In 1993, the Ivorian Reggae music star, Alpha Blondy, experienced a mental break down. It has widely been attributed to the many shows he had held before this moment. It resulted into the famous song, ‘Heal Me’, taken from the album, Dieu, released in 1994. The song was an honest plea to his Lord, asking for healing. He sung of people calling him ‘crazy’ and ‘bastard’, and badly wanted out of the situation.
Three years later, in Malawi, Balaka, a twenty seven year old man called Paul Chaphuka was chronically suffering from skin Cancer. He came across the story of Alpha Blondy and the song that strengthened him. He related his condition to that of Alpha Blondy. And out of it came ‘Ndichiritseni’ (Heal Me), a song that would define his entire career.
He knew he was facing his last days on earth. The agony he was going through is clear in the song. But he carried on. Feeling pain, he would record his songs while seated and sometimes sessions had to be stopped to let him find some strength. But death never changes its mind. Just as it was destined to happen, Paul Chaphuka breathed his last on May 11, 1997 at Mlambe Hospital in Lunzu, Blantyre.
He had planned to release his maiden album as an Alleluyah Band member. But after delays on it by the Band, and his friend, Lucius Banda moving from it to establish Zembani Music Company in early 1997, Paul Chaphuka followed him. Lucius Banda made Paul Chaphuka, the first artist to be promoted by his company. This was the background to the album. If things had happened otherwise, we could never had heard a Paul Chaphuka album.
That is how Lucius Banda made sure that one of the legendary works from Balaka happened. It was timely, such that by the time Paul Chaphuka’s condition had turned for worse, the album was almost complete. Lucius and his brother, Paul, filled in the little patches to have it fully complete. And together they came up with a tribute song for their fallen friend, ‘Tsalani’. We lost the opportunity of experiencing the life of Paul Chaphuka, but taking from the song, Lucius Banda emphasized that his friend was strong, God-fearing, talented and humble. He went on to promise him that his family will be taken care of till the day they will meet again.
The tone of ‘Ndichiritseni’ says a lot. Although music then was characterized with ills and suffering, a special feeling always comes in when one is listening to Paul Chaphuka’s message. It was beyond his society. He was telling his own story through other people’s experiences. One cannot miss his disappointment with life’s vanity, call for healing and acceptance that he was about to go down the earth.
That is the special place his brief effort has in people’s lives; a message that discusses mortality in unique words and condition. Paul Chaphuka stood for humanity, facing one of its greatest fears, death. As he was going, he reminded us death comes along with agony. But longing for a healing with an acceptance is the right way to leave this world.
He was man who played any instrument, according to Lucius Banda. Blessed with a good voice and the art of expression, we can only imagine how good he was going to be had life given him more years to live. His music has stood the test of time, and its popularity can be attributed to Balaka reggae being the main sound of music between the years 1990 and 2005.
Unlike Alpha Blondy, Paul Chaphuka was never healed. His death ended a career that had promised a lot. Today, May 11, 2017 marks two decades after his death. It can be hard to forget his impact in Malawi music through Balaka reggae. The place may no longer be the heartbeat of music in Malawi, but it was, once. It took years and dedicated people to create a music mecca out of it.
An unknown place, famous for nothing more than its music. As we still observe, rue over or celebrate the changes our music has gone through, and as Balaka Reggae is about to completely give way to a new Urban sound, let us not forget men like Paul Chaphuka. They were talents that lighted our industry. Even in death, he still remains an idol and a reminder that death is a cruel reality. It came and took from us one of the best.
About the author: Wonderful Mkhutche is a professional speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer