It is no easy task to re-work a song and still manage to maintain its original touch whilst fiddling with it, knowing fully well that the initial artist scaled lofty heights with the track. Not long ago in the United States, Etta James once chided famous RnB star Beyonce for not doing justice to her famous track ‘At last’ which she had performed at an event where James was in attendance.
It is not strange to find people perfecting their musical prowess by re-working old songs or doing remixes (as they are popularly called). Even Hip-Hop mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs prides himself as a master when it comes to producing remix songs and even compiled a whole album titled ‘We invented the remix’ comprising hit songs initially done by artists that were signed to his Badboy Records music label.
I found myself mulling over this topic the other day as I listened to what I consider Malawian classic songs that were given a modern feel by the new generation of artists.
Take, for example, the hit song ‘Chinafuna M’bale’ by Lucky Stars Band, which was given a make-over by rap artist Tay Grin who aptly titled his ‘Our way’, with Malawi’s legendary producer Tapps doing justice to the beat:
Chinafuna m’bale, chinabwera,yeah!
Chinafuna m’bale, chilipo!
Chinafuna m’bale, chinabwera! (Grin!)
Chinafuna m’bale,yeah! Chilipo!
Mfana okwana, bonya
Mwano zonse kutsonya
Poster boy composure
Get down on the floor let’s party first class
Motherland stylin, trend setters,
In a league of our own doin’ it our way, go!
Far from choking the life out of the original song, the remix by Grin managed to win over the youthful audience which had probably not paid much attention to the initial ‘Chinafuna M’bale’ due to age or generational gap but once the remix dropped, it was the perfect time for the youthful audience to reconnect with their roots as many probably enquired about the origins of the song.
Another remix track worth the mention is ‘Munyaradzi’, initially done by late Saleta Phiri and his AB Sounds. Saleta would later team up with Honjo star San B, who delivered an energetic act on the song and not surprisingly, it soared to new wavelength:
Munyaradzi, hoo mwana wanga iwe! X2
Ine bambo wako, kudandaula! X2
Iwe zochita zako, zokhumudwitsa x2
alumpha ndi chule
Chi ulendo cha San ndi Saletaa!
Bantu Kamuradzi also caused quite a sensation with their track ‘Amayi anati’, another tune that built on the initial one done by the original artist.
Amayi adati, ine ndapita
Dziwa ndi nkhondo, mwana’nga usamale
Amayi adati, ine ndapita
Dziwa ndi nkhondo, mwana’nga usamale
Akapanda kumva aleke iwe mwananga
yee ine ndalephera
Akapanda kumva aleke iwe mwananga yee
Aah Indee! Zoona!
Uumh adanena, dzikoli ndi lovuta,
Ngakhale adzikunyoza kupondereza osagonja,
Odala ovutikira, kulira ndi chisoni
kumasula bongo wako
Osasiya kulimbika, tsiku lina zidzayenda,
mwinanso zidzavuta ukadzapanda kusamala,
Mvera sunga mwambowo, tsegula
**Back to chorus***
Khala okonzeka, fuko lako nulitchinjiriza,
pamene anthu akuda ofiira ndi obiriwira
angayembekezenso chani pa iwe
osati kutsata zokhazo zofunikira
mavalidwe, machitidwe odzetsa
mtendere Chitsiru sichidziwa
koma ochenjera amvetsere
Mulungu dalitsani Malawi, dziko la
mau omaliza, ino ndiyo nthawi!
Relatively new artist Lesley also did justice to ‘Bambo a Tereza’, a song that was originally done by The Roots Band, which was quite popular in yester years:
Bambo a Tereza, chonde tisiyane bwino,
Ngati banja latha, chonde tisakangane,
Ine ndidzakwatiwa ndi inunso kukwatira,
Akakhala anawa awasunga Mulungu!
Goodson Gomonda’s ‘Kaduwa’ is such a fine tune that, when it initially came out, it took the airwaves by storm:
Kakati kayende pamsewupa,
anyamata onse kucheuka!
Monga duwa, likuopa njuchi!
It therefore was no surprise to see HipHop outfit Basement jumping on the track for a remake. The confident and smooth rap flows by the likes of Abambo AB and Cyclone gave the classic track a whole new dimension.
Usually, the temptation to do the remix or remake is quite huge for most artists, but then the challenge comes in when you begin to consider if you have what it takes to do justice to the song. Another contentious issue has been that of copyright. We have seen a couple of local artists being taken to task by rights holders of a song for failing to follow set protocol when one wants to remake somebody else’s work.
Just the other day on this very page when we were paying a befitting tribute to Martse, we reminisced about how he gave a ghetto feel to two songs done by two of the biggest stars to have emerged from Malawi; Lucius Banda (Mabala track) and Billy Kaunda (Mwapindulanji from his first album).
Lucius recalled how a determined Martse approached him to do a remake of Mabala.
“He called me on the phone and said ‘dad, can I make a cover of one of your songs?’ I said ‘which one, son’ ‘Mabala’ he said with a laugh. ’Are you sure?’ ‘yes’ he said,” recalls Lucius in a post he made after the young artists died.
He added that sometime down the line, when he gets to listen to Martse’s version of ‘Mabala’ he realizes that it was just as powerful as the initial one.
One can clearly see that there was no copyright violation in this instance as Banda agreed to Martse giving the tune a make-over.
It is not just modern music that enjoys getting a complete remake. Some artists have equally gone for typical traditional songs.
Take, for a example, the facelift that Tay Grin, Sangie, Tapps and Tsar Leo gave to the traditional song ‘Kamwana kamwini’ which people in the villages enjoy and has been adopted countless times by cultural troupes. Tay Grin, Sangie, Tapps and Tsar Leo titled theirs ‘Mayo Mayo’ and it certainly is a banger due to the fresh RnB appeal they gave the track (never mind the contentious lyrics).
One thing is for sure; some songs are meant to be enjoyed forever and this we can be assured of, if modern day artists continue giving fresh appeal to timeless music.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).