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No child’s play!

Now, nobody knows what went into gospel songbird Ethel Kamwendo Banda’s mind then.

Maybe psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was right when he suggested that the creative impulse is “a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood”.

Whatever the case, it came to pass that, between January and October 1996, a spirit bordering on the “play of childhood” crossed the song bird’s mind.

The creative impulse— I mean, “a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood”— must have caught up with Ethel around the month of January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September or October 1996. It surely could not be November 1996, for that is when Ethel found herself at the centre of a storm.

Is it not surprising that Ethel now carries herself with an easy grace— full of the peace the Lord Jesus Christ has given her! The truth is that she made a famous attempt at ‘gospel’ music far back in 1996, or so it seems.

For Ethel, then known as Malawi’s Mbilia Bel, decided to go ‘gospel’. That ‘play of childhood’ spirit might, probably, have been at work. Ethel decided to, of all things, break away (albeit temporarily) from secular music she had mastered so well

with Ravers. Do not look at me like that. Ravers is a band!

She, therefore, did the song ‘Bismilla Lailala…Ilala’.

I do not know why she did the song in October– a hot month in this part of the world–1996. I say this because, much as the month was hot, it became hotter for Ethel, as people who were unhappy with the song ganged up against her and Ravers.

For a feel of what it was like (in terms of the scene and Ethel), let us walk down that road, thanks to Malawi News of December 28 1996 – January 3 1997:

“Malawi’s Mbilia Bel— Ethel Kamwendo— was in trouble in October with the song ‘Bismilla Lailala…Ilala’. The song got on Muslims’ nerves. They said it was blasphemous.

“Muslims argued that mimicking Muslim words is against their religion. After all, Muslim songs are not supposed to be weaved with musical instruments, they argued.

“But Ethel and the Ravers argued they composed the song purely for entertainment and not to insult anyone or a particular sect. Ethel and the Ravers have entertained people and surely Queen Ethel deserves the crown”.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Let me quickly say something about the Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I have deliberately chosen 12 has! Count if you can. They represent the 12 tribes of Israel for reasons I do not know!

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Now [and this is what I am thinking], imagine Ethel – and Ravers, of course— feeling hunted by people who do not appreciate the flexibility of art.

Imagine Ethel innocently taking a walk in Blantyre Central Business District and someone calling her name: “Hey, Ethel…”

And Ethel, without looking back, starts running away, thinking it’s one of the people who are not happy with the song ‘Bismilla Lailala…Ilala’.

It turns out it’s a male vendor who wants to sell bananas to her!

Ethel Kamwendo runs home and hides under the table!

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Well, it’s good that Ethel Kamwendo Banda is now the gospel musician she wanted to be!

She sings freely on stage. She has no reason to run away. No reason to feel persecuted!

And, ah! She even stands in the open on billboards. Like the one in Limbe, Blantyre City’s commercial hub. Smiling, she stands resplendent in clothes tailored along the lines of school uniform. She preaches the message of good health by rallying against trachoma.

What a long time it has been since October 1996!

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