What Joseph Nkasa was waiting for was a moment of his own. As a mere mortal he could not have known when that would be. But his trying kept the moment to be a possibility.
When it arrived, everything happened beyond his imagination. ‘Wayenda Wapenga’ made him money, and for once in his life, he started beating his childhood poverty.
Riding on the success of the album, Nkasa took himself to the studio again. This time he had found the reason to work hard for: His music was being listened to and it was making money for him. The album that would result from his seventh effort would forever change the shape of music in Malawi. Out of it came a Nkasa who was the first real celebrity in the Malawi arts industry.
But for the album, he made one of the decisions that remains one of the main puzzles in Malawi music. Out of all the producers available then, including Pastor Grey Samani, who was behind the success of ‘Wayenda Wapenda’. Nkasa went for a young and an unknown person to produce his album.
Then, William Khwiliro’ the boy who produced his album, which would later be titled ‘Tigwirane Manja’ was 17 years and Form three at H.H.I secondary school. Nkasa used to casually call him ‘Young man’. He was indeed young by age. But what came out of him was a work, thirteen years later, is still being considered ground breaking.
For the 34 years old Nkasa to work with a person who was half his age, and together come up with such a great album, remains one of the wonders in Malawi music. Recorded and mixed at Golden Music Studio by Solomon Ntambalika, Khwiliro programmed all the instruments in the album with Nkasa doing both the leading and the backing vocals. In other words, ‘Tigwirane Manja’ was the work of these three people, with Khwiliro taking much of the credit.
In the album, Nkasa took from where he had left it. He maintained the fast beat and perfected his message. The album established him as, probably, the best lyricist ever in Malawi music. The theme of the album was on hope. It was autobiographical as he told his own story between its lines. Unlike in ‘Wayenda Wapenga’, Nkasa brought his life story in ‘Tigwirane Manja’.
The populace resonated well with the album. The large part of the population was going on through tough economic and political times, as usual of Malawi. The message of hope came at the right time and was a perfect diversion from most musicians’ take on politics and politicians. Nkasa called on the people to work hard and assured them that one day they will get out of their poverty.
The album sold well on the market and made millions of Kwachas for him. It broke the existing music selling records and radio charts. In addition, the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) gave him one million Kwacha in loyalties for the public use of his songs. This amount had never been given before. That is how a poor Mayaka boy made himself into a millionaire.
This other time as he was in Limbe, Blantyre, going for a radio interview at Power 101 FM with Patrick Kamkwatira, he caused a traffic jam because of the people that closed the roads flocking to have a look, touch or greet him. This was unlike in Malawi where known people are not given that much attention when seen in the streets. In Nkasa, people saw someone who was and sung their story. He was the ideal version of their lives and his achievements represented what is possible if one can work hard.
He was the man of the moment and had sensationally taken over all the attention. People would ask radio presenters to have a radio chat so that they listen to his voice. Wherever he went, people would throng to him and had to be helped by other people or the police and his personal bodyguards to pass through the crowds.
All this was made possible by the seventeen year old William Khwiliro. The story of Nkasa goes beyond music. Often overlooked, but it should be the point of reflection for how one man can use his passion to make the most of his life. He may not be as influential and popular as he was then, but he will go down in history as the man who created and defined the Mayaka reggae beat and who believed in the power of his dreams, and amazingly, by using a seventeen year old boy.
About the writer: Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.