The creative industry has been dealt a huge blow following the death of musician and broadcaster Sweeney Chimkango.
His death comes barely a week after the country also lost veteran storyteller and writer Nancy Phiri, who was laid to rest last Friday and Springs founder Jomo Nkunika, who died in Mexico and will be laid to rest today in United States of America.
His brother MacDonald confirmed yesterday that Sweeney died of Covid at Blantyre Adventist Hospital.
The talented musician, who was until his death acting Controller of Programmes at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC, will be laid to rest today at Makwasa in Thyolo District.
MacDonald, who has backed several musicians in the country, said he was at a loss with his brother’s death.
“He was my mentor in music. I grew up with him when he was a teacher and I learnt the guitar from him. He was my teacher and a loving brother,” he said.
Several artists yesterday expressed shock at Sweeney’s death.
Artist and broadcaster Willy Soko described Sweeney as a fine TV producer and presenter and that he was a great composer and singer.
“He had a fine voice and he was a good guitarist. His passing on closes the chapter of Christ in Songs Quartet because he was the only remaining member of the group,” Soko said.
Musicians Union of Malawi President, Gloria Manong’a, said the creative industry was shocked with Sweeney’s death, describing him as one of the pioneers of gospel music.
“You cannot talk of gospel music without mentioning the name Sweeney. He did a lot for the industry and taught a lot of musicians. We will miss him,” Manong’a said.
Veteran musician and former member of Parliament Allan Ngumuya said he started singing in the same years with Sweeny and that he wrote him a song ‘Pamene’ which is in the album Tidzikumbukira.
“Sweeney to me was more than a friend. Our producer was the late Patrick Khoza at Studio K. If you listen to his music, it is powerful sound which talks to you and his music is rich in vocals and arrangements,” Ngumuya said.
Born on August 18 1963, Sweeney is survived by a wife and four children.
A graduate from University of Malawi, Sweeny was one of the people who showed to the world that inability was not disability as he went all the way and armed with his musical skills, he inspired a lot of people.
Sweeney entertained people with his music in the late 1990s and went on to release three albums as a solo artist namely Yendanibe, Mfumu Ya Luntha and Paulendo.
However, due to pressure of work he was not active in terms of performances in recent years and he admitted to the media in 2019 that he was missing the stage and that it was high time he released new songs.
“I was listening to ‘Bwenzi’ from my second album. I was amazed how Studio K in Blantyre recorded and produced it. It was so perfect. I bet some of my music still stands the test of time,” he told The Nation then.
Sweeny said music was his passion but it was not easy for him with work as a broadcaster.
“It is hard so to say. It is kind of running away from yourself. It is something which is weird indeed to imagine oneself not just doing music anymore. However, I am now singing with my children who are learning singing,” he said then.
Former Musicians Association of Malawi president Wellington Chatepa said he cannot talk about his music without mentioning the name Sweeney.
Chatepa only got serious with music after college when he converted to Seventh Day Adventist in the 1980s.
“I got significantly inspired by colleagues like Sweeney Chimkango and his Christ in Song Quartet and several others that stole my heart in a relatively new way of worshiping God in song. I am devastated with Sweeny’s death, he was an icon,” he said.
Music Crossroads Academy teacher and drummer Eric Mwalwanda recalls that, before joining TVM, now MBC, Sweeney was a teacher and that he taught him at Namatapa Primary School in Blantyre.
“I still remember the kind of person he was. I interacted with him in many occasions. He was talented,” Mwalwanda said.
MBC Director General George Kasakula said they were saddened by the death of Sweeney.
“He was a decent human being, very jovial, easy going and was always looking at the positive side of things; he was one of the best producers and pioneers of music videos on MBC TV,” Kasakula said.
He also said Sweeney was on the team that established TVM in 1998.
“The institutional memory is gone. We will miss such talent. Personally, he was among those people who welcomed me when I was joining MBC and he was very receptive to my ideas,” Kasakula said.
Sweeney developed interest in music when he was seven years old.
“I used to play the banjo while experimenting with my voice in Lusaka, Zambia, where I was born. I am told that my late father, Samson, used to sing when he was young. I, specifically, learnt music because of my church engagements,” he said.
Sweeney said then that he used to present special songs and church hymns as a boy.
He was born to a father who traces his roots to Chimkango Village, Traditional Authority Kuntaja in Blantyre, while the mother is from Makwasa i n Traditional Authority Andinyaza in Thyolo District.
Sweeney graduated from playing a banjo to the guitar and later linked up with a group of music-loving individuals at Makwasa.
He went to Thyolo Secondary School where his talent was nurtured after becoming one of the founders of a group called Back to the Bible Quartet.
“You see, there was a famous foreign group bearing that name in the 1980s and we decided to name our quartet after it. Members included Justin Chataika, Evance Kaima, the late Harris Chilozo and the late John Nakoma,” he said then.
Sweeney also formed a group at some point known as The Kings Youth, according to MacDonald.
But the big break came when he went to Blantyre Teachers Training College, where he met late Mjura Mkandawire, then a music tutor at the institution.
“Mkandawire horned my skills, and this marked the first time I started reading tonic and staff notation. In fact, I put every song I write in staff notation now. The advantage is that those who understand staff notation can play the music from all over the world,” Sweeney said.
It was after his classroom-encounter with Mkandawire that he became one of the founding members for Christ in Song Quartet. The other members were Lloyd Malopa, the late Davis Kapito and the late George Chafunya.
Established in the 1990s, the quartet was formidable in both the Seventh- Day Church and other denominations.
Some of its songs include ‘Pekeyangu’, ‘The Blood’ and ‘Over There’.
He said that these were not their compositions.
For example, Sweeney said the track ‘Over There’ was a Golden Gate song. This is a group formed by African Americans.
Among other countries, Sweeney and the group performed in Namibia, South Africa and Kenya but the quartet disbanded when late Kapito joined active politics.
In 1997, the artist went solo, releasing his debut album Yendanibe the same year. This was a 10-track album with songs such as ‘Thowege’, ‘Otengera Mau’, and ‘Miseu ya Golide’ which was sponsored by the late Tikhala Chibwana and Patrick Khoza, who wanted to promote his talent. The song was recorded at Studio K in Blantyre.
Sweeney then went on to release his second titled Mfumu Ya Luntha and it included songs such as ‘Don’t Shut Me Up’.
Sweeny’s work at MBC saw him becoming a pioneer in producing professional music videos for several artists, including late Evison Matafale, Ethel Kamwendo Banda, Wilfred Kasito and Lucius Banda.
He told The Daily Times last year that he was working on a new album, having been out of the limelight for some time.
“I am not working on chimbale (album) but I am bringing safuliya (pot),” Sweeney said.