1993, ‘Mabala’. Healing the wounds: After growing under the wings of his elder brother, Paul, Lucius Banda decided to make a maiden attempt on the music scene through the release of his album, ‘Son of the Poor Man’ in 1993. It was a significant time for Malawi, politically. Then, as a twenty three year old boy from a poor family background, Lucius was mature enough to be part of the times.
After a brutal three decades rule, Kamuzu Banda and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were facing what would become the end to their grip on power, at least for the next two decades. the falling of the Berlin Wall in December, 1989, the remaining physical symbol of the Cold War, an event that kept Kamuzu Banda surviving as president, it meant that their days were over. Change was about to happen.
There were a lot of social and political factors that played part in the outcome of the event. After a stiff resistance to multiparty democracy, Kamuzu Banda and his inner circle were forced to give chance to a referendum in June, 1993. They lost, including the subsequent general multiparty elections in the following year, May, 1994.
In this period, Malawi was for the first time, entangled between two ideas. But the three decades were enough to convince most people that there was a need for change. And it did happen. The pro-multiparty democracy mobilized people across the country to the point of ending the rule of one of Africa’s strongest men.
But just like with every political movement or moment, the power of music cannot be overlooked. Music has for years been known to be a vital source of unity and mobilization, and so it was in 1993. In his maiden album, Lucius Banda included a song, ‘Mabala’ (wounds), which metaphorically captured the history of the then moment.
In the song, Lucius never mentioned names, but he used physical symbols that tell the whole story. Years before then, political songs that were anti-Banda were not allowed. It was tantamount to imprisonment. But in 1993, Kamuzu Banda no longer held his former powers. ‘Mabala’ celebrated his end and carried the emotions and feelings of Malawians.
He used four symbols: ‘Malume’ (uncle), ‘Amayi’ (mother), ‘Nkhuku’ (Cock) and ‘Nyali’ (Lamp). The first two symbols were the most known political characters then, and the last two symbolized the two prominent political parties and ideas. He was one of the first people to sing against Kamuzu Banda. It made the song have a special place in the lives of the anti-Banda camp and the history of Malawi in general.
In expansion, on the Uncle, he sung, “Malume ndalama kubisa ku Bank, pamene mbumba yanu ikufa ndi njala” (Uncle, you hid all your money in the Bank while your clan was starving to death). In the Malawi traditional, especially the Chewa, Kamuzu Banda’s tribe, the Uncle is the leader of the clan. In practice, the uncle makes sure that starvation never happens for his people.
Lucius Banda deliberately used ‘Uncle’ knowing that it would carry a good meaning since Kamuzu Banda was a Chewa himself. Just like he was a leader for his blood clan, he was as well for the Malawi family. But the unfortunate thing was that instead of making sure Malawi prospers, as an uncle should do, he hid the money meant for this in foreign Bank accounts.
On Mother, Lucius went on, “Amayi kulephera kusunga banja, koma Ambuye sanakondwere nazo. Anthu anzeru opempha chilungamo ankangofa muja zifera Ntchentche.” (The Mother failed to keep and protect her family. God was not happy about it that she allowed people die like houseflies). The term ‘Mother’ in the song was for Cecelia Tamanda Kadzamira, Kamuzu Banda’s official hostess, and traditionally, his wife
She had been close to Kamuzu Banda in all his three decades rule. Her role in the decisions as party and government is still disputable, although it has been proven beyond doubt that she knew about the killings, for example, of the four politicians in Mwanza. Traditionally, a Mother has to be a protector, even for a rebellious son. But basing on the fact that most anti-Banda people were being killed while she could have helped, defeats her motherhood. She was the most powerful woman in Malawi then.
With the Lamp and the Cock, Lucius came up with one of the greatest lyrics in Malawi music. He sung, “Nyali yawala, Nkhuku ija yathawa’ (the Lamp has been lighten, the Cock has run away), few words that carried a whole load of Malawi history. When the MCP was fighting for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had the Cock as its party symbol. The crowing of the Cock in the morning, traditionally, symbolizes dawn. Kwacha! (It is dawn!), went the rallying call for the party.
By calling the moment ‘dawn’, the party was spreading the agenda that the colonial period was darkness and it has come with the light. It meant the end of darkness. The coming of independence did bring self-rule and self-determination. Unfortunately, years later it would prove to be another dark moment for Malawi. The MCP has the Cock as its party symbol, but the fact that it was a black Cock, ironically, explains the darkness that was in their dawn.
The coming of the Lamp, therefore, took the story to another turn of hope. A Cock cannot stand a man carrying a lighting Lamp, marching towards it. It will definitely run away. That was it. Some democrats had lighten the Lamp and took it towards the black cock. In addition, a lighting lamp brings forth a yellow color. These were the party colors for the United Democratic Front (UDF), one of the main parties that was fighting against Kamuzu Banda.
Lucius deliberately used the Lamp in the song, although it was a well-known reason why the yellow color was being used. Using these two symbols, he figuratively captured the then political fight and about its end. Although Malawians were not certain of the future, and most of them never had the experience of multiparty democracy, one fact remained in them: Kamuzu Banda had to go.
The end of his rule in 1994 brought in a new hope and once again Malawi felt they owned the destiny of the land. Multiparty democracy did come with its own ills, as seen in the subsequent song from Lucius Banda, but ‘Mabala’, for the meantime, made Malawians forget about what was ahead of them and celebrate the end of an era. Just with a song, Lucius Banda rallied Malawians against Kamuzu Banda, and ushered them into a new era.
About the writer: Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.