The sheer joy of performing in Malawi, which he last visited in 2015 for a performance at Mibawa Café [now dead] in Blantyre Central Business District, seems to out-weight every other wish on Zimbabwean musician Melusi Khumalo’s mind.
It is as if, as an artist who likes to preach through music, the Malawi-mission of the Botswana-based artist is incomplete.
“I Know I will come back to Malawi to perform again. I have wonderful memories, especially of the time I performed in Blantyre and Lilongwe,” Khumalo said.
Which is not a surprise because, once the rosy fingers of music crept through his mind in 1987, turning back has not been an option.
Like most Malawians, Khumalo traces his music career to his involvement in church choirs.
“My music was nurtured through the Baptist Church and, once I ventured into professional music in 1987, I became so passionate about it that I have never looked back,” Khumalo said.
His most cherished moment came in 1987 when he composed the single ‘Khumbula’.
“I was happy because I played alongside my four sisters. It was amazing in the 1980s, with the lack of infrastructure, to make a song and sing it. I, therefore, decided to record it,” he said.
But interest does not always breed success, as Khumalo would learn after attempting to record an album in the early 1980s.
Khumalo’s initial efforts were frustrated by the lack of infrastructure, as the music scene was characterised by lack of recording studios. The development was not different from Malawi in the sense that, in Malawi, this was the era when musicians such as Allan Namoko and Michael Yekha had to rely on the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation to record their songs.
“I started recording with a studio in Zimbabwe but I was let down by infrastructure. People may not believe this but I quit music at one point and concentrated on church activities until 2011,” Khumalo said.
But lack of infrastructure was not the only challenge. He was also confronted with the dilemma of either sticking to the genre he had always admired or adopting ‘Sungura’, a genre that rose to prominence during the era of veteran Zimbabwean musicians such as Alex Macheso and Leonard Dembo.
“Sungura was the most famous genre at the time and Leonard Dembo was the hit boy of the moment. The guy [Macheso] was at his peak and music lovers advised me to ‘make it like that guy’ and this was a source of frustration for me. I did not want to follow the footsteps of the hit boys; I wanted to create a niche for myself,” Khumalo said.
He had to seek inspiration in influential foreign musicians and South African musician, Jabu Khanyili, proved to be that source. Khumalo says he drew lessons from Khanyili and his [Khanyili’s] music in-roads inspired him.
After taking a break from music in the 1980s, in part because he was frustrated that he could not record his songs whenever he wanted to, he received revelation that ‘God has got something to cultivate through you’ and that’s when he got into active music again.
“I have got stacks of music; I am just pulling the tracks I like and recording them. I still love music and I have taught my two boys how to play music. My son ‘Methembe’ is specifically enthusiastic. I often play acoustic music,” Khumalo said.
He said it is for this reason that he wants to come back to Malawi to complete the mission he started.
“I know that I have a lot to learn from Malawian musicians, just like Malawian musicians and artists may learn a thing or two from me,” Khumalo said.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues