Despite the passage of time, Balaka-based musicians’ passion for music remains unabridged.
From the moment one reaches St Louis Montfort Parish in Balaka District, to the moment one passes locals’ dwellings, with their brushwood stockades and rush of chickens on the way to Andiamo Campus, sounds of music and oxygen seem to dominate the air.
Not that Andiamo Campus is the ‘home’ of Malawi music; it just amplified it.
Malawi has had music bands— be it church-driven, government-driven and government agency-sponsored— since the post-colonial era.
Actually, after establishment of the music units at the security departments of Malawi Police Service, Malawi Defence Force and Malawi Prison Service, ordinary Malawians seem to have fallen in love with the idea of establishing their own bands.
The Malawi Police Orchestra Band and States Samangaya did some pieces including ‘Ine Nditani Mu Ndirande Muno’, ‘Mainesi’, ‘Ndithandizeni Anzanga’, ‘Pamudzi Pano’ and ‘Ulanda’.
Later on, bands such as Alleluia Band were formed in 1978.
Alleluia Band established itself and won the hearts of many, including people as far away as Italy, where founder, Father Mario Pacifici, came from.
A heart to follow music bands later engulfed Malawians, when Paul Banda, who was one of the band’s members, led the band with albums such as Mtendere, Kondwerani, Uthenga and Alleluia 20.
And the number of bands has been rising. Lucius Banda, Paul’s brother, introduced Zembani Band; Charles Nsaku had Ali Ku Town Sounds; there was Tiyamike Band, Mwizalero Band, Armageddon Band, Soul Riders, Maloto Vibrations, Mathumela Band, Real Sounds Band— the list is endless.
But, as in real life, some of the bands that reached their peak have been either hibernating or dying a natural death.
Alleluia Band Leader Paul Subili attributes this to lack of music schools in the country; which means talent is not being nurtured at a consistent level.
He, however, says the case is different with Alleluia Band, whose founders foresaw the need to keep the river-of-talent flowing.
“After we noted that there was a need for transition in our band, we established Andiamo Music School, which is aimed at teaching musicians how to play music instruments and music techniques. Some of the people we have trained in music are with us while others joined other bands,” Subili says.
He says this has ensured the continued supply of talent to the band and other bands in the country.
“What I am saying is that transition in music cannot be done if there are no musìc schools. We need to constantly have the new generation learning music trends,” Subili says.
In fact, apart from having Alleluia Band, Balaka District was also known in the music circles because of Imbirani Yahwe (IY) Studios, which veteran musician Paul Banda established after reaching retirement age at Alleluia Band.
However, after IY stopped operating, there was a gap and Alleluia Band owners established Alleluia Studio so that Balaka talent can easily record music there. Actually, artists from other parts of the country are free to record songs there.
Alleluia Band Arts Director Coss Chiwalo says the studio has paved the way for musicians.
“The studio, which I manage, has filled the gap. I manage the studio at the moment,” Chiwalo says.
Chiwalo says his work involves managing training sessions at the band.
“I am responsible for training at Alleluia Band. I also ensure that there is discipline in song composition. When there is a need to play songs before an audience, we introduce the song before we play it before people. This makes us unique,” he says.
Chiwalo, who is also the studio manager at Alleluia Studios, says it is important to teach as many people as possible about music to keep its flag flying.
“The importance of Andiamo Music School is to, clearly, capture local talent and take it to other levels. When the band takes us to Italy, for example, some of the graduates from the school also make the trip,” he says.
On his part, Subili hails people such as Father Mario Pacifici for taking the band to places such as Italy.
“Before everything here, there was Alleluia Band at this place. So, father Mario used to invite people from Italy to Malawi and take some people from here to Italy, which promoted, and continues to promote, unity,” Subili says.
As the plane takes Alleluia Band members to Italy, it is not just band members that fly above us; it is Malawi’s flag flying in the limitless skies of the world, symbolising that, for Alleluia Band, the sky is the limit.