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Flying on broken wings with Blasto

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Nothing has really changed at Likuni Hospital in Lilongwe. At least in terms of the road network. Some 200 metres after branching off to Likuni Hospital, the road dies into a puff of dust as one drives to Chigwirizano Trading Centre.

But one of the boys who were born there on August 27 1983 has undergone rapid changes since that Saturday night in 1983.

Unlike the partly-tarred, partly dusty roads of Likuni and Chigwirizano, Otis Chilamba— known in the music chat rooms as Blasto—has taken a path that is never like the same Likuni road; a path that, unlike Likuni’s roads, never takes exactly the same twists and turns.

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Quite literally, he has defied the Chinese saying that “The falling leaf returns to the roots of the tree”— meaning that it is better to die where one was born— by writing his own script.

Today, it is hard to look at Blasto without a creeping wonder: Is this the boy who lay helpless at Likuni Hospital, crying for dear mother’s warmth.

Consequently, the gulf between the half-tarred, half-earth roads of Likuni and Blasto stays unabridged. As the residents of Likuni and Chigwirizano brush shoulders with dust, Blasto has been busy brushing shoulders with artists from Jamaica and the United States of America.

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Life has made his artistic life happen in a context which, somehow, can only be thought of as imaginary. In fact, as Blasto admits, the sheer joy of crossing international boundaries outweighs everything else.

Born in Lilongwe at Likuni Hospital, the reggae and dance hall musician, who has one 13-track album to his credit, has moved to places more in number than the tracks of his own album.

“I have one CD, Stronger, in which I address issues such as those encountered in daily life. The issues are not drawn from the cupboard of my life; not strictly that way. I draw them from the basin of life; from daily experiences,” says Blasto.

In Stronger, Blasto acknowledges that life is not a bed of roses, and this is quite unlike the ‘conscious’ reggae/dancehall artist he is supposed to be. In the world of reggae and dancehall, a conscious artist is one who dwells on positive things.

This is because this consciousness is supposed to be a form of spirituality.

“Of course, I can say I am a conscious artist because I address a whole lot of positive stuff,” says Blasto.

His song, Jah nah sleep serves as a wander into the world of positivity. It is premised on Psalms 21, which offers assurances to believers that He who watches over them will never let His followers stumble.

“Not that I am too spiritual. As they say, too much of everything is poisonous. But, then, I believe in God and through Him I get inspiration to think positive and be what I want to be. In fact, I subscribe to the philosophy that life is too short to stress over people. That is why I need positive friends who will be there for me,” says Blasto.

However, against this backdrop of positivity comes the song Broken wings, taking away all the fun associated with passivity.

Ironically, Broken wings has had a positive influence on the third-born in the family of five.

Broken wings is a song that talks about staying strong in a hostile world.

“So, what the persona is saying in Broken wings is that it is important to stay strong despite all the challenges thrown at us. With this knowledge, I realise that every new day makes me stronger than yesterday. Despite the challenges Malawians are facing— I am talking of social and economic challenges— we shall make it,” observes Blasto.

Like Broken wings like Never live. Blasto also talks about getting rid of people who are an extra baggage in one’s life. Negativity is the road to failure, Blasto implies.

As it were, life to Blasto is not all about complaints.

In the song ‘Good girl’, Blasto takes some time off to appreciate the beauty of the African woman.

That is not to say life is flawless.

“There is beauty in women and we can do well by appreciating that beauty. There is more good in women than bad, and appreciating such beauty is one way of finding inner peace,” says Blasto.

Early steps

Blasto grew up believing in himself, and believing that he was born an artist, but, even with that instinct, he simply could not tell what the future would hold for him.

In fact, he learned the tricks in music from his elder brother, Dan, who abandoned the guitar some time back and stays in South Africa.

One of his brothers, Morris, is one of the country’s pioneering rappers. Morris, a.k.a. Mosh Dee, and Blasto benefitted from the tutorage of their elder brother, Dan, who used to specialise in dancehall.

Dan, Dr Lizard, Anne Matumbi and other pioneers of dancehall opened the scene to other musicians.

“I and Mosh Dee liked to listen to the songs done by Buju Banton, Papa San and the other musicians who painted the world in dancehall colours in the late 1970s and late 1980s.

“From an early age, I was interested in life enjoyed by those in performing arts. In fact, as early as the 1990s, I could imitate songs composed by famous musicians in the world and I could sing them better than my friends. I was, then, inspired by my brother, Dan. I could see him rehearse and then I started listening to his songs on radio and that inspired me. I said, ‘If they can do it, why not me’?,” says Blasto.

In those days, Matumbi came with a concoction of dancehall through the song Greetings Malawi. Blasto says he realised that, by learning from those who were making inroads locally, as well as international artists such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Capleton, Sizzla, it would be possible for him to make it, musically.

International in-roads

Today, Blasto’s fortunes in music have taken a turn for the better and the artist has performed as far away as the United States.

For example, in 2015, Blasto featured Jamaican artist, Karamanti, in a song titled Show love. Karamanti is a conscious reggae dancehall artist from Jamaica.

In fact, in 2015, he released the 13-track album Stronger in collaboration with Italy’s music label, Ziggy Blacks Productions. The label has put Blasto’s songs up for digital distribution worldwide. The songs can be found on iTunes and spotify.

“Actually, the CD is selling at $9.99 and all the songs are being sold for slightly under $1, which is roughly K700 per song,” explains Blasto.

In 2015, the artist went to perform at concerts. Among other states, he performed in Virginia Beach, New Jersey, New York, Indiana.

He either performed alone or in the company of U.S. artists.

Among other foreign artists, he performed alongside US rapper Free Way.

Free Way is no ordinary name in music, as the artist used to work with Jay Z under the label Rockefella.

He also performed with New York rapper, Vado. Vado is from the label ‘We the best’ managed by DJ Khaled, real name Khaled Mohamed Khaled.

But the highest moment for Blasto came when an opportunity to act in a movie came his way. He performed in a New Jersey Indie movie titled King of Newark. Newark is the name of a city in New Jersey.

An Indie movie is one not done by the big film corporations and, in King of Newark, Blasto was one of the supporting characters.

“That opportunity came as a surprise but I knew I could act. I used to do stand-up comedy at Harry’s Bar in Malawi between 2004 and 2005,” says Blasto.

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