10 March 1989. Six strangers, all from Ndirande Township in Blantyre but unknown to each other, strap their home-made guitars at their backs and head for what is now called Ndirande New Lines with one thought in mind: To rehearse!
By sheer coincidence, they meet at an intersection, greet each other, and, observing that each has a guitar strapped at the back, realise they have one thing in common: The love for music.
“You cannot believe it, but that is how Jupitters Band started,” said natural leader, Nizye Namalima. “And the six who met were myself, Bunny Weeds Phiri, Aston Nathu, Pablo Gusto Zuze, Black Mandiwa, and Nichodemus Njolomole.”
Nizye, born on April 4, 1971, said at one time that six members hatched the dream of forming Jupitters Band, a band that, he says, has always been different from Jupiter Planet Band, further revealing that Jupitters is an abbreviation that stands for Junior People Trying to Emphasise Reggae or Rasta Sound.
In those days, a typical Jupitters’ live performance would go like this: Phiri, ever so enthusiastic, would always be the man strumming the rhythm guitar and providing the backing vocals; Nathu would always beat the drum, which he had turned into his own friend; Zuze was always the man for the bass guitar; Mandiwa never tired to provide the vocals; Njolomole always felt a home offering the backing and, sometimes, leading vocals.
It was always like this from the 90s to early 2000s until….
“Death crept into the band,” Nizye said. “One by one, five members died, but the dream lives on.”
Thus, of the six people who met at an intersection and hatched the idea to form a band, only one remains to live the dream and tell the band’s story.
But, before death came and interfered with the dream, the band managed to produce two albums, ‘Burning Dub’ and ‘Nkhondo ndi Anansi’.
‘Burning Dub’ made an immediate impact, with tracks such as ‘Mwambo’, ‘Tilemekeze Makolo’, ‘Tomorrow’s Generation’, ‘Babylon You Are Killing’, Jupitters’ Rise and Shine’ enjoying massive airplay on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) after it was released in 1993.
Indeed, when the second album ‘Nkhondo ndi Anansi’ was released after a couple of years, tracks such as ‘Siyani Mabodza’, ‘Khalidwe’, ‘Timulemekeze’, ‘Nkhondo ndi Anansi’, among others, repeated the feat of the first album.
Only for death to pounce and take the bulk of the multi-talented founders away.
“It is sad; really sad. We started together, went on to compose some songs that used to enjoy massive airplay on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, and did a lot of things together. Most of the members died between the time we formed the band and the year 2000,” Nizye said, while taking a breather as the band rehearses in preparation for their next show.
Left alone and disappointed, Nizye decided to abandon music for a while and pursue studies in Information Technology in the United Kingdom.
And, so, in 2001, the only surviving founder of the band left the country. His decision to move on with life nearly sentenced the band to self-imposed death, only for it [the decision] to become a blessing in disguise.
“When I came back to Malawi last year, I felt reinvigorated. There was a sense of personal renewal and we are back to our old best,” he said, as other band members nod in agreement.
Indeed, watching the band rehearse some 30 metres away from Motel Paradise in Blantyre on a Thursday, one feels that not all is lost. Other people have joined it to continue the music project that started over two decades ago.
These include youthful keyboardist John Benito; Chikonda Nyirenda [also called Chiko-I] who plays the rhythm guitar and provides the backing vocals; Soya Banda (also called Man Gad), who is entrusted with percussions; Alex Whayo, who provides backing vocals; Isaac Saka, of the drum, and; Man Grant, the caresser of the bass guitar.
On the road
Nyirenda said, buoyed by the return of the band leader and renewed interest from new band members, all is set for Jupitters to scale new heights.
“We have a legacy to safeguard. If you did not know, we are one of the few bands that have stuck to their genre. We have always been a Roots- Reggae outfit, and we will stick to our original reggae. Our target audience has, also, not changed: It’s the new and old generation,” Nyirenda said, and added:
“The nation should also know that we are one of the very first bands in the country to record a commercial album. In the past, musicians used to record music at MBC and felt satisfied with the fact that they songs were enjoying airplay and being heard by the listener. Jupitters went a step further and recorded a commercial album with the view of selling it and making money out of it.”
On piracy, which has become a worm that is eating into musicians’ income, Nyirenda said the band has not been affected because over 12 years have elapsed since its first album.
He also said the band has not been affected because it concentrates on performing during parties, special occasions, a trend that started in the 80s and 90s when it used to perform live at Mount Soche Hotel and other venues in Blantyre.
At that point, Nizye chipped in, and said the band would learn its lessons on piracy once it released its third album. Next year referred to 2014.
Said Nizye: “We already have songs, and what is remaining is to record and drop an album next year. Our fans should not despair because we are here. And, although some people claim that the music industry in Malawi is narrow, we see opportunities everywhere.”
As Nizye said this, some of the six band members who were in the room rushed for their guitars, percussion, microphone, while others plugged in the sockets. Soon, Nyirenda of the rhythm guitar strummed it, and the room was filled with sound; their sounds of optimism.
It is clear they could hardly wait for the future!
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