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Robert Chiwamba’s 3rd coming: literal coming of age

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya, Contributor:

That debate— on whether the vernacular verse is poetry or just humour—is done. Robert Chiwamba, arguably the leading vernacular poet of recent days, said to poetry show host Hudson Chamasowa that he no longer dabbles into that debate.

“I write for people. I don’t write for specific guards of poetry,” his voice sounded with finality. Certainty. Assurance. And an overbearing of confidence.

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Somehow, the confidence can be said to have been coming from his exploits of the night of October 17 2018.

Before appearing with Chamasowa live on air, and Facebook, Chiwamba had pulled a ‘crowd’ at Kwa Haraba Art Gallery and Cafe in Blantyre. He was launching his promo CD at the place that poets, ‘wish-to-be poets’ and art lovers have come to own with a fierce passion on Wednesday nights.

At Kwa Haraba, Chiwamba’s new productions were not just delivered. They were heartily welcomed. Unlike the tradition where fingers snap when a line that resonates is delivered Chiwamba’s deliveries were punctuated by laughter—that thing which irritates poetry puritans— and were nailed by hand-claps.

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On air, the listeners of Chamasowa’s Tsokwe la Pakamwa were equally flattering. Pouring praises into the overflowing cup of Chiwamba.

Chiwamba has returned with a third album. He has called it Kubwelako ndi Kachilombo ku Chanco.

It is not that Chiwamba is failing to divorce himself from Chancellor College (Chanco) by wanting to refer to the corridors that made him.

“This is the last album I am doing concerning HIV and Aids and Chancellor College, the two things that chartered my poetry path,” he said when Chamasowa levelled an equal claim that his obsession with university life was beginning to sound monotonous and certainly might be suspected to be a tanking of creativity.

For now, Chiwamba has released eight poems. And, again, they are an eclectic mix of themes. All, or most, laced by a humour of violence and the gospel as delivered by John the Baptist (remember that brood of the viper sermon?)—like the one that is visible in ‘Udzafa Imfa Yowawa’.

The first time Chiwamba released an album, it was called Chanco Mu Nthawi Yanga. It was a recollection of college stories, rumours and claims. Those with admiration, and nostalgia, for college days were the easy target for that release, although it resonated widely. Loved by many, most without the experience of college life.

Then, he came with one for his mother. He called it ‘Kwa Mayi Chiwamba’. Here, Chiwamba was one out of college. His verse, then, drew largely on the social events in this country. Mostly, the bad ones. Listening to him, one could be excused for thinking all happening around here was doom and gloom.

But, perhaps, he was just reflecting the society around him. Reflecting his fears.

“In the years, Chiwamba has developed,” says Gospel Kanyama, a radio personality. “He has moved from that person always writing about Chanco to one who writes about the whole country.”

In a way, Kanyama is right. From ‘Dziko Lazipepeso’ to ‘Mudzafa Imfa Yowawa’ and that single ‘Flames Sidzamva’, Chiwamba has become one with a mouth for the marginalised and the out of sight—mostly. Yet, he has also been writing about what people talk about in minibuses and our social spaces.

Perhaps, his situation has been like that. Or he has been associating with people who discuss that.

If that inferring is to be carried over to his third release, then on the mind of Chiwamba the thing that is lingering mostly these days is marriage.

On October 18, a Thursday, still high on that love Blantyre had poured unto his cup the previous night, Chiwamba was back on air. On a morning programme. One of the poems he recited on that morning was ‘Anthu Mukukwatira’.

It is a fear, if you may, of a bachelor – and even a spinster. Wondering about the rate at which people are getting married. In the week after, as if a response to Chiwamba, someone wrote on social media that it is not that a lot of people are getting married. It is just that those who see it thus are of age. It is their peers, classmates and age mates, marrying. They should too.

Chiwamba might be of that age, of course, especially when one considers that, of the eight, there is yet another —and another—in which he is talking about marriage. From different perspectives, yes, but still the centre is marriage.

In ‘Ku Ukwati wa Chibwenzi Chako Chakale’, Chiwamba comes back to the subject of marriage. He eventually inserts the persona as a jilted (or jilting?) lover equally instructing other frustrated-in-love people to go, attend, dance and demand special attention at their old lovers’ weddings. Again, it is marriage and weddings here. Packaged in a farcical humour.

It is yet another theme he has in ‘Ndidzakukwatira Magetsi Akazayaka’. Promising a woman marriage only when electricity supply stops being erratic. It is the marriage of—do not miss the pun—weddings (the start of a family) and the ills of Malawi that give a glimpse into Chiwamba, the poet, outside of Chanco.

For, although this album has the Chanco title and is apparently being dedicated to those failing to access tertiary education services due to lack of fees, the poems released on promo are certainly nothing of Chanco that Chiwamba ever released in his first appearance.

It appears the Chiwamba that Chanco served to the world is one who wants us to laugh at our misery. Think over it. And perhaps aim to take action on reversing our misfortunes.

In ‘Mu Dziko la Anthu Okuda’, he espouses that: the mockery of our misery. In it, Chiwamba does not go on that race-conscious rant as the title might deceive you to think. Instead, highly relying on ambiguity of the word okuda, he chronicles the absurdity that drives this country. The envy. The hate. The malice. It is not a gentle reminder of our filth, it is a rude one. Yet, the way he tells it would have one laugh. It had people laugh at Kwa Haraba.

The same can be said of ‘Tikumva Kuwawa’, another sad reminder of our times. Delivered with that punch of a rude humour.

It is that humour that Chiwamba is holding on to. It is that laughter his poetry is eliciting when listened to which will always have us say that the Chiwamba we are getting served with today is the same one we had years before. However, in terms of themes, Chiwamba is diversifying—perhaps in some monotonous way (if his obsession with our misery is to be acknowledged), if the irony makes sense.

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