Ex Kalimba star Stain Phiri speaks out

STILL LIVES ON – Phiri in South Africa

Stain Phiri is a name that is associated with Kalimba Band. A group that made a name for Malawi having conquered the world with their album Make Friends With the World which has hits such ‘Sometimes I Wonder’.

While some members are gone, others such as Kidd Mkandawire, Francis Chintembo and Phiri are still alive.

On May 13, Phiri, who is based in South Africa turned 61.


“It’s been a long journey for me in music. I started seeing a calling to music at the age of four. I would go to church just to hear the sound of the organ,” he said.

Phiri said that to him, a church service without music with an organ was not a service.

He started practicing keyboards when he was at St Pius XII Seminary at Nguludi in Chiradzulu in 1974.


“Later Malawi Hotels then recruited me to practice playing keyboards at Chisakalime Hotel, Limbe in 1979 with the resident band then, The New Scene Band,” Phiri said.

He recalls that his instructor was Stampie Kamwendo and that a year later, he was asked to join Tilime Stars, a resident band at Kanengo Night Club in Lilongwe which was owned by a Mr Limani.

And later in April 1980, a Mr Limani opened Chitipi Night Club on Mchinji Road and that is where he made his name.

Phiri also remembers that by then there were very few keyboard players in the country.

He later met the late Bright Livewire Nkhata when he was starring with MBC Band and he encouraged him to join the musical group. So, in January 1981, Phiri joined MBC Band in Blantyre.

But there was a crisis at Capital Hotel in Lilongwe, where the resident band needed a singer and keyboard player in the band – Kalimba.

Phiri said Kalimba was a band formed by Capital Hotel in 1976 and that it was led by Nassau Nkukupa, and changed faces as the years went by.

Then Mhango and Chintembo were left to manage the band and they ended up recruiting the late Nkhata, who joined the band in February 1981.

In October 1982, the band recorded a demo with the help of Dan Chikhawo and they ended up sending Chintembo to South Africa to look for a recording deal.

“We were signed by Dephone Promotions, managed by Phill Horis and our producer was Attie Van-Wyk. So, we started recording Make Friends with The World in January 1983 in Johanesburg for three weeks,” the veteran keyboardist said.

The album was released in April 1983.

“The single release was ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, selling close to 10,000 units in Southern Africa and the album sold close to 2500 units,” he said.

With Kalimba being a resident band at Capital Hotel, the group had problems promoting the album as they ended up getting calls from South Africa to go and perform.

This led to him and Nkhata to move out of Kalima to form Makasu and they went on to negotiate a deal with a manager by the name of Wilfred Malwanda in South Africa.

“He wanted just the two of us to leave for South Africa but we convinced him to make all Malawian members of the band. So, we had Lester Mwathunga from Love Aquarius from Chisakalime on bass, Isaac Nyirenda on drums from Kalimba, Paul Sazuze from MBC Band on guitar and Brian Chingwaru from Kalimba on trumpet,” Phiri said.

The team went on to leave for South Africa on January 1 1984 and toured as well as recorded Reggae Magic album which was released in April the same year.

But the group was later forced to come back home and ended up being a resident band at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre.

“I was personally not comfortable with the idea of being a hotel band as it was killing the idea of recording music,” he said.

In January 1985, the group toured Zimbabwe and appeared live on television in the country but due to the promoters’ misunderstandings, one promoter, Claud according to Phiri, sued the other two promoters and the band, making it impossible for their equipment to come back to Malawi.

“We won the case but we were to pay hotel bills of three weeks. We returned to Zimbabwe in August for a series of shows more especially in Bulawayo. We even performed for the then Vice President Joshua Mkomo at his niece’s wedding at the Bulawayo Show Grounds,” Phiri explained.

This was the time they also ended up linking with George Phiri and they convinced him to join them.

“He was in Zimbabwe’s top group, Wells Fargo and he joined us in 1986 and the face of the band started changing,” Phiri said.

He recalls that one of his disappointments was in 1986, when a contract he was negotiating for the band to perform in Ohio, United States of America failed to materialise after they were told outright that they were doing Caribbean reggae music and to them they wanted African beats.

So many things happened later which saw them recording four songs ‘Matenda’ ‘Masese’ ‘I Love Malawi’, and ‘Africa’.

Phiri went on to work on a number of musical projects including in Botswana where he was asked to help Botswana Police Band for two years but ended up staying for nine years.

He also ended up opening a music label in Botswana called Stona Records.

“I am proud to have changed the face of music in Botswana and I regard it as my second home after Malawi,” Phiri said.

The former Kalimba member left for South Africa in 2008 where he ended up acquiring more knowledge.

“I work with such a wide type of music from the African continent and I never really worked with Malawian artists as I noticed. I do sound for musicians such as Black Missionaries, Lucius Banda, Skeffa Chimoto when they perform in South Africa,” Phiri said.

He said he enjoyed Makasu and Kalimba bands.

“I know Malawians love reggae music but that music will never be exported to other countries as it has a strong history as far back as in the 1960s when it started penetrating the world. At one time, Malawi was regarded as a banjo player in Africa, we didn’t take advantage of that while other countries in Africa improved on that,” Phiri said.

The keyboard player has four children.

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