By Jarson Malowa & Stephen Dakalira
Zawatonda wadada winu mwawana!
Ulanda ine ndaziwona
Ndalama wamwera mowa zonse!
Ulanda wanjira muno munyumba!
Wanawa ndichite nawo uli?
Ulanda ine, ndaziona!
Preceded by a wailing siren (perhaps signaling that they are a Police outfit), such a timeless sweet melody called ‘Ulanda’ remains a treasure. These were the works of Police Orchestra, led on the vocals back then by one of Area 30’s most celebrated officers, late States Samangaya. They treated people in the country to a full catalogue of their unique sounds in the 1980s and early 90s through live performances and other means through which the fans could access the songs.
Mind you, this was a period in which Malawi had only one radio station, no television station, no social media pages. There were no Compact Discs and flash disks by this time so people had to make do with cassettes.
It would not be surprising to see most children today not knowing that there was something else to brag about the local police apart from their football and netball outfits Blue Eagles and Blue Eagles Sisters respectively. Just like its off spring Police Strings, Police Orchestra was a household name.
Perhaps it was after the Malawi National Football team clinched the 1988 Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) Cup on home soil after defeating Zambia at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre that Samangaya and Police Orchestra would reach the apex of their musical career through a composition hat heaped praises on the victorious Flames:
Malawi National Team lero!
Eeh moto moto!
Tikanena kuti wina alira lero!
Eeh walira di!
How it all started
in 1939, the Malawi Police Band was hatched, with a focus on military music. But it was in the late 1970s when the idea to have a dance section was mooted, primarily to perform at national celebrations and official ceremonies. Two groups were formed called Forward quartets A and B. They would later be renamed Police Orchestra and Police Strings. Police Orchestra were housed at the Police College in Zomba.
The last we heard of Police Strings was in 2000 and it was during this time that the outfit had to be suspended as there were not that many artists within the police service who could help keep the band alive.
As for Police Orchestra, it was an equally frustrating journey as it went into oblivion after the group’s last performance back in 2016.
Reclaiming lost glory
Fast forward to March 2022, Police Orchestra has resurfaced, seeking to rekindle the romance with music fans who used to follow its exploits.
In all honesty, the competition is quite tough as there are now several musical outfits plying the trade out there, not to mention the fact that music has evolved over the years.
Malawi Police Director of Music, Pitt Mankhambira, said in an interview that they are ready to entertain the public, just like the good old days.
“You know we have been quite for so long. We want to start a new journey which will see the band getting popular as it was during the days of States Samangaya. This is just the beginning,” he said.
It is not the first time we are hearing such talk. Malawians had a glimpse of hope when between 2013 and 2016 a re-assembled Police Orchestra staged a number of shows but it was not long before the group would go into oblivion again. Could it be that this time round, the group is really back and means business?
Mankhambira said the band is more than ready, further pointing out that it has been exploring different music with a focus on issues of albinism, crime and gender based violence.
“There are some songs that we have, which have not been compiled in albums yet but we are ready to dish them out. People should expect more,” he said.
Come March 25 2022, It was all fireworks at 3 Miles in Zomba where the band set its mission in motion, with Edward Kadango on the drums, Andy Kamangwa on the lead guitar, Scolar Ntande as lead vocalist while Francis Chipofya together with Harrison Kajawo were on the keyboards. The band delivered a memorable performance in front of a sizeable audience which had braved the chilly weather.
What was more interesting was the rotational style adopted by Police Orchestra, which saw many officers taking turns to perform on stage, which gives one an assurance that the future could be bright for the group.
Kamangwa, who is band leader and composer, led the band in performing ‘Okwatira Amakonzeka’ ‘Ulanda’ and ‘Pamudzi Pano’.
Not only were fans left impressed but Mankhambira was equally happy with the performance by his charges.
He said he was not reading much into numbers but people’s reaction to the performance.
“I don’t look into numbers but people’s understanding of music…I interacted with the audience and they are satisfied. This has been the best audience,” Mankhambira said.
Chikanda based George Mwanjomo said he was happy to have attended the show as the outfit did not disappoint, adding that he had been expecting such type of a performance from the group.
As the new look Police Orchestra marches on, it is yet to be seen if it will go as far as scaling the lofty heights, as was the case with the original outfit back in the days when people were treated to popular songs such as ‘Sapota’ and ‘Koli’.
Mpaka ku College,
Mwana wanga ndi yekhayu
It is always entertaining to see those in security institutions taking the time off their hectic schedule to refresh by indulging in activities such as performing music. Aside from the Police outfits, one wonders what happened to the Malawi Army Strings Band, but that is a story for another day.
They do say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and time will be the best judge as to whether this new look Police Orchestra will ably fill the boots that were left by the likes of Samangaya. One thing we are certain of, for now, is that Police Orchestra gets to live another day.