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Izeki: Portrait of a comedy colossus

Tuesday, the nation will be laying to rest a great son of the soil, John Nyanga. Popularly known as Izeki in his trade as a comedian, Nyanga was a master rib-ripper such that when he decided in 2011 to become a prophet, one might have thought this was another joke of his. CHARLES MPAKA interviewed him in April 2011 and published in this paper this story, then headlined ‘Izeki: From actor to prophet’

The light beaming through the open window behind him streaked above his shoulder and fell on his table, putting him in a glowing, spiritual-like presence.

On the table were several books including two Bibles and several religious literature.

In the middle of this small, neat office within his compound in Ndirande Malabada was a coffee table. On it was another big Bible. Against the wall facing him were three chairs for visitors.

A smiling young man left the office amid chorusing of utterances such as ‘God is wonderful’ from Izeki (real name John Nyanga). This man’s wife was actually the beneficiary of the first ‘miracles’ of Izeki’s ministry.

The wife had gone way past nine months in pregnancy. Tired and desperate, the couple sought Izeki’s assistance in asking God to relieve the woman. Izeki prayed. Three days later, the woman delivered. The husband had come to report this good news.

All about the office was an aspect not of a comedian any more. Yes, his gait, his voice, his facial expressions were the same of a funny man of the past 30 years. But this was certainly a different man.

“So, what are you called now?” asked this reporter.

“Prophet,” he said in the same creaky voice. “Prophet Izeki.”

It struck home that people can change and some such change can beat even the wildest of imaginations.

Wordless joker

On stage and out of it, in words and in deeds, Izeki was a colossus of a comedian.

In one of his performances at French Cultural Centre in 1997, Izeki bounded onto the stage, sashaying in sagging, frayed and baggy costume. He looked clownish.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at anyone in the audience. But this pantomime exhibition sent the crowd into rib-ripping laughter they flung a lot of money at him.

Izeki, 47, has been a comedy himself. He has been a brand name in didactic humour in Malawi alongside fellow joke dispenser Jakobo (real name Eric Mabedi).

Now 30 years on, Izeki has quit that stage –for another.

Portrait of artist

Izeki comes from Nyangayathyoka Village, Traditional Authority Mabuka in Mulanje. He did part of his primary education at Chinyama Primary School. In 1974, his father found a job as a messenger in a government office at Chibisa House in Blantyre. The family relocated to Ndirande.

Izeki transferred to Makata Primary School where he was involved in school drama productions. His theatre skill developed further at Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church in Makata where he performed in several church plays.

In 1980, during a function by the youths of the church, he came in contact with Charles Severe who was then a big name in radio drama at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Severe spotted immense talent here. He later organised the group to act out Willie Zingani’s Madzi Akataika book. Izeki acted the Alufeyo character of that book.

The group took off ground. But it had to be a secular one so it could stage secular productions. That’s how Kwathu Drama Group was born in 1981 under Severe’s leadership.

Izeki, Jakobo names

Some day in 1984, Kwathu was rehearsing in Severe’s house when a young boy came in and sat next to John Nyanga. That boy was Eric Mabedi, a nephew to Severe. He wasn’t in Kwathu then, according to Izeki.

This was the first time the two boys met. But they instantly hit it out on a right note, behaving foolishly the whole time and they got reprimands from Severe.

They would also follow Severe to a studio at Malawi College of Distance Education (MCDE) at Ginnery Corner where he was producing MCDE’s Midweek Magazine programme aired on MBC.

In the magazine was a slot for comedy which was done by Chancellor College students. But the students did not turn up one day. At the 11th hour and panicking, Severe shoved in the two boys.

“Severe said ‘now you naughty boys, if you have got the guts and the jokes, get right in the studio and do something the nation can laugh about.’ ”

But they had to get proper names. In a spur of a moment, Izeki and Jakobo names popped up, they went into the studio, did their nuisance and tickled the nation. The road to fame had begun.

The birth of Candlex Limited in the early 1990s etched their name even deeper in theatre world. They went on a countrywide tour promoting products of the new company.

Izeki and Jakobo became icons whose jokes were much sought-after by government departments and private companies.

In 1992, they produced a video Kukhala. About this production, Malawi News reported that it showed the two were “accomplished artists whose phenomenal success has assisted to encourage growing band of struggling comedians.” Within the week it hit the market, the video sold a staggering 1 000 copies.

