Friday, 20 February 2015


Sunduzwayo Madise: 20 February 2015

I must confess that despite the proliferation of good music, 90% of the music that I listen to is Malaŵi music (all of it) plus gospel (Grace Chinga, Lloyd Phiri, Thocco Katimba, Marching Soldiers etc). The remaining 10% is usually roots reggae and Malawian reggae (Anthony Makondetsa, Limbani Banda, Evison Matafale, Black Missionaries, Soul Raiders etc.) And somehow, the older it is, the merrier. I guess it just shows that I am not getting any younger too! Now Lucius Banda is a constant presence with the occasional mix up with other artists. But if it is Malaŵian music, I will listen to it, especially if sang in the local languages (even if I may not understand it; like some of Joseph Nangalembe’s, Allan Namoko and Namakwa Brothers Band’s classics). So the other day as I was driving I was listening to Daniel Kachamba. Listening to this great son of Malaŵi brought memories, fond memories. Kachamba made me remember kale langa. And talking of Kale, my collection of Edgar ndi Davis is missing Energy Saver!

But before I travel down memory lane, let me say a thing or two about Daniel Kachamba. I had not listened to his music, I must admit, for almost 3 decades such that this was a rewarding experience. In fact it was revitalising in a way. I quickly decided that the folks that had decided to honour him with the honorary title of Doctor of Music had it spot on. Now let me digress and tell you the story that we heard around this title. Daniel Kachamba had at some time gone to perform in Europe. He was, like most Malaŵian acoustic artists of the time, a one-man band. We were told the hall (cannot recall exactly where it was) was packed and when he was presented to the audience, a few thought they had been given a raw deal. Why? Because they expected a band which would make them dance the night away. Only if they had known! The tall, slender man from Malaŵi sat on the cow-skin strung drum (probably made of some dissected drum), took a flute which had a special wire that used his ears as support and placed it around his neck, took a home-made rattle in his right hand, and then bent down and picked his acoustic guitar and strung the strap his neck and settled himself facing the audience. The next thing that happened was an explosion of music that left the patrons dumbfounded. This one man was producing music from his guitar, his mouth, the flute, the drum (using his leg) and the rattle (by shaking the very hand he was using to play the guitar). The sum of it was the sweet magical music that Malaŵians had all along listen to and enjoyed on MBC Radio. And to add to it all, Kachamba would play his guitar with the hand in circular motion; going clockwise then anti-clockwise and then alternating, but not losing the rhythm! And to add to it all; he had a unique way of actually turning his back to the audience, hoisting the guitar above his head on to his rear neck; and playing the guitar ‘blindly’. And yes, there was dancing and all. In the end, the little man from Nyasaland was dubbed Doctor of Music. That is the story we were told when growing up. This same richness in music is what made me go back memory lane and prompted the writing of this piece.

Now I should know exactly what the European folks were confronted with. I had grown up knowing Daniel Kachamba as a musician. When we were staying in Kabula, my father used to run a bottle store styled Malonda gha Mariba Madise. This is Zulu/Nguni/Ngoni for [selling] business of Mariba Madise. Mariba was the middle name of my elder brother. At that time when I first saw the sign, I did not know it. I knew him as Hlekwayo. However I do not think that my father meant that the business belonged to Hlekwayo! If he did, he never showed it. I do not even recall my brother, who probably knew the significance, boasting of owning the shop! Good man he was.

Now ordinarily a business should be one where the ultimate aim is to make a profit. I do not think this was the type of business my father had in mind. In fact I doubt if he ever made a profit at all! For all I know he pumped more into the business than what he got out. I was later to understand what it was all about. It was a way for him to socialise with his friends. A brief history of my father will help put this into context. My father was arrested in 1959 in Mzimba as a young man deemed ringleader and troublemaker during the 1959 3rd March State of Emergency in Nyasaland. He and some who were rounded up were transported via Nkhata-Bay on ship (he called it a kind of Gwendolyn[1]) to Chipoka, then onwards by train to Blantyre. He said they were supposed to be airfreighted to Kame, in Ghana,[2] while their leader, Kamuzu, was sent to Gwelo (now Gweru) prison, in Southern Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe).[3] He told us that what saved them was that they had just missed the plane to Kame, and they were sent to Kanjedza Dentition Camp to eat, and wait for the next plane. As it turned out, they ended spending almost a year there until their release. He told us that he found it uncomfortable in prison because he was detained with his apongozi, Qabaniso Chibambo.[4] Oh, yes, my father respected local custom! Under local custom, you must ‘avoid’ your apongozi. After his release he was permanently ordered to stay in Blantyre and explicitly told never go back to Mzimba! Of course, things changed after independence, but this initial forced incarceration seemed to have left an indelible mark on him. I think my father was in a way torn apart. I think he missed his village life and wanted to continue experiencing it even within a city setting.

