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‘The Rising Voices’ of Malunga and Samilo

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FINISHED PRODUCT — Malunga (left) and Samilo carry a copy of the anthology

Just when socio-economic problems were making the wall of hope tumble into the rubble of despair, outcome voices that rise and rise.

And, if there is a manner the voices can be likened to, it has to be in the manner depicted in John 1:23, which goes: “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias”, or Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness…”

This is because of the timeliness of the message. As in the old, biblical times, the voice cried, or rather rose, at a time people were running low on hope.

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In modern times— especially as they [times] relate to Malawi— the voices are ‘crying’, or rising, through personas created by venerable poets Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga and Mashallo Samilo.

The two have come up with an anthology aptly titled The Rising Voices, which is set for launch at Jacaranda Cultural Centre in Blantyre on November 27, 2022 from 1:30pm.

From the look of things, The Rising Voices seems to cut across geographical and racial boundaries, as Samilo and Malunga have decided to christen their anthology “peoples’ poetry”.

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Instead of going for the easy description of “people’s poetry”, they have gone for the all-encompassing “peoples’ poetry”.

It is poetry of all people at all times.

This can be deduced from the diverse nature of personas employed in the poetry anthology.

According to The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, the “common understanding is that the persona is a description of a fictitious person, but whether this description is based on assumptions or data is not clear, and opinions also differ on what the persona description should cover.

“…a persona is not the same as an archetype or a person. The special aspect of a persona description is that you do not look at the entire person, but use the area of focus or domain you are working within as a lens to highlight the relevant attitudes and the specific context associated with the area of work.”

In the case of The Rising Voices anthology, which has 47 poems, characterisation of personas is based on the overarching theme of an individual poem, meaning that diversity of character is one key feature of the anthology.

And, talking about themes, the predominant ones include the ubiquitous subject of love, religion, Covid, social transformation and, in short, snippets of the whole human experience.

It has been printed in South Africa but published in Malawi by Tiwale Publications.

In the anthology is hard-hitting verse meant, perhaps, to break physical, racial and geographical barriers and, in the words of Samilo, “increase our capacity to export our culture to the world at large” while, of course, embracing world cultures themselves.

As they say, “you give some, you take some”, in the words of Samilo.

The Rising Voices, which I have gone through, is a glittering fortress of cultural emancipation.

At the same time, it is a hammer that seeks to break cultural barriers.

Its cause is advanced in a manner that moves painlessly forward, as one navigates from one stanza to another.

Apart from breaking cultural barriers, the anthology breaks age boundaries, too.

In itself, the anthology signifies that there are no frontiers between established poets and those who are cutting their teeth in the industry.

For, in the book, the age-gap tumbles into a uniting factor between legendary poet Malunga and relatively new broom Samilo, who, after opening their brains into a chasm that has to be filled with stanzas, make sure that the anthology is strewn with poems that are a relish for the old and the young.

More than anything else, this is what one finds in The Rising Voices, which truly shows that Malunga and Samilo are fortresses, steeped in their own order.

In the book, each of them rise from wherever they are and, through carefully concocted words, show that the sun of poetry in the venerable Malunga is still shining, even if some would think he has slowed down on new poetry concoctions.

The truth is Malunga is forever green, if poems in the anthology were to be a yardstick.

For Samilo, who is still in the morning of his career, his otherwise infantile sun is allowed to rise with that of Malunga, who, like a duet, take the poetry lover on a journey of, at best, the mind.

After all, self-discovery seems to be a subtle goal of the new poetry anthology, The Rising Voices, a co-creation of two poets of different generations.

Malunga indicated recently that the two poets’ cherished hope is that the anthology will be a welcome addition to the corpus of Malawian verse in English.

The anthology, he further indicated, is a contribution to the tourism industry in Malawi, more so because it documents some of the attractive places in Malawi.

The two poets added that “the publication will also facilitate the decolonisation of our syllabus, as we need to study and understand ourselves before we venture into other foreign literature”.

The Rising Voices has poems such as ‘The Dead Ant Walks’ by Mashallo Samilo and ‘Cogitating’ by Malunga, among others.

‘The Dead Ant Walks’ goes thus:

An ant rises from the grave

It wanders on a floor of life again

It goes to the market,

Only to discover fellow ants,

Wearing masks, shields…

Washing hands every 20 minutes.

It goes to the bank only to find peers

Being scanned at entry,

Social distance as popular habit,

It’s kind are siphoning liquor

With their hands.

It goes to the hospital to find;

Its kind dying

Like mosquitoes with pyrethroids,

Mosquitoes that made

A huge death row in Africa….

In ‘Cogitating’, Malunga is at his best:

In these tranquil environs

Of Chabwera Replete with serene greenness

Gifted to mother earth by nature

In its infinite bountness

Amidst brooding

Indigenous trees

Carrying birds as babies

On their generous branches

Turned willing backs

I am a free man again

Insulated against toxic

Thoughts conceived

By tadpoles pretending

To be fully grown frogs

Capable of croaking

Loudly like they were

Endowed with the ability of scaring a herd

Of cows from drinking water

On a river bank…

When patrons flock to Jacaranda Cultural Centre on November 27, when Annemarie Quinn, Goma Nyondo, Jane Senenje and William Shumba will spice up the poetry feast with music, they will likely realise that The Rising Voices is not akin to a single trail to authentic culture; it is actually a series of pathways to a new form of understanding culture and oneself

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