For years on end, Malawian artists have cultivated a unique tradition whereby they have been composing specially-coined songs to suit a particular occasion.
Author Amy Drayton, in her article ‘Malawi for Music Lover – The Essential Guide to Malawi’s Music Scene’ (available on online platform Skratch), points out that it is quite easy for one to fall in love with Malawian music.
“The country is a rich soundscape of traditional beats, pan-African rhythms, and global genres that have been given a very Malawian makeover,” she sums it up.
From beer drinking escapades to harvest time, all the way to wedding day celebrations and marriage counselling, special songs have helped liven the hype; an undertaking that is unique in its own way.
Take for example, the message in this song by one of the pacesetters of Malawi traditional music, Daniel Kachamba:
Paja munkati mowa wadzana ndi matope, ndipo ndichakudya chankhumba!
Ngati ndibodza eeh anzanga ndilotu mudzafe nalo!
Here, we can clearly deduce that the setting is a typical drinking joint in a village, probably where they sell masese (home brew) and the persona was surprised to see the subject quenching his thirst at such a watering hole, having earlier looked down on such drinking places and pouring scorn on the type of beer they serve, the very one he was drinking and he seized the moment to censure him for that.
Such was the creativity that one could ably paint a vivid picture in the mind, just from a mere combination of words and musical instruments. And from these drinking joint escapades, there is also a particular song by Mulimwa Brothers called Abambo ake boyi in which a woman is heard singing praises of her husband simply because, no mattered how sozzled up he gets, he makes it a point to bring home a parcel for the wife and children. It goes:
Abambo ake boyiwa amandikonda pokhapo,
Ngakhale angaledzere samayiwala ndiwo,
For those with a taste for art, it is through such artistic expressions that life draws its meaning from. While to some these might just be any ordinary songs, it is not the case with music enthusiasts who derive special meanings and satisfaction while for the artists; they get to earn a living from the very act of entertaining people with their music.
Just for one to appreciate the kind of music that makes cultivation of crops, more especially harvesting of the same, quite a spectacle, take a minute to listen to Lawi’s Nthawi Yokolora. The artist starts by appreciating the sweat and tears that those involved with farming undergo invest when preparing the land and tending to the crops before they can get to smile at the time of harvesting.
Timapita kumunda, timakalima,
Timapinda misana, kugulula nthaka
Ndipo nthawi yokolora, nthawi yokolola ikadza,
Ordinarily, a person would just be lost in a moment, going about fulfilling their farm activities but it would take someone with special skills and God-given talent to create a tune worth the occasion and the song above by Lawi proves just that.
Again, the adventure and excitement that accompanies harvest time was not lost in the Church, where some have come up with equally impressive and catchy songs. There is a song that quickly springs to mind called ‘Bringing in the sheaves’ or pakuvilonga in Tumbuka and Ndizipatsozo in Chichewa. It was said to be of the songs loved by Malawi’s founding President Hastings Kamuzu Banda and it celebrates harvest time while encouraging people to share and give out wholeheartedly:
M’mawa tidzafesa mbewu zakukoma,
Msana ndi usiku tizifesanso
Nyengo yamasika, tidzatema m’munda
Tidzabwera tonse ndi zipatsozo!
You can therefore appreciate that no matter the social dynamics in the society, people would always find common ground through the art of music.
In a typical family set-up where a married couple is not seeing eye-to-eye, for one reason or the other, marriage counsellors are supposed to be called in. Time and again, however, such unpleasant moments in the family have sometimes been avoided by simply listening to songs that carry subtle messages that have resonated with situations that couples go through. Saleta Phiri and his Amulamu Band (AB Sounds), through their offering ‘Palibe chinsinsi’ provide a perfect example.
Ine poona, ndati mumapita kumudzi ndicholinga chakuti mukaone makolo Pakati pamwezi,
mwati ‘ndipite kumudzi’, sabata ikatha mwati ‘ndipite kumudzi’ mwezi ukatha mwati ‘ndipita kumudzi’ kodi amayi mukachita chiyani?
In this song, a husband is surprised by his wife’s frequent trips to her home village and he becomes suspicious that perhaps the wife is cheating on him. It is through such music that sometimes couples would take caution and watch their behaviour to avoid ruining the marriage. Though Saleta is long gone and little is known as to what became of his AB Sounds outfit, but the message in his songs such as ‘Palibe chinsinsi’ continues to serve and save multitudes in the country.
Another catchy song that fits in well in the marriage counselling category, though it take an advisory tone and not rebuking anyone is Kapilireni which was done by late Michael Mukhito, better known by his stage name Mayikolo Yekha Band:
Kapilireni, ku banja mupita inuko mukapeza ana
osasamba koma kapilireni
Here, a new bride is being advised to expect the unexpected as she begins a new life as somebody’s wife and this would include, but not limited to, encountering shabby relatives or children whom she would have no choice but to entertain and care for.
Perhaps the climax, in as far as unique compositions go, can be wedding ceremonies, where songs of all kind have added colour and pomp to such memorable occasions. A good example could be the song by Lucky Stars Band ‘Chinafuna m’bale’ or better yet, ‘Kennedy Wakwatira’ which was done by Lucius Banda and San B:
Iwe Kennedy, wakwatira lero
Mkazi wakoyo wamsankha wekha
Usakamveke sanza, usakamdyetse gaga
Usakayimenye Kennedy njoleyo!
Put simply, the songs is appealing to the new husband to take better care of his wife and should avoid the temptation of beating up the wife, whatever differences that might arise.
Here, even traditional songs carrying such messages have come in handy, like this one which has been a hit during weddings and engagement ceremonies:
Ndinavutika naye – yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo- yo!
Kuti akule, ayende – yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo- yo!
Mukandisamalire, mwana wanga
As Dryton rightly observees in her article:
“Originally music in Malawi was an oral tradition passed on through the generations”
It therefore goes without saying that music has evolved over the years but there are certain elements that have remained and one such factor is that Malawian artists have always done their best to provide music for all seasons.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).