In 1997, they produced two audio tapes and then another video I am the road that you walk and Njinga DVD among several other works.

In early 1990, Izeki broke ranks with Kwathu for reasons he asked this paper not to publish. He formed Alufeyo Performing Arts. But the group didn’t last long. He stayed for four years after the group disbanded before he rejoined Kwathu.

All along, Izeki continued his duo performances with Jakobo who was also still with Kwathu.

“There were contracts that we were getting as Izeki and Jakobo, aside from our respective groups,” he said.

Wakufa Sadziwika tune

One such contract landed them in the United States in 2003. While there, Izeki fell sick. His condition had not improved that much on their return. In transit at Nairobi Airport, he went into a shop to buy a shirt. There, he overheard another Malawian saying it was a waste that Izeki was buying a shirt for he was going to die anyway.

Izeki was later hired to present Kalibu programme on Joy Radio. In that programme, his closing signature was Wakufa Sadziwika, literally, it’s hard to tell who dies first. It was a reply to that cynical, doomster statement against him at Nairobi airport.

Brush with politics

In 2004, Bingu wa Mutharika was presidential candidate for UDF, thanks to the handpicking by President Bakili Muluzi.

“Muluzi asked us [Izeki and Jakobo] to help campaigning for Bingu which we did and he won,” he said.

In 2005, Mutharika dumped UDF and formed his own party. Izeki refused to join the new party when he was invited to do so by Uladi Mussa who was instrumental in the formation of Bingu’s party.

From that point, Izeki and Jakobo became shunned by government and private companies. But that is only as the public saw it because Izeki said it wasn’t that they were sidelined.

“We just chose to. Being called to perform comedies for the new government wouldn’t have worked for our conscience. Bingu had to find his own boys. So, it was only out of principle that we chose not to side with the new government,” he said.

In 2009, Izeki attempted to stand as parliamentary candidate for UDF. He lost the primaries. But he insisted in the interview that in that attempt, he wasn’t actually acting out another piece of comedy. And he has no regrets so far because the failure opened up a bigger stage for him.

Makings of a prophet

“But now with hindsight, it was good I failed. If I had won, I would have a constituency. As a prophet, I have the world,” he said.

On January 4, 2008, he was returning from Machinjiri when he received a call from Prophetess Saweruzika from Lilongwe. He has never seen her. He had not spoken with her nor heard about her.

“She said God wanted me to serve him. I laughed it off. I said I was only Izeki, a comedian of no prophetic o religious worth,” he said.

That day, he proceeded to see Linda Chatha, a colleague in Kwathu. For some reason, Linda spoke a lot about Prophet Steven Mwila of Mount Moriah which assembles at Blantyre Girls Primary School.

Linda went on to give Izeki Prophet Mwila’s number. But Izeki really didn’t have anything to do with it. It was his wife who called Mwila that night. Mwila was in Zambia then but directed them to where his ministry gathers.

A week later, at an unexplainable urging, Izeki attended the service at Blantyre Girls Primary School. That was the first time Izeki ever attended a Pentecostal gathering.

“I really felt out of place. People started praying; I just stood watching and wondering what was happening,” he said.

He started frequenting the place and got closer and closer to God, taking his directions in the process.

One man synagogue

In 2010, he started organising worship sessions at his house with some of his neighbours. He was still at Prophet Mwila’s ministry until this year when God ‘directed’ him to start his own ministry. It is called Synagogue for Hope Church in Malawi. Mid last month, Izeki resigned from Mwila’s Mount Moriah to concentrate on his ministry.

But his is one man’s church currently.

“I’m the only one at the moment. God will give me directions,” said Izeki who has also since resigned from Kwathu to devote himself to ministering.

Kwathu leader Jakobo told The Daily Times he was deeply shocked with Izeki’s resignation for he was a pillar in the drama group. But he said the group accepted his departure.

And on whether this isn’t another get-rich-quick scheme, Izeki said it isn’t.

“There’s only me there at the moment. I also have no idea how it’s going to grow from here,” said Izeki who has two cars, several businesses and property.

For Kwathu and Malawi, it is an achievement that they have produced a prophet, he said.

“I’ve been a preacher through drama,” he said. “God is only giving me another platform. It’s been hard to take. But I think I must do it.”

It may be that God has grander plans for Izeki to make him more useful than just stitching people’s ribs with comedy. Izeki the actor has metamorphosed into Izeki the prophet. Unless this is just another humorous presentation. But it doesn’t look like one.

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