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Lawi’s unpredictable ingenuity in ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’

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By Yokoniya Chilanga

ANOTHER season of unbreakable and unstoppable dance is here! And you cannot ignore it. You cannot miss it either.  After three years of venerable silence, the ‘Amaona kuchedwa’ star, Lawi, real name Francis Phiri, has come again.

This time, he has no mercy, but to break your good legs and condemn your innocent thighs to constant dancing activity. And indeed, if one or two will not lose a leg this season, Lawi has vowed to retire early from music, if not just resigning. And lucky are those who will lose only a leg, for the most unfortunate ones will lose their own necks to head-dancing.

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For Lawi’s urge in his new song is too strong to resist. It is an irresistible urge that shakes the inner-self, the soul, to constant rhythmic movement, cutting across the mind like burning embers of fire. Thank God that while ‘Amaona Kuchedwa’ hit song was released in the heat of the 2014 general elections, the new song, ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’, has been kind enough to come way before the 2019 elections.

If this new song had come in 2019, it would be the most abused song during the campaign. It would kill many to dancing and torture innocent children to street dancing. Perhaps, Lawi knew that and to avoid the chaos that the new song would cause, he has released it much earlier. This is a song that we can undoubtedly categorise as Chidzutsa-mafumu.

Listening to it for the first time, you get to imagine our chiefs taking to the dance floor, partaking the wine in Lawi’s new calabash of the African music. Thankfully, the song finds you at the closing of winter, to warm you up to other great songs coming in his new 2017 album, Sunset in the Sky. If you ignored Lawi’s first eponymously titled album, this time, you can do it, but at your own peril of suffering your own dancing instincts.

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The song is a microcosm of the great gift that Lawi has brought in 2017, maintaining the genres he discovered in ‘Amati Andikawe’ back in 2009 and his African soul beats. If you remember the beauty of the Whistling Song, the song that flew Lawi to Nigeria, after he got a nomination in Afrima awards, this time around, look for something more beautiful.

Here is a song that uplifts the soul into some trance of music ecstasy. ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’ could only be the trail-blazer of the great songs in the new album. For it is the practice of Lawi to hide great songs in the miasma of fast dance song.

He is like a deep river rolling on so silently but fast in its depth. You remember how ‘Amaona kuchedwa’ was only a popular song but not the greatest.  Lawi’s secret is that he invents a popular song to carry his greatest songs. He hides his greatest songs under the current of the fast running waters. On the very bed of a river.

It is because of this secret that Lawi, like a deep river himself, remained silent for good three years. He left us wondering what his second coming would be like. He left us to predict, yet he is unpredictable. He sank in deep thoughts bringing together and weaving concepts and themes that make a surprise visitation to the ultimate of our music souls.

But that’s not what defines Lawi’s unpredictable ingenuity.  His ingenuity lies in hiding great lessons of life in simple and short words in a fast chidzutsa mafumu dance. Lawi in this new album plays the therapeutic role of healing diseases of the soul.

He does it as a doctor who tries the best to avoid pain in a surgical process, in helping the afflicted soul. Lawi makes you dance, that’s his anaesthetic approach. And while you are lost into dancing, he comes with the needles, to prick the wounds of the souls, while massaging the body in a fast dance.

As such, his songs have short repetitive verses that constantly calm the spirits while driving and lowering the great lessons and themes stacked in his songs to the very base of human emotions that either rebuke or whip one back into the path of African morals.

So for instance, while ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’ is a song that has much potential to invade the parties in Malawi halls and grounds, it is also a song’s that offers great lessons. How he weaves his message, lazily, with an atoning voice and pleading themes, one remembers the great Alan Namoko, who ingeniously engrained the great lessons about life, on his beautiful sound of the guitar.

Only that Lawi is a bit faster than Namoko, just to catch up with the tyranny of modern music beats. Lawi indeed beautifully reincarnates, reinvents and modernises the great Alan Namoko in this new song as it was in ‘Amaona Kuchedwa’.

For instance, Lawi sings very simple and familiar lines with the greatest message while at the same time ruthlessly dragging you to the dance floor. And you are left in some pandemonium of thought, wondering, failing to define yourself in the ambivalence of joy and sadness.

The new song ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’, will be likeable, because it looks to be an embodiment of one of the themes in the Malawi national anthem which is the human disease of jealousy and envy. But while the message in the national anthem, was not attached to the hanging threads of other themes, Lawi has ingeniously coached the theme of jealousy on a sound that is so friendly and not very reproaching.

Lawi goes to the village life to act the role of a village sage, who gives piece of advice when matters go wrong. Lawi in the song also plays an avuncular role. Through satire and dramatised Mang’anja tongue, teaches about the effects of jealousy and envy.

He sings about how jealousy or envy destroy the African spirit of communalism, nationhood love and the success of individuals. Lawi dramatises a very serious theme of jealousy as the greatest destroyer in simple verses, so that its recipients do not feel offended.

He compensates the pain that the offended recipient might feel by throwing them immediately to the dance floor. Yet, he takes them back from the dancing floor for another round of giving advice as well as rebuking.  They are sent back to the dancing floor again. In the end, the anger softens and the message sinks. Such is Lawi’s therapeutic method.

For instance, some of the lines and verses in ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’ go like this:

 Kumakondana, tonse a Malawibe basi. Umunthu tidali nawo, timkaukonda, koma kaduka adatipasulira. Zonenanena kuchuluka mvula ikagwa, abale.

Zonenanena mvula ikagwa, inu majelasi lekani. Ukaona mwana ali ndi maloto ake, mumuthandize, musaphwasule konzani. Thandizani mwana, wamtima wolimbikira, Poti patsogolo adzakutuleni ndi uyu. Nthenda ya nsanje imasowa chipatala.

Mtima wa nsanje umakonda zophwasula. Mukaona mwana akuswa mphanje zake, Mumugulire khasu la nyuwani mpatseni. Poti zomera m’munda sizisankha otafuna, Kapena mimba yanu nkudzapululumukira pompa. Khalidwe la ufaka mpweya limaononga zazikulu Khalidwe la ufaka mpweya ndilachabe

Using this therapeutic approach, in this song Lawi tackles the problem of ubunthu, which is founded on the African morals. Thus, he implores on the elders to support the young entrepreneurs or innovators because life is unpredictable. In the last verse, he sets his message in the rural farming activities in which a young man is preparing a land for farming and in this case the elders should buy the farming tools instead of pulling the young farmer down.

In this context, Lawi personifies jealousy as the greatest enemy standing in the way of the nation’s progress. Lawi bemoans that we have lost umunthu and are intoxicated with the spirit of jealousy. The great themes in Lawi new song culminates in the need for love among Malawians.

It is the familiar message in many songs, but Lawi has put it simple and clear in a guitar and African drums, so that everyone can easily associate himself with the song. Lawi flames your mind to the new lessons, the very lessons we have long heard in other songs.

Perhaps, Lawi’s complexity and unpredictability is in his simplicity. His ability to tackle very difficult and important topics in very simple verses by bewitching the vulnerable afflicted souls to dancing with reckless abandon.  And if Lawi has a magic wand, to bewitch sick-troubled and immoral souls to dancing, in ‘Zonena Kuchuluka’, he must have invested more charms to bewitch many.

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