There is a biblical saying that a prophet is never honoured at home and this seems to be true with artist Esau Mwamwaya, who has soared with The Very Best.
Mwamwaya has travelled places and entertained the masses outside the country. The Very Best has stood out collaborating with several international acts as well as performing in top international platforms.
But despite shining outside, Mwamwaya’s name remains strange to many in the country.
The Very Best which has also had performances in the country mostly during the Lake of Stars Festival is currently on a tour in South Africa opening for Mumford and Sons, a British band and Baba Maal, one of Africa’s music heavyweights from Senegal.
But who is Mwamwaya?
“I was born in Mzuzu in 1975 and I come from Karonga District in the Northern region,” he said.
The artist explained that his father was a civil servant and that because of transfers; he ended up doing school in different areas.
“I started standard one in Blantyre, Chileka at Kachanga Primary School, formerly known as Malinki. In the middle of the same school session, we were transferred to Lilongwe,” said the artist.
Mwamwaya said just after a year they were transferred back to Chileka in Blantyre and that he ended up going to the same old school before they were transferred again to Lilongwe just after Kamuzu International Airport became operational in the early 1980s.
He said he continued his education at Mkukula Primary School then Chinkhuti before they were transferred to Zomba and ended up schooling at Police and then they also went back to Lilongwe.
“We were used to transfers such that after going back to Lilongwe, we later transferred to Chitipa,” said Mwamwaya.
At Chitipa, he ended up doing his secondary at Chitipa and Nthalire MCDE’s respectively.
“Just as I was close to writing my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, my father was once again transferred to Zomba but I ended up going to Lilongwe to stay with my brother instead,” said Mwamwaya.
How then did he find himself in music?
“The idea of venturing into music was both intentional and random at the same time. I grew up listening to music a lot, both international and local. I tried to look for some work after secondary school but to no avail,” he said.
Mwamwaya said this other day, one of his old friends from Ndingo Brothers Band family introduced him to another local band by the name Hitters formerly known as Masaka Band.
The band was resident at Village Lodge, the venue which he said was owned by late Charles Daud.
“Knowing that I was pretty much doing nothing at the time, I took that chance as a privilege to exercise and portray my musical abilities. I was employed as a co-lead singer although I also ended up as a drummer after a short while,” said the singer.
He further said that he always fancied being a drummer since he was a kid and “I had just proved it to myself because I actually played some live drums on some songs in the same week of my training.”
“So basically, that’s how my music journey commenced. I then introduced late Evision Matafale into the same band and we toured together as a band a lot locally,” he said.
After a few years of trying hard, the artist said he realised there was no future in music.
“It was so expensive and hard to record an album and studios were very few. There was only one well known studio including the first digital studio called 106 in Blantyre at Chigumula,” said Mwamwaya adding that he later moved to London in 1999 where he studied Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Mwamwaya, who said he has a passion for art and that he loves everything art met Swedish producer Johan and Etienne in 2006 whilst he was working at a second hand shop in London.
“London is so metropolitan that almost everything is possible. The Very Best which is a Swedish and Malawian band has been the very big influence and inspiration to everything I do musical wise,” he said.
Mwamwaya said it would not have been possible to set his record to this higher extent if he did not meet Johan and former band member Etienne.
“The Very Best music is one of the kind that gives you an opportunity to explore music to the higher level. This can be witnessed by the nature of our meeting and backgrounds,” said the singer, who does not forget to share a smile.
“We all came from different musical backgrounds. I listened to reggae and local music a lot as a kid. Johan, the producer was once a rapper in a former Swedish rap group called Starks of Stamina and Etienne came from a very journal kind of music background.”
He said Etienne collected music from all over the world, from rumba, reggae, gypsy music from Eastern Europe, cumbia which is South American kind of music and Angolan kuduro just to mention but a few.
And for me, being someone who listened to almost all kinds of music both international and local, Mwamwaya said he didn’t find it so hard to work with The Very Best.
While other artists would have been influenced by the Western touch, Mwamwaya has used his presence in The Very Best to promote local music by coming up with compositions done in Chichewa and other local languages in the country.
“I love The Very Best and what we do because through this platform I have learned a lot and it has taken me to almost every part of the world and fancy, massive venues including Hollywood bowl where I could have never imagined,” said the singer.
He said the country’s music is growing comparing to some 10 years ago observing that production has changed to another level and that a lot of youth are showing so much interest in music than ever before.
However, the singer said there is still some hiccups in the creative industry in terms of promotion and publishing.
“I always feel bad that some, if not most of our radio and Television stations are more into bribery than doing their jobs straight. Songs are played on radios not based on quality or good production but simply because there is some cash involved,” said Mwamwaya.
He said this was killing “our music industry a lot.”
“I witnessed this when I tried to promote some artist some few years ago and his music could not be played despite that I, and many people who listened to it recommended it as good,” said the artist.
He further said:
“If we can only minimise this malpractice, I don’t see any reason why our music should fail to get to that level of obtaining recognition both locally and internationally.”
Despite this problem, Mwamwaya said a few others are trying as much as possible to be professional and hailed them for the job well done advising them to keep up with their good standards.
He also said that piracy has grown wings and that it is failing artists big time.
“Bootlegging needs to be seriously tackled too. Those found breaking the law should be brought to justice. It takes a lot of effort for music to become what it is and it’s very unfortunate that some unreasonable people rob musicians just like that,” said Mwamwaya.
The singer said that this malpractice was not only killing musicians but Malawi as a nation.
He said music and art is something that comes from within your heart and that not everyone can be an artist or musician.
“God gives everyone capabilities to do something but most importantly explore our potentials. My message to the younger generation is that you shouldn’t imitate others. Just be yourself and push as much as you can to get better results in anything you think you are good at,” said the lead singer.
He said music and art as a whole is like walking in a vineyard garden where there are a lot of different flowers but all of them are beautiful in their own ways.
He called on fellow artists to learn to create something out of nothing.
It is because of his love for Malawi and being proudly Malawian that The Very Best which has several albums to their credit has an album titled Warm Heart of Africa.
The track ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ won the World Beat Song Award at the 9th Annual Independent Music Awards.
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