To me therefore, the bottle store was his solution to this dilemma. He used it as a way of re-living his village life. At the bottle store, traditional foods were prepared such as roasted makunda, mangh’ina, roasted deer meat. The ‘insides of the goat’ were also favourite! We used to call them bath towels! Cooked [goat][5] blood (ubende)[6] mixed with a few pieces of fat and small pieces of intestines was reserved for the older men. Of course as the cook; I made sure I had a good taste! Every Christmas he would slaughter a goat for the home and occasionally one for the bottle store for him and his friends! Well as I grew up, most of the slaughtering and skinning was left to me (but there is another story for another day). He used to take me and my young brother Dingiswayo hunting near Lirangwe with his Greener shot-gun to hunt Nyisa (yet another story for another day). The long and short of it all was that the bottle store was like importing the village into the town. It was a popular joint among his peers, and they came from all walks of life, and all corners of the country too. 3rd March was a day in which all shops were supposed to be closed in Malaŵi. We closed our bottle store alright, to everyone else except my father and his close circle of friends. No one would keep him from his ucwala or phele. No one could separate my father from his beer. He only stopped drinking when his health failed him. But I figured having spent time in detention, he deserved it and that somehow this 3rd March quarantine did not apply to him. Interestingly, he never commented anything about politics, and when people started talking about politics he would quietly, silently but tactifully move away. I also noticed that the local Youth Leaguers[7] kind of avoided confronting him. I think they did right for my father had presence, and could instil fear when he chose to or wanted. Obviously traits of his Ngoni upbringing, as far as I know he never feared anyone, and once physically demonstrated to me two things: never let anyone jump the queue and never allow anyone to insult your wife (but that is another story there!).

The first bottle store was in Goliyo in Ndirande. Then he decided to expand, and got a spot at the corner of B.F. Chinseu’s Building at Chinseu, also in Ndirande. During this time we moved from Kabula to Chilomoni (another story there) and then finally to Chinseu, just behind the Chibuku Tavern (lots of stories there). I noted that the business was now styled Malonda Madise! So how is this all connected to Daniel Kachamba?

As part of the entertainment, we used to have travelling musicians that would come to the bottle store. By the time the bottle store moved to Chinseu, it was the local magnate of local musicians. We had people like Saleta Phiri and Amlamu Band (which when it became an ‘electric’ band changed to AB Sounds). We had Stonard Lungu who was popular because of his rich Mangoni vibes and wit. We had Ndingo Brothers Band of the aRosemary musanyade fame; and I recall they had one chap who had such a deep raspy voice (if you have heard of the song by Fuji Kasipa featuring Njati Njedede[8] you will know what I am talking about). And yes we also had the great Daniel Kachamba coming to sing. Namakhwa Brothers Band was a constant feature on the menu too, always leaving the patrons in stiches! At that time, the price (kubetcha) for a song was 20 Tambala for these prime artists. Once in a while, Robert Fumulani from Chileka would pop in, and when he did, he brought a drummer and an electric guitar which he would plug into the single amplified speaker we had and one or two other artists. And usually the price for each song was higher when he did; he was regarded as a ‘proper band’, and occasionally travelled nationally. Once these local artists arrived, we would stop playing the turn-table (usually it was Eric Donaldson, The Hurricanes, The Great MBC Band, Maroon Commandos, Manu Dibango etc). They would play late into the night. And once in a while, three or four artists would all converge but this did not provide a headache for them or for the patrons. They would quickly collaborate and play each other’s songs for hours on end; making everyone happy (that was the first time I saw different artists not only singing on one stage, buts collaborating!) To me seeing Daniel Kachamba, Stonard Lungu, Namakhwa Brothers Banda, and Ndingo Brothers Band playing together was just out of this word.

So listening to Daniel Kachamba made me realise how fortunate I am to have been in the presence of these great musicians. It triggered a memory, but it also reminded me of how rich our local music is. I know his music is not easy to find, but if you can source it, listen to Dr Daniel Kachamba. His brand was/is called Kwela music and is an infusion of South African beats, jazz and local Malaŵi music. Together with his brother Donald,[9] they formed the Kachamba Brothers Band. But the memories I have are of the Doctor himself! As for my father, he also introduced me to reggae music. He loved Alpha Blondy. He also loved Kenny Rogers. And yes he loved Franco Luambo Makiadi!  But that is a story for another day.

[4] Long-time powerful Minister in the MCP Government and father of politician and former Ambassador Ziliro Chibambo
[5] It does not have to be goat; it includes blood of cattle or sheep too
[6] This is interesting because the Zulu translation of ubende is spleen
[7] The Youth Leaguers were foot-soldiers of the MCP, the only party in power then. Also known as Chiswe, they were better known for their ruthlessness, unreasonableness and occasional theft of property like eggs, chickens under the guise of donations for Kamuzu. They never came to our home as far as I can recall!

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