The way he moved from the stage to where the congers and drums were, it was clear that here was a man whose deep contentment with his art stirred him into wakefulness.
For more than seven years, Ben Mankhamba— who used to be known as Ben Michael when he was at his prime, winning one music trophy after another, including in Chibuku and Malawi Gin competitions— had been inactive on the music performance stage.
Instead, he was concentrating on his Chingalire cultural centre in Lilongwe, where he also serves as village head: Building the venue’s reputation from scratch to something worth pointing at.
Just two months ago, Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Usi visited the place, appreciating strides Ben Mankhamba has made in turning the rural facility into something worth admiring. In fact, the centre has become a flower to bees that are tourists.
That is why, no matter how often the reverberations of his active days came knocking on the door of his mind, Ben Mankhamba kept on ignoring them—maybe because they knocked on that door in the crescendo of his Chingalire centre-fixing task.
However, after being satisfied with the work so far done at Chingalire, Ben Mankhamba has not chosen the easy way out: Drowsing afterward.
Instead, memories of his past exploits on the stage— where he conquered and conquered— kept crossing his mind, making his heart throb anew every time he looked at the music trophies on the wall of his room.
With its unabated intonation, the call to go back to the stage could not be resisted anymore. Which is why, on Saturday, September 25, Ben Mankhamba made his way back to the stage. The venue was 24/7, at Kameza Round-about, in Blantyre.
And, with his energetic performance, the stage he warmed.
Bursting with unbridled passion, and powered by relentless energy, Ben Mankhamba took on the music world.
If anything, he was let down by the absence of dreadlocks locking left, right and centre, as if they were about to fall down. In those days, which is between the late 1990s and around 2014, when he was at his prime singing ‘Kamba Anga Mwala’, ‘Moto Moto Chinangwa’, ‘Street Vendor’, and other songs, his act was aided by dread-locks.
At 24/7 on Saturday, here was a Ben Mankhamba— no longer Ben Michael, as if the Michael were the ‘dreadlocks’—who danced and danced, at times stopping to remind people of the good, old days through talk-breaks, with the energy of a youth about to impress his first live audience.
But Ben Mankhamba is an old hand at it, which is why he knew when to sing, when to talk, when to dance, when to sing and dance, when to stop singing, when to stop dancing and when to stop both.
When he sang ‘Kamba Anga Mwala’, Ben Mankhamba sang with passion, rolling across the stage like a tidal wave.
Kamba Anga Mwala oyi/
Tortoise like a stone/
Kamba Anga Mwala oyi/
Tortoise like a stone…
Sang Ben Mankhamba, in a way informing patrons that he was back in business and that he was taking off from where he had left off.
He then continued the song, poking fun at life’s parallels, such as when a youth marries a granny; and such other oddities.
“I want to take you to the past,” Ben Mankhamba said, before delving into another song.
Ndiopa kutenga wapalamula Thinkiye/
Wadzitengera wapala moto kudambwe/
…Usalimbane ndi mekaniki wa galimoto yako/
Adzakuthirira mchenga mu thanki ya galimoto/
Pewa utambwali iwe pobweza ngongole/
Anthu ndi ovuta adzakuvula pagulu…
Ben Mankhamba sang, before interrupting his act. “I would like to thank Costen Mapemba for bringing me back to the stage. Without his initiative, I would not be here.”
Apparently, Mapemba, the former Musicians Association of Malawi president, smoked Ben Mankhamba out of his Chingalire abode, helped him arrange logistics for his band, brought him to Blantyre and threw him in the centre of the stage at 24/7.
And, although patronage was piecemeal, Ben Mankhamba did not disappoint.
“I am back. The journey has started again. I am ready for the stage,” Ben Mankhamba said.
The look of seriousness he cultivated on his face summed it all. Today, Malawi can count on budding artists and veteran ones like Ben Mankhamba.
When veterans like Ben Mankhamba are there, quality songs are guaranteed.
That is why, it can be said, success of Ben Mankhamba’s early days exploded with an echoing boom from Saturday last week to Sunday morning, and patrons could do nothing but fill the air with a swirl of Ben Mankhamba! Ben Mankhamba! Ben Mankhamba! chants.