This is probably the biggest question going through the minds of most people in Malawi who followed his announcement three weeks ago that he has abandoned secular for gospel music. Gwamba needs no introduction. Till his choice of singing for the Lord, he ‘was’ one of the biggest acts as far as urban music is concerned in Malawi. Last year he had just launched a successful album which underlined his intentions of taking over the seat of rap music in Malawi. The vernacular lyricist is also the ambassador for UNFPA Safeguard Young People campaign in Malawi and this project has allowed him to travel to a few SADC countries where he has gained the exposure as an artist.
His announcement caught many people off their guard. We were all used to a Gwamba who would weave lyrics and come up with a secular message of materials, women and fame for his listeners. He has deliberately taken the road less travelled and it may end up on either side of the question, yes or no. There are two reasons for each side.
He will bounce ‘back’: First, he has simply changed the content of his songs, but he remains the genius rapper he has always been. Gwamba has established himself as a fine lyricist on the Malawi urban music scene. When it comes to weaving words to form a whole new sensible statement, he is best at that. He is the Phungu Jospeh Nkasa of urban music. This is what is in him and expect it to show in his upcoming gospel songs.
Second, Gwamba has tirelessly worked on his image and it has come out as perfect as he wished it to appear. He is well groomed and the kind of artist peers can look up to because of his well-managed public appearances. It is established in people that he is a professional artists in every part of his career and this will make it possible for him to maintain his status as one of the best rappers in the land.
He will not bounce ‘back’: First, in general, music in Malawi is not forgiving to artists who switch from secular to gospel. Save for Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, who has made it big than when she was secular, artists like Rasta Waza, Mlaka Maliro, Geoffrey Zigoma, San B or Boni Kavala Banda have failed to bounce back after leaving secular for gospel music. But it may understandably be argued that the mentioned changed to gospel while at the lowest point of their careers. The story may be different for Gwamba who has decided to make the change while enjoying the best time of his career. That is why he will be an interesting case.
Second, and on a controversial note, the challenge is where he is as a born again Christian. With due respect, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri is a man full of good intentions and vision. But he has always found himself not in good terms with a good section of the Malawian population. People are looking at prophets like him with suspicion. Gwamba, being associated with the prophet, has turned himself into a target for the people who do not trust his spiritual father. And with the way Onesimus has too turned to be, a cheer-singer for Prophet Bushiri with his latest ‘Miracle Money’ hit, should Gwamba come up with any song praising Prophet Bushiri, which may be inevitable, he will lose everything he has built as an artist.
But, will he rise or fall?
Wonderful Mkhutche is an author, a political scientist and a manuscript developer and editor.