What is the most performed kind of music in Malawi? It should be reggae music. Malawi can safely be called ‘The Mainland Jamaica’ as far as the dominance of reggae music is concerned. For close to three decades now, reggae music has been performed by a whole generation of artists.
When one tries to follow the route, for example from the time Kalimba Band produced their ground-breaking album three decades ago, ‘Make Friends With The World’, it can be observed that the genre kept on being re-worked on and has tremendously changed. But as of today, there are three types of reggae music in Malawi, all named after their places of origin.
The first is Balaka reggae. It originated from Balaka district in Southern Malawi. Paul Banda created that sound through the band he founded in 1977, Alleluya Band. Through it, he created an open reggae sound. He maintained the signature keyboard reggae tempo sound, but added a heavy sound of lead and rhythm guitars and percussions. This kind of music dominated Malawi from the early 1990s to around 2005.
It has produced big names in the Malawi music industry. Despite most of them no longer active, their presence on the scene is still widely being felt. The genre carried a social message, dominantly, the calling of people to proper ways of life and a take on politics, especially by the man who is responsible for popularizing the beat, Lucius Banda, Paul’s younger brother.
The second type of reggae music in Malawi is Chileka reggae. It originates from Chileka, Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial city in the Southern region. Just like any other reggae beat, it also has the signature keyboard tempo sound. But unlike the Balaka reggae, which has a medium tempo, Chileka’s sound of this instrument is a bit slower. This is the closest reggae beat to the Jamaican one.
The area has produced legends, as far as music in Malawi is concerned. Dr. Daniel Kachamba was from that area, the man who mesmerized the whole world with his Kwela music, before the South Africans took it as their own kind of music. Besides him, there were also the Fumulani brothers, Arnold, Robert and Sailesi, with their Likhubula Band. These fathered another Fumulani generation who would later dominate reggae music in Malawi; Gift, Anjiru, Chizondi, Musamude, Moda and Chizondi.
But the founder of the modern Chileka reggae sound is Evison Matafale. He died on November 27, 2001 while in Police custody. In 1999 he released his first reggae album, Kuimba One, with his cousins, the Wailing Brothers. He broke up with them two years later and formed the Black Missionaries Band with his other cousins, the Fumulani brothers.
He left the band in its infancy. But with the leadership of Musamude, and later on Anjiru, it survived and still dominates the whole reggae sound in Malawi. Its message is dominantly social-justice, the Jamaican view of the world.
The last reggae type is Mayaka. It originates from Mayaka area, in Zomba district, the old capital city of Malawi, in the Southern region. Unlike the other two types of reggae music in Malawi, which have clear place of origin and the founder behind it, Mayaka reggae is disputable. The signature keyboard tempo sound of reggae music is faster than the two.
There is no much presence of the guitars as like in Balaka reggae and the percussions have a limited influence on the sound. Its message is much on the advisory role. It is realistic in nature and tries to tackle the world as it is compared to the Balaka message which is dominantly idealistic. The earliest mainstream presence of such kind of music can be traced back to 1998.
Two artists, Enort Mbandambanda and Anthony Makondetsa, in their maiden albums, ‘Kuchimwa Kulibe Mwini’ and ‘Tisatengeke’, respectively, recorded in Balaka, sounded Mayaka. Later on in his career, Makondetsa, who is from Blantyre, Chileka, adopted his home’s reggae and would turn to be the music that defined him to his audience.
But the coming in of Joseph Nkasa in 2002 with his album, ‘Wayenda Wapenga’ seemed to have shifted the debate to himself as the man behind Mayaka reggae. His following album in 2003, ‘Tigwirane Manja’ remains one of the most popular albums in Malawi. It was Mayaka.
Himself being from Mayaka area, he owned the sound as his own, and the genre was named after his home. Even the music having the advisory message was his creation since he came on the scene as a counsellor, hence his nickname, ‘Phungu’ (Counselor).
His success, however, with this type of music attracted a host of artist who would later build their names using the beat and the message. Artists like Thomas Chibade, from Zomba as well, Moses Makawa and John Malunga are examples of people who performed and popularized Mayaka reggae.
But this did not go well with Joseph Nkasa as later on in his career, in a song titled ‘Pin Code’, he sung of other musicians trying to copy his style of music so as to keep him down.
*Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript developer and editor.