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Ethno Malawi Music: keeping traditional instruments alive

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By Sam Banda Jnr:

Technology threatens to wipe many things out, one of which being traditional instruments.

Fortunately, there are people who are ready to save such instruments from extinction.

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Ethno-musician Waliko Makhala is a case in point. He remembers that there was a time he was tasked, as part of a project, to look for players of different traditional instruments such as Bangwe and Kaligo.

Sadly, there were only a few players.

“It is important that we value these instruments because they are part of our culture. We need to preserve them and make sure that the younger generation know them,” Makhala said.

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This is why Music Crossroads Malawi, led by Mathews Mfune— in partnership with veteran ethno-musician Charles Chavalamangwere Mkanthama— decided to create the Pakhonde Music Camp which graduated its name to Ethno Malawi Music Camp last year to connect with other Ethno camps.

“We saw that there was a gap. The country has a lot, as regards traditional instruments, but they are not being played. Most of these instruments are being played by the older generation.

“So, through the Ethno Malawi Music Camp, we thought we should have a platform where we could bring out these instruments,” Mfune said.

This year, the Ethno Music Camp is taking place at Chingalire in Lilongwe.

The first two events were held in Ntchisi before moving to Kayesa Inn in Mchinji last year.

This year’s venue — Chingalire— is home to musician Ben Mankhamba.

“I am happy that, this year, the Ethno Music Camp is being held at Chingalire,” Mankhamba, who is Village Head Chingalire, said.

Mankhamba, who performed, made sure that his subjects participated in activities.

Mkanthama is another advocate for the use of traditional instruments. He has been instrumental on other fronts, as he has been playing the nsansi for Kalonga Gawa Undi.

RARE TALENT— Mpotandebvu plays the pango

He also trained Patrick Chimbewa in how to play the nsansi. Makhala facilitating a session on ethno-music, said several players need to be involved in the project which could at the end even help in creating the real identity of the country’s music.

While, last year, the ethno-music camp brought Kaligo player Magomero to the fold, this year has seen one of the few pango players Rabson Mpotandebvu being part of the camp.

Pango is a traditional instrument that is also known as bangwe and some of the well-known giants of the instruments include Tambala Chitenje and Limited Fungo.

Mpotandebvu, who is based in Lilongwe, has been playing the pango since the 1970s, having learnt it from his father.

“It is an instrument I have loved to play until today. Whenever I want to talk about different issues I take time out to play the pango. I have several songs with me but most of them are not recorded. I have tried to send some of them to different media houses but I am not sure if they are being played,” Mpotandebvu said.

Born in 1956, Mpotandebvu said he has passed on the skills to one of his children, who he believes will continue the legacy.

“I am not the only pango player I believe, there are others out there and they need to be brought to light,” he said.

The future is bright.

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