Phungu Joseph Nkasa will have to do something extreme to lose my admiration. For the past decade, after deciding to dive into politics with his music, and although losing his popularity and dividing his fan base, Nkasa still remains an icon. He will go down in history as the man who created the Mayaka reggae beat that gave us artists like Collins Bandawe, Thomas Chibade and Moses Makawa.
Nkasa went into political music in 2008 on a high note. This was after he had disassociated his 2003 masterpiece, ‘Nkhope’ from politics after some speculations. In it he sung about the Israelites during the exodus that by choosing to worship a bull over God, made a wrong choice. The song coincided with former President Muluzi’s preference of an outsider, Bingu wa Mutharika, to lead the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 2004 general elections.
On a number of occasions, Nkasa denied that association. By time the matter went to rest. But he could not disguise his neutrality for long, as five years later, he showed his political colors. Make no mistake, Nkasa remains a genius when it comes to weaving lyrics. His love for Bible stories and characters is apparent. He builds his music from that foundations, an analysis only him is perfect at.
In 2008, he referred to former President, Late Bingu wa Mutharika, as latter day’s biblical Moses. A month ago he referred to the embattled Agriculture and Water Development minister, George Chaponda, as latter day’s biblical Joseph. In his latest song, ‘Yoshua’, he has referred to President Peter Mutharika as latter day’s biblical Joshua. Biblically, just as Moses gave the leadership mantle to Joshua, Late President Bingu wa Mutharika has also given the mantle to his brother and current president, Peter Mutharika.
The popularity of Bingu wa Mutharika has recently soared. Most people are nostalgic of his leadership after milestones like food security, infrastructure development and Malawi, at one time, being the second fastest growing economy in the world. He had a divided opinion from the public during his last days, only for people to realize the opportunity Malawi lost when comparing him with the two presidents that came after him.
Politically, 2008 is totally different from 2017. The difference is nearly a decade in years, and in Malawi politics, everything can completely change in this period. Take a moment, in 2009, how Bingu wa Mutharika got into power; three years later, had almost the whole country fighting him; then Joyce Banda, with the grace of the people, getting into power; two years, voting against her, giving way to the once hated Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), before three years later, same people loses confidence in the DPP and its leader, President Peter Mutharika.
These trends may seem easy to analyze. But there are patterns, of which I suspect Joseph Nkasa is not aware of. If he can say that he supports DPP, it will then be a complete different story. But if his music is trying a strike an objective chord, then he has completely lost the plot. Nkasa has taken a direction only him knows about. It is defying the common political sense of an average Malawian.
And you wonder, how exactly is this eluding Nkasa, one of greatest music think tanks of all time in Malawi? Just to highlight his recent ‘Yoshua’ song, he sings, Peter Mutharika is the latter day’s biblical Joshua; he was elected to get into power (indirectly attacking Joyce Banda who ascended after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika); and has improved food security and economic development.
He also went prophetic in the song, Nkasa’s trademark traditional analysis of his society which keeps on coming up in almost all his songs. He sings of four ‘curses’ happening in a sequence: The infamous plunder of public resources (Cashgate), donors withdrawing their aid, floods and then drought. But with the coming of Peter Mutharika, Nkasa sings, these were defeated. It all ends up into one conclusion, as his chorus sings, “Yoshua (Peter Mutharika), ufumuwu ukumuyenera.” (For this, Joshua (Peter Mutharika) deserves to be the leader).
His assumption in the song that President Peter Mutharika is popular is questionable. One can simply sense the political environment to see where the President is ranking in popularity. With corruption cases being associated with the government, nearly half of the population starving, poor public service delivery and people surviving and not living, one wonders, which President or government is Nkasa singing for?
Perhaps, that is with most political songs. They lack objectivity. But looking at the message, if it was purely for political support, Nkasa, once again, has delivered. In the verses he sings what he thinks President Mutharika has changed before, in the chorus, sounding like an anthem, rounding the message with:
Yoshua, ufumuwo (ukumuyenera) (Joshua deserves to be the leader)
(Peter Mutharika) Yoswa, ufumuwu ukumuyenera (Peter Mutharika, Joshua, deserves to be the leader)
Sanachite kulanda boma (he did not force himself into government)
Anachita kusankhidwa (he was elected by a popular vote)
Mutharika ali ndi mphamvu yotsogolera Malawi (Mutharika has got wisdom to lead Malawi)
Once again, Nkasa has given the ruling DPP a political song they will use to rally themselves around. And let me make a prophecy: With all the unpopularity challenges the government is going through, expect it to hire Nkasa to appear in its political functions. If ever Nkasa was looking for another pay day from his political involvements, he can now breath in peace, ‘Yoshua’ will finally make that possible.
About the writer: Wonderful Mkhutche is a professional speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.