The mounds of soil on Chimpukutso Village cemetery’s graves look uniform, almost familiar.
There is a peculiar pathos attached to them, though; 10 or so graves have been freshly dug, rife with piles of dust and improvised memorial stones because, apparently, death is running faster than people’s sense of grief.
Even though, as the Chinese say, “The falling leaf returns to the roots of the tree”, sons and daughters of Chimpukutso are returning ‘home’, namely the resting place, fast.
It is a no-brainer that the ceiling of hope has dropped so low that people walk about crouched as if they were hiding from something.
It could be inscriptions at the graveyard that make one look at themselves and others with an odd, wan emptiness that suggests there is a raging debate within oneself. There must be something in the inscriptions.
The inscriptions, as one’s eyes wonder through the Chimpukutso graveyard, seem relentlessly similar: They contain names of people in the productive age range of their years. Inscriptions of members of the old generation, those buried after independence, are barely readable, the ink having been eaten by the relentless whipping of the sun’s rays.
One epitaph is among the odd ones out. It is freshly made; the grave, freshly dug.
Kenny Klips, 4 August 1976 to 21 January 2021.
The man Kenny Klips, now resting peacefully under the heap of soil that is under the brushwood, was great and faced, like the rest of us, an equal measure of moments of vulnerability to others and chance intimacies.
Who, exactly, was Kenny Klips, real name Kenny Wako? The story goes this way.
Nothing prepared him for what he became: a multi-talented artist known more for his masterly of the turntables and music compositions than the auto-engineer he was trained to become.
The one-time FM 101, Joy Radio and Times radio personality— who, until his death, actually worked at Times Group as audio engineer— acknowledged to Weekender in 2018 that the tape of his fantasies has not rolled in the seamless premeditated flow he thought it would follow.
“I did not want to become a deejay. In fact, I prefer to call myself a turntablist. I wanted to be something different,” Klips told Weekender.
His pipe-dream was to become an auto-engineer because he had long been fascinated by the engines that power mobiles – only for music to break “smoothly” in.
Klips was quick, however, to admit that he had a soft spot for music.
“I remember that, while staying in California, the United States, we had (music) equipment at the yard and I used to spend some time mastering it. It was a hobby that, eventually, turned into a day-job,” Klips said at the time.
But, then, he did not join the music industry full throttle when he came back home in the early 90s; concentrating, instead, on school.
“When I came back from the [United] States, I never knew how to listen to the radio; I still don’t listen to the radio, actually. This is because I do not want to be informed. I don’t want to know what the next guy is doing. All I want to do is to make money. Time is money my friend,” said Klips, who revealed that he used to surf the internet or read international magazines when he wanted to be informed.
From Deejay to turntablist
Klips, who was persuaded by a friend to submit a demo tape to FM 101 and started working for the Limbe-based station in 2001, evolved from being a deejay and preferred to be called “ a turntablist”.
“I am a turntablist. There is a difference between a turntablist and deejay. A turntablist is someone who makes music out of music by playing records or vinyl, among others.
“The problem with deejaying in Malawi is that each and every one can become a deejay. My type of deejaying – and the way I understand deejaying – is different from what Malawians describe as deejaying. And, if you scrutinise the industry, you will discover that the average listener does not know what the art of deejaying is all about.”
Klips says, “for the real thing in deejaying”, those calling themselves deejays should tussle it out on www.dmcchampionship.com – which is the world championship of deejaying.
Klips, who came from Chimpukutso village, Traditional Authority Chanthumwa, in Balaka District, was one of the rarest breed of turntablists who could create music out of music by remixing other artists’ songs and creating something new.
For example, Klips had a remix of P Square, Theo Thomson, Blasto, and Chris Brown’s songs, creating a unique touch that only he could come up with.
Celebrity status versus fame
While Klips was one of the select Malawian turntablists to have turned the tables in the Big Brother Africa House – when Hyphen, then known as Young Kay, performed to housemates—he used to maintain that he did not consider himself famous.
“Fame, to me, is the presidency. When people have to book appointments to meet you, and the appointments fail several times before you finally meet with the individual; that’s what we call fame. Fame applies to those who can’t be touched easily,” Klips said.
This notwithstanding, Klips played a critical role in the establishment of the movement called HHR (Hip-Hop Revolution) – which used to collaborate with the then Zain Malawi (now Airtel) in unearthing raw music talent from all corners of the country —among his achievements.
He also triumphed in local deejaying competitions.
Born in a family of four – two brothers and two sisters – Klips was a well-known figure across Africa, thanks to his prowess on the turntables, a development that saw him strut his stuff at such platforms as the Big Brother Africa Season Eight, which was dubbed The Chase.
He also once supported Young Kay when the musician performed at a Big Brother eviction show during an earlier season.
But, in a typical Kenny Klips fashion, the artist-cum-deejay, claimed that he did not feel good the first time he played music during the Big Brother Eviction show.
“I did not feel good and I didn’t know that anyone was watching me.”
Apart from deejaying, Klips was a musician and counted the album Mwakawidwanso among his music exploits. The hip hop album was produced and released in 2006.
He also owned the media company Montana Audio, was one of the co-founders of Malawimusic.com and also worked as an auto-engineer and producer.
Clearing the mist
Like all human beings, however, Klips had his misgivings. He picked a bone, several times, with the media for describing some genres of music as urban, gospel, secular, among others.
“It’s ignorance of the highest order. There is no urban music because urban music is not a genre. Gospel music is not a genre. Secular music is not a genre. The same goes with the issue of music identity. What do they mean when they say urban music artists? The media are to blame for this misinformation,” he said.
“When we talk of genres, we talk of dance hall, reggae, hip-hop. Of late, we have observed that many people are getting into fusion, fusing a bit of hip hop with other genres. That’s what Piksy does. The way Lawrence Mbenjere does it.”
Klips was also visionary, hence he co-founded Malawimusic.com. Before many people realised it, he sensed that the future of music was in online platforms.
“The online market can become the biggest market for Malawi music. In a country where the music distribution chain is distorted, this is good news, and I have sold my music online for some time and been able to pay school fees for my dependents,” Klips said.
He could have visualised and visualised but, on January 21 2021, died, leaving thousands of Malawian musicians reaping from the fruits of his work.
Somewhere in Chimpukutso Village lies a man who, through dedication, made things work. Another man may rise from the village but, surely, they will never take the same road, quiet never exactly the same twists and turns, never exactly the same path like Kenny Klips— because there will always be one Kenny Klips.