Vita Chirwa: Kalimba’s Memory


In1976, Kalimba Band started the guitar strumming, drum beating, sax blowing, andpercussion tingling business and never in their minds did the band members thatstarted it, ever thought, that 35 years later the band will still be playing.

GriffinMhango and Nassau Mkukupha used to play Jazz as their mainstay, standard,traditional and party music at a time when there was a strong unwritten law:“Despise the Musician, But Love his Music”.

Thebig statement for the band, though, waited until seven years later when itbecame the first band to try their hands on international scale and proved toall and sundry that Malawians were also musically endowed.

Withthe album, “Make Friends with the World” produced by world famed producer Attievan Wyk under the banner of a South African record label called DephonPromotions, the band failed to beat its own records and even with proliferationof musicians it has not been possible to beat this bar.
Itreminds me of the legacy that the 1984 released best selling reggae album of alltime by Reggae King Bob Marley rightly called ‘Legend’ has achieved by beingone such album that is still not been beaten by all the new and thought to bevery innovative releases.
TheBand was the work of five musicians that have unfortunately been missing fromthe list of the people that the country’s presidency honours every Republicananniversary celebration on July 6.
Themain driver of the “Make Friends with the World” album was the masterfulGriffin Mhango who was the Band Leader, Composer, Arranger, Guitarist as wellas vocalist. Bright Nkhata on vocals and saxophone, Stain Phiri on Keyboards,Isaac Nyirenda on the drum set and Francis Chintembo shaking things with thebass guitar completed the list of the group that made headlines.   
Someof such tracks included ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, ‘My Love’, ‘No or Nada’, ‘Wake UpGet Up’, ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, the title track- ‘Make Friends with the World’, ‘TooMany Rains Ago’ and ‘In This World’. Six of these tracks which had BrightNkhata’s dominant, unique and golden voice were a composition of GriffinMhango.

Now, you can wonder that twenty-eight years after the release of the hit album,Kalimba is back. I am afraid to call it resurrection because Vita Chirwa the currentband member and a friend of mine who is the band’s sax player will not forgiveme.
InAugust Sunbird Capital Hotel and Capital City Motel were the venues where theband celebrated lives and success of the original members.
OnSeptember 24th and 25th it was the turn of Mzuzu tohonour the five original members and this is when I realised that Vita Chirwa,the current Kalimba Band leader, Lead singer, and keyboardist is theinstitutional memory that is still carrying out the memory of a band started byhis uncle Griffin.
Listeningto sound radiating from their state-of-the-art 40 thousand watts brand newmusical equipment you could not fault them at all on all the songs played from ‘MakeFriends with the World’.   
Buthours that they played would surely have made the show a laughing stock and inbetween they had to play tracks that were originally done by among othersKool andGang, Eddy Grant, Paul Simon, Bob Marley.
Mzuzupatrons were jerked into a total surprise when Kalimba sprung the famous Nigeriansong on the dancing floors across the country at the moment called “called “SawaSawa alé” by Flavour.
Itis not common to find a band holding together worldwide the way Kalimba hasdone over all these years. What is fascinating is that the line up has changedas years were changing, not to mention death taking most of its members aswell, but Kalimba has stuck to its original ideals and vision.
VitaChirwa along the way has released solo album and single tracks, but stilletched somewhere in his psyche was the knowledge that Kalimba should one dayreturn on stage.
Thecurrent crop of players seems resolute to perpetuating the Kalimba vision withDick Chikweza on drums, Blessings Nkhoma on guitar, Dan Sibale on altosaxophones and Mayeso Chirwa on tenor Sax, Jack Chisinga on bass, ChifundoKatsekera on percussion and Steve Lifesa on keys.
Likethose that have been honoured in the past, Vita Chirwa also deserves suchhonour, I am not just saying.
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