Meet Patrick Chimbewa, a one man band, and Nsansi player.
He has mastered the art of playing traditional instruments with a special focus on Nsansi which in countries like Zimbabwe is known as Mbira.
Nsansi has some metals known as Njeras in vernacular or lamella phones attached to the wood to produce the sound of music.
These lamella phones produce different sounds just like a guitar.
Taught by veteran ethno-musician Charles Chavaramangwere Mkanthama, who plays music for Chewa king Gawaundi, the sky is the limit for Chimbewa.
For him playing traditional instruments is the real deal and values it greatly just because traditional instruments are part of culture.
Chimbewa is a name that Malawi never knew until 2016 when he found himself on his first trip outside the country – Norway to be precise.
He had never been on a plane before and never knew that he would one-day board one.
Despite art being sidelined in the country, it has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the creative industry is an area Malawi needs to exploit if it has to develop and help in fighting challenges such as unemployment.
In this technological world, no-one wants to be left behind. Life today is all about learning modern things and being at par with the world.
If you go to fashion, things have changed. Both men and women are now putting on torn jean trousers.
This is what is trending at the moment in the world and for the youth; you cannot surely afford to be left behind.
If you do not have a pair of torn jeans you are simply old-fashioned and far away from modernity.
Everything old-fashioned is considered outdated and cannot fit in today’s world.
Take for instance music, there used to be a time when playing traditional instruments which are part of culture was something special.
But today, a few people are able to play traditional instruments and most of them are of the older generation.
Instruments such as Nsansi and Kaligo are all losing their space now.
If you go to West Africa, you will notice that a lot of artists despite embracing modern instruments are still in love with traditional instruments such as Kora.
Such is the beauty of traditional instruments that when you play them, they produce the best natural sound which sounds like fresh water straight from the source.
If you go to Europe today or the USA, you will come across some of these traditional instruments from Africa which are being made there.
And so because we have forsaken our traditional instruments, we will end up losing out and later even buy these instruments from Europe.
The current generation needs to take time to master the art of playing these traditional instruments by learning from the older generation.
Despite having little or no interest from the youths to play some of these traditional instruments, there are some youths, who have come out and would want to keep these instruments alive.
Producing music from traditional music made Chimbewa in 2016 to travel to Norway alongside Asante Maulidi and Thokozani Mdoko The three flew Malawi’s flag at the Forde Traditional and World Music Festival under the Talent 2016 project.
Chimbewa won the hearts of many people in Norway with his skills playing the nsansi.
Forde Traditional and World Music Festival is a platform that brings artists from different countries and showcases music as well as traditional instruments.
Chimbewa was able to shine because he carried with him nsansi which was more like the only traditional instrument from Malawi.
The time Chimbewa and team participated in the 2016 project, they interacted with colleagues from Norway as the host country and Kenya.
Norway brought with them the violin which is also known as the fiddler while Kenya was armed with a traditional instrument known as nyathithi.
Through the workshops they held, the three countries managed to create amazing sounds from their traditional instruments and that also underlined the strength of traditional instruments.
Since 2016, Chimbewa has not stopped playing Nsansi and instead has kept his head high.
While in 2016 he was only glued to Nsansi, Chimbewa today has cemented the nsansi with the nemba.
He actually plays the nsansi while at the same time blowing the nemba.
As this is not enough, he has also added some percussion which he wears on his legs and plays them.
There is also a foot drum which he beats with his foot.
“It has been my dream to do more… I actually taught some of my fellow youth how to play the nsansi and have been performing with them but I thought of creating a one-man band,” Chimbewa said.
It is from this that he created the one-man concept that has today seen him holding live performances as a one-man band, playing all the instruments and impressing many people.
His video on social media generated several comments with many people appreciating his talent but also lauding him for keeping traditional instruments alive.
“He is an amazing artist and very talented,” says Moya Malamusi, who has also been researching and collecting traditional instruments and traditional sounds in the country.
Apart from playing the Nsansi, Chimbewa also makes the instrument and recently he came out to announce that he wants to put up a shop that would be selling the instrument.
He does not just make the instruments but he also decorates them so that they look good.
During the Blantyre Arts Festival (Baf) 2018, Chimbewa also stunned the audience that included members from Hannover City in Germany.
Apart from playing with his band, Faith has also used his one-man set, playing several instruments including the Nemba.
The difference between Faith and Chimbewa is that Chimbewa’s set is all traditional instruments while Faith plays traditional instruments such as nemba as well as electrical instruments such as the guitar.
Mkanthama is all praise of his student for working very hard to master playing the Nsansi describing Chimbewa as one of the best, among the youths he has trained.
“He plays with me in some concerts and he has mastered playing the traditional instruments so well and I am proud of him. I actually was very happy when he went to Norway on the Talent project,” Mkanthama said.
Chimbewa, who used to work as a guard with G4S has now ventured into music.
“For me it’s all about traditional instruments because it has identity. I have even made it a point that whenever I am performing I should wear a costume which at times makes me look like a Ngoni warrior but all this is about promoting and preserving our culture through music,” Chimbewa said.
He believes it is just a matter of time before he breaks through the international stage and dreams of performing in top festivals representing Malawi and Africa.
“As I said earlier, I am happy with the progress I have made but I am not yet there. I am still learning and exploring different new things and all this is to enrich my set,” he said.
Chimbewa has even made headway working on an album although he is quick to say that it was not well done because of lack of resources.
“If I can get a manager and help me in different areas then the better. I have a video which I produced recently but with inadequate resources,” he said.
Just to show that he struggled to put up an album titled Tisunge Mwambo, he used a pen to write on a cover and then photocopy it.
His album has songs such as ‘Kale Tinali ndi Agogo’, ‘Mkazi waku Chichewa’, ‘I am not Alone’, and Kale Zinali Bwino’.
The up and coming artist hails from Traditional Authority Kaluluma in Ntchisi.
“I am grateful to Music Crossroads Malawi for selecting me to be part of the Norway trip in 2016 and all this came because of my participation in the Pakhonde Music Camp now known as Ethno Malawi. I never knew that just by playing traditional instruments one would have a chance to perform outside the country,” said Chimbewa, speaking Chichewa fluently.
Chimbewa went as far as form four in his education but never finished due to what he describes as financial problems.
“I wish I had gone on with my studies but I could not as I could not manage to pay school fees,” he said.
Chimbewa said playing traditional instruments is part of preserving culture.
“I will continue playing traditional instruments because this is part of our culture. Performing in Norway just showed that playing your own is good. You cannot progress if you do not play your own and so I urge fellow youths out there to learn these traditional instruments,” he said.
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