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Belgian music teacher in suspected suicide

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Belgian music teacher and jazz musician, Johan Vanhoutte, died on Sunday in suspected suicide.

Blantyre Police spokesperson, Augustus Nkhwazi, confirmed the development yesterday.

“John Vanhoutte committed suicide at around 6pm yesterday (Monday). He had issues with his ex-girlfriend, who is in South Africa. His remains are at the College of Medicine where a postmortem is expected to be conducted,” Nkhwazi said.

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Nkhwazi said, before his death, Vanhoutte sent a message to his friend, Barbara Swarthout, who is a doctor at Beitcure International and one of the people he used to perform with, that he would commit suicide.

He added that the musician left instructions.

“He was living at HHI close to Phoenix School. He locked himself up and was found dead in one of the rooms,” Nkhwazi said.

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The French and music teacher was 60 years old.

Ethno-musician Waliko Makhala said he was shocked with Vanhoutte’s death, describing him as one of the most prolific jazz musicians and music education trainers he had ever come across.

“He was an experienced music trainer, who was conversant with the science of music and was looking at music deeply,” Makhala said.

He said details of burial arrangements would be known later as it was waiting for Johan’s former girlfriend from Belgium.

Makhala recalled one of the great moments he had with Vanhoutte at the International Ethnomusicologist Symposium at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, two years ago where they had a joint performance.

Musician and teacher Malala also said he was saddened by Vanhoutte’s death.

He said he would remember Vanhoutte as one of the people who made him fall in love with the Seventh-Day song ‘Lalikira Mau’ after he had shown him a video in which he sung all the verses with ease.

“He made me believe in the power of acoustic music. We had formed our acoustic trio called Anonymous Acoustic, alongside Michael Goba Chipeta. We could spend hours practicing in his home,” Malala said.

Malala said Vanhoutte’s passion for developing Malawi music from grassroots could be seen from a programme called Music Development Centre and, through it, Blantyre Secondary School [BSS] and Blantyre Girls got a donation of guitars.

“We [BSS] got seven and our friends got 10. He wanted children to learn guitars and music. It’s through his dedication that I realised how Malawi underrates the power of music education at the grassroots,” Malala said.

Music Development Centre is a non-governmental organisation that focuses on music education in the country.

Vanhoutte, who used to play the guitar and double bass, used to hold jazz concerts in Blantyre with colleagues such as Dave Montreuil.

His last concert was on March 8 at music room at St Andrews High School in Blantyre, where he performed with Guenaelle De Graaf, Swarthout, Sally Walker and Brian Mundy.

Through Music Development Centre, Johan and team also used to train people on how to make guitars.

Johan told The Daily Times last year that one of the goals of Music Development Centre is to help primary and secondary schools with music equipment as well as give advice wherever possible.

“This goal can later extend to helping and producing music teachers and musicians,” he said.

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