Reggae has a Malawian Story – Part I


Reggae in Malawi owes its foundation to the crumble of the cold war, whose ripples through Malawi left a kind of fruition, which among other things, served in severance of the manacles of human bondage to an oppressive and despotic rule of the previous regime.
During this era, Reggae in Malawi was a palatable subject of vilification. The Malawian race saw reggae through its oppressive spectacle as a song of a wicked man, who demonically kept long hairs, took drugs, promoted violence and hence reggae on its own was a ‘well’ of all the evil.
What aggravated the situation was her oppressive government warning of stiff consequences in the event of any found involved with reggae characters.
The result was, those (not so openly though) listening to reggae were regarded as unbalanced or with a pathological conviction to smoking cannabis, utilizing it as a drug which would induce a fearless resolve that would push them into acts of evil, destruction or violent proclivities.
While the situation was at this though, sooner than later, it took a single and well-knitted song in the name of Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Solder’ to shake vigorously hard, the Malawian audience from this dogmatic slumber and reggae stereotyping, awakening it into a different realisation and that was in the early eighties.
Although, initially Jimmy Cliff and Bob had appeared on the scene with songs that people used to enjoy in the 1970s it was this particular track that changed everything.
The hit which became the most played song on the local radio was so ‘ground – breaking’ that it uprooted people’s bottled up emotions which went crushing and they started looking for more.
It led to a thing after another. First, it was a discovery of who really Bob Marley was and it was like a gnome opening his treasury tabernacle.
People’s interest, now fully provoked, made discoveries of other reggae artists like Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Toots Herbert and Jimmy Cliff.
In the seventies, a track like ‘No woman no cry’, which was furrowed on plastic plates that used to be the LPs available in Malawi at that time indicated as done by Bob Marley and John Nash, found a new understanding in people minds, because of the ‘Buffalo solder’ influence.
To epitomize how popular Bob’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’ had become, a local traditional artist Joseph Nangalembe using locally made instruments, did a Buffalo solder version in Malawi’s National Language ‘Chichewa’ and besides this, both the young and the old sang it around all places; streets, churches, markets beer halls, working places etc.
Other artists of influence, besides Marley’s unflagging influence who made Malawian audience look at reggae from a different dimension were stars like Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller, Burning Spear and vocal groups like Jolly Brothers, Half Pint, Culture, Twinkle Brothers, Israel vibrations Steel Pulse and the Cimarrons.
All this time the reggae influence was a deep and dark undertow due to the un-conducive political atmosphere, until the laws of the Country were reviewed to suit the political change and put in humanly order.
The results of the shockwaves, ‘Buffalo Soldier’ had in previous years sent through the country’s spine, sneaked out to the open a decade later.
Before this though, a Malawi star Robert Fumulani, one of the Malawi’s heroes, came up with some traditional drum beating, bass lines and some regular lead striking tempo and taking after a traditional dance, he called it ‘Khunju’ reggae.
His songs, however, was just a form of entertainment but carried no striking message that would move political players adjust their neckties. It was only one artist who challenged the former regime through his songs; his name was Wambali Mkandawire and whose poetic tracks attracted a foreign market without being reggae and its meaning without being discerned when one listened to it for the first time.
One of Malawi’s upfront Musicians who became famous when he fused Malawian traditional beat with reggae, Lucious Banda, towards Malawi’s second republic agrees that for thirty years, Malawians were oppressed and abused, and could not even speak.
Banda pioneered the music revolution when he released the first Malawian all reggae album ‘SON OF A POOR MAN’ recorded in South Africa, full of his political wit and had an inclusion of a Malawian Dancehall version of ‘Get up stand up’ originally done by legendary Bob Marley and the Wailers, of course.
Feedback: drummingpen@columinist.com

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About Gregory Gondwe - Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Gregory Gondwe is a Malawian journalist who started practising journalism in 1993. Until March 31, 2012 he was regional editor and bureau chief for Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS). Gregory is also a media consultant assisting several international journalists pursuing assignments in Malawi. He holds a Diploma of Journalism and an Intermediate Certificate in Journalism among other media-related certificates. He is also columnist for Malawi's first and oldest weekly, Malawi News. He can be contacted on gregorygondwe@gmail.com.
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One Response to Reggae has a Malawian Story – Part I

  1. Keep telling that history:Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", where Buffalo Bill Cody meets a Buffalo Soldier. A great story of black military history…the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.How do you keep a people down? ‘Never' let them 'know' their history.The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial…and visit the website http://www.rescueatpineridge.comI hope you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote it from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn't like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with…see imdb.com at; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0925633/When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; http://www.alphawolfprods.com and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for Wells Fargo in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.Peace.

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