The recent Sand Music Festival 2022 edition which took place in Salima District and featured several acts, including Jamaica’s reggae dancehall musician Busy Signal, will remain memorable for Nkhata Bay based musician Michael Mountain.
He starred at the festival, which is driven by legendary musician ‘Soldier’ Lucius Banda for the first time and interestingly, he also got a prime slot after Emmanuel Maliro, who he describes as his God-given manager, negotiated for it with the organisers.
With his name little known, Michael Mountain was introduced to the audience in style, with Nyasa Manufacturing partnering Miss Malawi 2022 organisers to give the reggae artist all the hype.
Some Miss Malawi 2022 contestants who made it to top 30 invaded the stage while carrying flags before Michael Mountain took over.
“I was excited performing at such a top stage which brings together people from across the world. Being new to many, I did not know how I would be welcomed but I had all the belief that they would love my music,” he said.
Backed by Blantyre-based Mizu Band, the reggae musician went straight to his music game and to his surprise, the audience gave him all the warmth.
He sang from his heart, with all the passion, and his reggae music was nothing but mature. After his performance, some in the audience declared that he has a future if given all the support.
Michael Mountain was born Michael Phiri in Zambia on November 9 1971.
“Phiri is mountain in English and so, I just decided to go with mountain as a musician and not Phiri,” he said.
A third born child in a family of five children, all his parents are from Malawi but his father moved to Zambia where he worked as a gardener and later a cook.
“My father went to Zambia to work for Mr Patrick White from England, who was the Managing Director of Mitsubishi Motors. Mr White loved me when I was a kid such that he sent me to Sacred Heart Private School and that is why today I speak English fluently and this has also helped me in my compositions,” he said.
Having stayed in Zambia for close to 25 years, in 1996, the reggae musician decided to come back to Malawi in search of his roots.
“I am a Malawian by blood and Zambian by birth. So, I chose to stay in Nkhata Bay because that is where my parents came from. My father was a chief and I managed to meet my grandfather, who passed on in 2006. Actually, Traditional Authority Fukamalaza is my uncle,” he said.
Michael Mountain’s reggae sound is inborn and he never went to any music school and to him, music is food for the soul.
Inspired by Jamaican reggae maestro Bob Marley and fellow rastafarians in Zambia, he worked his way out and ended up learning to play the guitar.
“I would have gone for other genres but I found reggae interesting and so, I am able to sing about what happens around me. I use music to talk about love and at the same time I also craft revolutionary songs,” the artist, who describes himself as a non-vegetarian rastafarian, said.
Although his name has come to light now, Michael Mountain has been doing music for years but throughout his exploits, he has not had opportunities to show his talent.
“When I came to Malawi, I did not have a guitar and so, I tried my best to look for one and I ended up borrowing one from a school committee. It was given by one organisation,” he said.
Seeking to expose his music and also make a name for Nkhata Bay, Michael Mountain ended up finding space at Mayoka Village for performances.
“It was at Mayoka Village where I met a promoter from United Kingdom and he is the one who assisted me to record my debut album titled Nowhere Else to Go. This album can be accessed online on different platforms and on top of that, I also have CDs that I sell on my own,” the artist said.
But how did Michael Mountain link up with Maliro?
“Maliro got in touch with me through Manasseh Chisiza, an actor who is based in Germany. I am grateful to him for working things out to have me perform at Sand Music Festival. This is the second biggest platform for me to show my talent, the first one was Lake of Stars in 2015 which was held in Mangochi District,” he said.
The reggae musician said he wants to raise the country’s flag.
“I want to play in hotels and various places but I cannot do it alone, this is where I need support. I can play as a solo artist, I and my voice and the guitar. Of course I can also play with a band as I did with Mizu Band and they played so well,” Michael Mountain said.
The artist fashioned a song titled ‘How Big is the Lake’ that he believes the government, through Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife would have utilised in its tourism campaign.
“I am talking about the beauty of Lake Malawi. Actually the lake is 365 miles in length and 52 miles in width. We have 365 days in a year and 52 weeks in a year and so, Lake Malawi is a calendar lake,” he said.
Michael Mountain would have had his second album on the market by now but Covid affected his programme.
“I hope to have this album on the market very soon. The title is Too Big Elephant. I am actually talking about the greed that politicians have. We have these politicians who always fight but it is always poor people who suffer,” he said.
The reggae musician hailed Lucius for giving him a platform at the festival.
“It was great meeting Soldier Lucius Banda and I hope this is not going to stop here but will continue for the growth of music,” he said.
Lucius described Michael Mountain as a mature and talented musician.
“Sand Music Festival is there to also unearth talent and having been impressed by Michael Mountain’s talent, we decided to give him prime time. We will be doing this even beyond Sand Music Festival,” he said.
Maliro said he got to know Michael Mountain when Chisiza sent him two music videos.
“I enjoyed his music but I did not know he was Malawian until a friend Gift Kawamba listened to the songs and heard some Tonga in there. It was then that I started following up to connect with him,” he said.
Maliro said Michael Mountain is living in poverty and that he talks about this in his song ‘Poverty’.
“Looking at his talent, I felt he needed help and so, I posted on Facebook and tagged Lucius and Nkhwachi Mhango to help him and that culminated to his performance at Sand Music Festival,” he said, describing Michael Mountain as an artist that Malawi has been looking for.
He said Michael Mountain’s music can be enjoyed by anyone and that it is rich.
“We have reggae artists in the country but they are very few and so, we are hoping that we will get him gigs and tours in and outside the country,” Maliro said.
Chisiza said Michael Mountain’s style and originality impressed him.
“If you listen to his music, he is not copying anyone. He discovered his own identity and maintained it. He knows his identity, which is difficult for many Malawian musicians and his song writing is great,” he said.