They trampled upon a talent called Mirelle Nkhoma

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At the pinnacle of Balaka reggae’s reign in the Malawi music industry rose one of the most promising talents. Mirrelle Nkhoma was only eight years old when she went to the studio to record the chart topping song ‘Ndi Inuyo Makolo’.

She was not the first one to be in the mainstream music industry at such a young age. Several years before, Ethel Kamwendo and her sister, Beatrice, were members of the Kamwendo Brothers Band, with Ethel herself taking the lead vocals in some songs.

They mesmerized the listeners, and years later, it is no wonder that Ethel is one of the most accomplished singers in Malawi. Several months ago she received an honorary Master of Arts degree in music because of her contribution to music in Malawi. Although she switched from secular to gospel music in the year 2000 it did not affect her career when compared to other musicians who have done this before.

But her story is different from the Mirelle one. From such a young age, Ethel is still around as one of the best acts. Mirelle is nowhere to be seen. She dropped her music career after a heavy influence from the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Thank Charles Sinetre, the Reggae Ambassador, the then leader of Alleluya Banda, the custodians of the Balaka reggae beat.

He was the one who composed the song and allowed Mirelle to be the voice behind it. Actually, it was a targeted composition. The song talks about the plight of children. Through her they complained of what becomes of them when their parents separate.

Mirelle Nkhoma

Mirelle Nkhoma

Children are indeed the main victims when anything goes wrong in a marriage union. When a thing such as separation happens they are the center of the war. They will either be fought for custody or abandoned by the parents if none of them can afford to look after them. And in the song Mirelle sang that when it comes to the latter, children are taken to their grandparents to be raised as parents will continue on with their ways. But being raised by the grandparents is a challenge since with their old age they cannot manage to fend for them.

That is the story. The voice of an eight year old girl was perfect for the message. But some CSOs were not comfortable with her being in the music career. As a member of the band, and her song being one of the hottest acts on the scene as it topped charts, she went out with the band to perform it.

Crowds would be thrilled by how good she was, stage and voice wise. She was also a good dancer. In one of her famous photographs she was on stage putting on a wrapper and a piece of cloth covering her tender breasts, dancing with other two young girls. She seemed happy and enjoying the stardom. But after looking at what was happening to her the CSOs felt that she was living an adult life and that she had a lot to do before she could be comfortable as such on the stage.

There was school before her and a childhood to be lived. Due to such considerations they put pressure on her band, calling on it to stop her from performing for the sake of her future. Initially there was resistance from the band. The general public was divided on the matter. But at the end of the day the band reluctantly conceded to the pressure and Mirrele was no longer seen on the music stage for years.

More than a decade later a journalist caught up with her. She was asked about her stardom and how pulling out from the stage either positively or negatively affected her life. She did not mince about with her words: Being forced from music affected the large part of her life.

Music was something she loved and continues to love, she said. She felt fulfilled when doing it and had she stuck by it she could have been somewhere good by now. After her music career ended she went to school where she did not progress very well. She went into tailoring business and also in marriage. She now has three children with her husband.

The tailoring business is not fending enough for her family, she said. Had she still been in the music industry, by now, she could have gained a lot of experience, a name and a good financial status for her life. She was forced into something she was not good at, and forced from something she was good at.

It is not that school was not important for her. It was. But the CSOs calls should have taken the middle turn, of asking the band to balance things for her. They could also have engaged her parents so that they have a look into how she was fairing in her two worlds. But they despised her music career for what they felt is the normal route for a kid like her. They should have realized that some people have never gone far with school but they are living a more than average life from music.

If I mention people outside of Malawi the argument will be that the Malawian terrain is different from that of the USA, for example. But in our own setting, look at how big Joseph Nkasa, Lucius Banda or Ethel Kamwendo Banda are now.

They too did not go far with their school but they are living comfortable lives from music. Mirelle’s story could have been like theirs as well. She was forced to put all her eggs in one basket and when it fell they all broke, leaving her helpless.

The CSOs may have felt victorious then when she finally pulled from the music stage. But if they can now look at how the girl is their conscience will definitely haunt them. Her case is gone but we should learn from it. This goes out to parents as well. If the child is displaying a passion outside the school stream let us nurture it. You never know what will pay the bills in the years to come. And for the CSOs, who claim to speak for the voiceless; in Mirelle’s story, they spoke against a voice and effectively made it voiceless. A few years ago, in another  similar case, when the Black Missionaries band members were taking their children to the music stage, the ministry of gender and child welfare called against it as an abuse of their rights.

But what they forget is that the current band members also started music with late Evison Matafale and late Elias Chokani at a young age before they became as big as they are now.

The band members too did not go far with the formal education. But music has taken them to places educated people can only dream of. Their children too should be given time and space to be exposed to music for the sake of their future and the sustenance of Chileka as one of the music meccas in Malawi.

They should not end up like Mirelle one day, regretting after being forced from a path they could have blossomed.

Wonderful Mkhutche is an author, a political scientist and a manuscript developer and editor.

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8 Comments

  1. Mr Khutche,have you got any idea on what the constitution of Malawi stipulates in regards to protection and care for children?Have you ever come across the convention of the rights of a child (CRC) statutes?Simunakalemba mbwelela zanuzi.Ma CSO anagwilitsa ntchito dzida dzimenedzi osati kukhomelera munthu ai.Next time do a thorough research before writting issues concerning children since they are vulnerable in so many ways and need guidance,care and protection.Stop exploitation of children.

  2. Kodi Wakutche mwadya nyemba kaya tchunga? That little bitch of yours adapatsidwa mwana when she was about fourteen years. Do some research before writing no sense like this one.

  3. She would have been the worst of prostitutes by now. When citing “good” examples you should also look at the likes of Wendy Harawa and strike the balance. I laud the CSOs on this one. The only unfortunate part of it is that if the role played by the CSOs was was supposed to be done by Mirelle’s parents even before she got to that stage, things would have been directly opposite. Mr Mkutche you should look at things from a broader view if your opinions are to carry weight. Just imagine how many evil eyes(incuding yours) were looking at her “tender” breasts while she was on stage. If I were an activist I would get Mireille’s parents arrested for failing to play their parental role while she was young

  4. She would have been the worst of prostitutes by now. When citing “good” examples you should also look at the likes of Wendy Harawa and strike the balance. I laud the CSOs on this one. The only unfortunate part of it is that if the role played by the CSOs was was supposed to be done by Mirelle’s parents even before she got to that stage, things would have been directly opposite. Mr Mkutche you should look at things from a broader view if your opinions are to carry weight. Just imagine how many evil eyes(incuding yours) were looking at her “tender” breasts while she was on stage. If I were an activist I would get Mireille’s parents arrested for failing to play their parental role while she was young

  5. She would have been the worst of prostitutes by now. When citing “good” examples you should also look at the likes of Wendy Harawa and strike the balance. I laud the CSOs on this one. The only unfortunate part of it is that if the role played by the CSOs was was supposed to be done by Mirelle’s parents even before she got to that stage, things would have been directly opposite. Mr Mkutche you should look at things from a broader view if your opinions are to carry weight. Just imagine how many evil eyes(incuding yours) were looking at her “tender” breasts while she was on stage. If I were an activist I would get Mireille’s parents arrested for failing to play their parental role while she was young

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