…Open your eyes Anjilu because the Wailing Brothers are on the move
If it was the Black Missionaries disbanding and missing from the scene, it could have happened fifteen years ago after the death of its founder, the undisputed King of Reggae in Malawi, Evison Matafale. After living in Zimbabwe for a few years, where he was working in White man’s farms, Matafale returned home in 1998 through the help of his uncle, the once famous politician, the late Davis Kapito. He came to Malawi with already composed songs and some of them being in Shona, Zimbabwe’s most spoken language. He had to translate the songs into English and Chichewa, and after that he took them to the studio. Backed by his home area’s band, the Wailing Brothers, which was started by his cousin, the late Elias Chokani, Matafale came out of the studio with his maiden Kuimba One album in 1999 which became an instant sensation. His conscious brand of reggae music separated him from the rest.
As he was heading to the studio two years later for his sophomore, he had ceased being backed by the Wailing Brothers and started his own band, the Black Missionaries. He incorporated into his new band his young cousins, Anjiru Fumulani, Chizondi Fumulani, Musamude Fumulani, Peter Amidu and these were also joined by the brothers of Elias, Paul and Takudziwani Chokani. Together they made up the Black Missionaries and this meant the end of the Wailing Brothers. From this time around, nothing much has been heard from it. After the tragic death of Matafale in November, 2001, while in Police custody in Lilongwe, these were the people who carried on the Black Missionaries band to this day. They have together released eight albums and dominated reggae music in Malawi.
But there has always been something missing in the band. It seems the joining of the Chokani brothers did not force the ‘original Fumulani’ setup to incorporate the new members. The band has always been a ‘Fumulani’ affair for three reasons: First, on the cover of their albums, only Anjiru Fumulani, Chizondi Fumulani, Musamude Fumulani (before his death in September, 2007) and Peter Amidu appeared. Second, on the posters, there are only faces of these same members. Third, in one of the songs in their Kuimba Seven album in 2008, where they are singing against Satan to leave the band alone after the death of Musamude, only the three band members were mentioned. All these happened despite Takudziwani and Paul Chokani being longtime members of the group. But they have always been excluded in the real affairs of the band.
This year the Chokani brothers made a move to revive the Wailing Brothers band by releasing songs and later an album as the Wailing Brothers. People started speculating on the state of the Black Missionaries band. Anjiru, the band leader, kept on playing down the concerns, insisting that the band was strong and united. But until recently, at a Liwonde show, where the Chokani brothers did not show up because they had a launch of their album, and the Black Missionaries had to bring in stand-in people for their roles, the reality came before us all that there is a crisis in the band. The Chokani brothers have had enough of being treated as second-class members and are in search of their deserved first-class membership.
But Anjiru keeps on insisting that the band in intact as it has always been. The reality is that the Black Missionaries band is going through a major challenge which has to be dealt with and not by Anjiru hiding his head in the sand like an Ostrich. Anjiru, fire is coming and if not careful, it will burn down the legacy you have worked hard for over a decade. Taking over Matafale was one of the most challenging tasks on the Malawi music scene. Matafale was larger than life, but you gave all you could, and eight albums later, you are still relevant. But that challenge was studio-wise. The Chokani brothers’ challenge is management-wise. But the band does not have to lose heart. There are two things Anjiru, as the band leader can do: First, a radical solution, incorporate the Chokani brothers and all others on the album cover pictures as well as posters. They too were there from first day and they deserve it. Second, face the fact that the Chokani brothers are out and bring in permanent new members in their place. Trying to portray everything as going on well will not help the situation.
Separating with the Chokani brothers will not change the quality of the music, I believe. The only challenge that is making me fail make a firm conclusion is that the band has kept a tight lid on who composes its songs. If the Chokani brothers are not part of it, playing instruments for songs is not a challenge at all. But if they are part of the composing process, that will be a hard blow which the Black Missionaries will have to be more than men to recover from. But in the longtime, the band can survive the Chokani brothers. This will also increase the competition on who does reggae music better and they will improve each other.
*Wonderful Mkhutche is an author, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.