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Remembering Akuka Saleta Phiri

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LEADING IN VOCALS —Takondwa performs

The sounds of Amulamu Band Sound (AB Sounds) at Kameza in Blantyre in the hours of Saturday were new to some especially the younger generation but for the old, they connected to it and sang along to most of the songs.

To the old, they had been reminded of the days when legendary musician late Saleta Phiri, popularly known as Akuka, used to lead AB Sounds and served them songs such as ‘Radio Galamu’, ‘Oraruwa’ and ‘Munyaradzi’.

The group featuring Ken Soko on bass guitar, Takondwa Mambayekha on lead guitar, Ali Disi on drums and Gift Nkoma on second guitar, managed to offer their best although gaps could be noticed in their delivery, a sign that they did not do much in terms of rehearsals.

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Saleta led AB Sounds in vocals and also played the guitar but this time, in his absence, Soko led in vocals and at the same time showed his skills on the lead guitar.

This was a memorial show organized by Club 24/7 and other players including artists such as Soldier Lucius Banda and Zembani Band, who starred at the event for free.

Former Malawi Police Service spokesperson and officer in charge Dave Chingwalu, who is now retired, made it to the event and for him; he wanted to enjoy the sounds of Soldier Lucius Banda and AB Sounds.

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“It has been some time since I patronised a show but this one seems to be different and being a memorial show of Saleta Phiri, I thought I should come and enjoy his music,” Chingwalu said.

When master of ceremonies DJ Dumex announced that AB Sounds, a band that used to perform with Saleta was next, the impressive audience gave them all the support, with some requesting for their favourite songs which included ‘Oraruwa’.

Soldier Lucius Banda, who took advantage of the memorial to announce to the audience that he would be releasing his 20th album titled Love and Hate, also briefly performed Saleta’s song ‘Oraruwa’ before moving on to dish out his own songs.

“Some of you were not yet born when we used to watch Saleta Phiri. He was a talented artist and many of the artists, including me, got inspired with him. I am sure he is smiling with what has been done today. We just needed to celebrate his works and raise something to support the family,” Lucius said.

Saleta entertained people for years with his songs and many artists, especially those from Ndirande Township in Blantyre, have learned from him.

This is why organisers of Mudi Music Festival in Ndirande this year also decided to recognize him posthumously with a silver medal for his immense contribution to the development of music in the country.

Saleta got the silver medal alongside Ndirande Anglican Voices lead vocalist Dennis Kalimbe, Fuggie Kasipa and Diwa Khwiliro.

“We would have loved to have given him this medal when he was still alive but although he is not with us today, we thought of remembering him and appreciating his works,” gospel musician Limbani Simenti, who was one of the members of the organising team, said.

Saleta died on December 31 2004 and was laid to rest on January 1, 2005.

His son Limbikani as well as his mother Enelless hailed the team that organised the memorial which raised over K1.3 million, with the family being given over K800,000 after all expenses.

“We were four of us, I am the first born child but we lost the other two. I have a sister Munyaradzi, who is a teacher by profession,” Limbikani said.

He said since their father passed on, they have haboured ambitions of continuing Saleta’s mission through AB Sounds but they failed to do so due to circumstances beyond their control.

“It has been hard for AB Sounds to continue my father’s mission in that we lost some members, including my younger brother who used to lead the group after father’s demise and he also used to play the keyboard,” he said.

Limbikani described his father as talented and that many artists doing well on the market have been inspired and taught by him.

“He loved music and he was so passionate about it and his compositions and this is why his songs continue to enjoy airplay in different radio stations, weddings and other places,” he said.

Saleta did not work in isolation and just like is the case now where artists are teaming up to create different songs, the old-timer also collaborated with other artists including San Bennet Msokera better known as San B in the track ‘Munyaradzi’.

“It has been hard for us to be active because we do not have the equipment. It is expensive to hire equipment and for us to do well on the market, then we need our own equipment,” Limbikani said.

With the music landscape wearing a new face as the younger generation is racing with urban music, Limbikani said their music is still relevant in this modern day and that it will never lose its space.

“The current generation, I would say, is every creative and with technology, things are moving at a fast pace. These days recording is easier and it does not take time, all you need is just money to go to the studio and record but the music that my father used to do, will always stand out,” he said.

Limbikani believes the holding of the memorial show grows AB Sounds.

“Having lost other members, we have new members and some are our relatives. This is a family of musicians, we are in this not by chance. So many musicians have come out of this family both on my father and mother’s sides,” he said.

Limbikani said they have so many songs, some of which are unrecorded and that they would have loved to get a sponsor for them to go to the studio.

“We also would love to re-record some of our father’s songs and for us to do that, we need resources. My father started music in the 1960s and so, he recorded more songs until his death in 2004,” Limbikani said.

Saleta worked for several companies and at one-time, according to Limbikani, he also used to sell curious in South Africa.

Club 24/7 proprietor MacDonald Soko said Saleta’s legacy will live on and that they intend to hold the memorial show for the legendary musician every year with support from the family.

“The other memorial shows will be great, this was just the beginning. I personally would like to thank all artists who participated including Soldier Lucius Banda and not forgetting Elson Chikoko, who worked tirelessly to get this show organised. We hope the money we raised will help the family to meet some basic daily needs,” Soko said.

Saleta may not be here with us but his legacy still lives on and his music continues to enjoy airplay, a testimony that he was no ordinary musician.

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