Malawi’s never-ending music evolution
By Jarson Malowa & Levison Msakambewa:
Music in Malawi has taken a different touch, a touch more positive than in the 1980s, when the Joseph Nangalembes reigned supreme and were at their peak.
That time, Malawi music was the typical local genre with slight fusion. Of course, the manganje, beni and vimbuza beats were unmistakeable.
People got familiar with songs done by local bands. Lyrics that would go like …Munatiphikila mowa ife tinamwa…zikomo! and songs such as ‘Mavuto Simaliro Okha’ by Dr. Daniel Kachamba.
Then came Michael Yekha, who had a long string of success year in, year out and, before passing on, had accumulated many MBC end-of-the-year awards under his belt.
There were other big names, the likes of Stonard Lungu, Robert Fumulani and numerous others, who were sensational and original.
However, the shift has been so enormous that there is fear from some circles that the public might even forget about great musicians who rocked Malawi in the 1990s.
There were music shows at Kudya Motel, Shire Highlands, Shelter Club, Bamboo and other venues and rarely did people hear of any high-class events except for Miss Malawi and MBC Entertainers of The Year.
Dressing was another kind of fashion, haircuts, the so- called phanke or tsumba, curl kit or, indeed, dreadlocks here and there.
When one presently asks artists like Lulu about who their idol musicians were, there is no beating about the bush as either Bright Nkhata or Wambali Mkandawire comes top of the pecking order.
You heard of States Samangaya, Police Strings Band, Mulangeni Sounds and all that and, looking at the situation now, one is convinced that music has completely changed in Malawi.
Music has always been a mode of message transmission to convey messages, to warn, caution and possibly make emphasis on certain issues affecting people.
Recently, Patience Namadingo picked on a few names to check with some of his Facebook supporters and introduced a contentious issue about who a legend is.
There is an east-west coast music battle in the United States and in Malawi. Mikozi, who sometimes stir debate on Facebook, equates this to a Lilongwe-versus-Blantyre duel.
Then, silently, in music production, we hear of contrasting episodes between BFB and DJ Slay, Sispence and Stich Frey.
So too in music management or engineering; there is Lemekeza Phiri and Shadreck Kalukusha.
Then there are figures like Patrick Banda, Isaac Dingaliro and Tonderai Banda, who is slowly being groomed to take over from Jai Banda, Malawi’s pride, entertainment teacher and fan’s everything in the industry.
There is Jabeh in Blantyre, a music engineer; so very quiet and humble.
He knows his gear and is very perfect for any kind of gig.
Everything has changed so much that the fun also goes through pictures and films.
Then there is the digital platform which was not available in the 80s, as well as HD cameras, with such names as Kaya Films, HD plus, Manifest, Fresh Touch and numerous others.
In terms of music, be it afro-pop or hip-hop, there is a new breed of artists who are doing well and poised to break the international music charts such as Ritaa, Leslie and dancehall queen Sangie.
On the other hand, the Malawi music industry also has Gwamba, Tay Glyn, Piksy, Phyzix, Kell Kay, Dan Lu, Saint. The beauty of it all is that this is a different century to the Nangalembe era.
The transformation has been so exciting and the style, the music, tunes and everything, extraordinary that we could be destined for greater things.
There is hope that the trajectory that the likes of Namadingo are taking, which was synonymous with Lawi, is bound to make them break the borders and, indeed, claim two or three BET Awards.
In this century, however, there are many artists who would bring home international awards.
For instance, the recent release of ‘Kuseli’ by Dan Lu and Saint, ‘Wa Ine’ by Ritaa and Leslie should bring smiles to our faces.
‘Nakupenda’ by Kell Kay and Tay Grin was poised to break the international boundaries had it not been for Covid.
The teaming up of Martse with Gwamba, Phyzix and Dare Devils in ‘Makofi’ is something to marvel at.
Even Namadingo himself has quickened his steps, with numerous songs being done in languages such as Shona, Portuguese and others but it is the Chichewa language that makes his songs catch the ear.
These are the likes of ‘Mapulani’.
Contrary to this approach, Wendy Harawa decided to do collaborations with stars from such countries as Kenya, where she collaborated with Guardian Angel.
She has also featured Uganda’s Levixione, Namibia’s Maranatha just to have a Southern Africa Development Community music touch.
On the other hand, Lulu fished out from his studio in Lilongwe his latest weapon called ‘Mbeta’.
Skeffa Chimoto, too, has been an all-rounder, every time he gets into a studio, it is a hit the country expects.
True to this, Skeffa was able to release ‘Kankha’, ‘Zitha’ and ‘Pemphero’ and the citizenry enjoyed.
In the past, or indeed recent history, Lucius Banda has been an epitome of talent, save to say Malawi also has Billy Kaunda, Mlaka Maliro, Alleluya Band, Charles Sinetre and Coss Chiwalo.
Remember ‘Afisi Aku Ntcheu’? That was so powerful and the entertainment sector still relishes those moments.
So you look at this crème de la crème of the then era and compare with Wikise, Atohti Manje, Eli Njuchis of this era and the tastes are different.
Malawi is now able to cross the borders and engage musicians from other countries.
There is still much to be done in terms of companies supporting the music industry.
A music artist in Malawi should be able to release a song, be it in vernacular or other bantu languages, and break the boundaries as was the case with Oliver Mtukudzi.
Malawi music industry will always cherish that moment when this comes real and everybody wishes he/she were Malawian.
As people wait and chase for international medals, this should be food for thought.