in 2005, and, then, ‘Malawian Queen’ in 2006.

And, following long stints in Malawi, London, Portugal and El Salvador, Gilmore has cultivated the ambition to push the boundaries of traditional harmonica playing to include not only blues but blues rock, jazz, reggae, Latin and African music.

In 2013, after some unfortunate navigational choices, he became lost in the Andes in Bolivia, and swore to himself that, if he ever made it out, he would write a book about his experiences. Harmonica Diaries is the result.

He writes in the book that when he stepped down from the airplane into the blazing sunlight from the African sky, he wondered if that would be the end of his musical adventures, for he had no idea about what kind of music scene would be waiting for him in Malawi.

For when he had left, eight years previously, he was not yet a musician and so here he was back again, now a harmonica man and he had a sleek black case full of harmonicas to prove it.

“I set out to explore my familiar surroundings but with new eyes. Music was everywhere. Playing loudly on the radios, rising from townships, drums and dancing greeting the arrival of the Warm African night,” Gilmore writes in Harmonica Diaries.

He writes in his first ever book that his first experience of a Malawian concert was memorable as he watched reggae group Black Missionaries playing a blend of Malawian reggae.

The book also speakS about how Sangalala Band was created.

“I am happy to be working with Waliko Makhala, as an ethno-musician. He has done a lot for the country and, so, linking up with him again is something great. We have some big dreams,” Gilmore said, holding his guitar and a harmonica.

The launch of Harmonica Diaries is, for Gilmore, the beginning of more books to come.

“I want to do everything. It is not that I am leaving music, but I want to use it to document some of my music experiences. Some, here in Malawi, might say I have been quiet but where I live now, I am still vibrant,” he said.

Gilmore also talks about the likes of the late Daniel and Donald Kachamba, who, he said, did a lot in the music circles.

Makhala, on his part, said people have talked about the country not having an identity of its music and that Gilmore might have a better option.

“I am yet to go for it, but this might be a good idea,” Makhala, who has branded his music-Bush Music, said.

He says, in Harmonica Diaries, that what he wrote about Malawi on its music is true.

“This man didn’t just write it. He lived it. I feel like a Malawian because of the connections I made. We need to preserve some of the music and, with the help of others, we will try to look at better ways of growing Malawi music,” Gilmore said.

And so, we end our chat with Gilmore with a performance of another song, where he talks about the beauty of Malawi.

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