Tears for Ken ‘7yrs’ Siyabu

Lucius Banda is the one who first calledthe Late Ken Siyabu ‘Seven Years’. It was because he was born on February 29and usually four years elapse before those born on this date of a leap year cancelebrate their birthday.
At the time that Ken Siyabu was workingwith Lucius Banda for the first time, he had celebrated his birthday for sevenyears only although he was 22 years old.
I first met Ken in 2006 when he was workingat Initial Digital Production, a media production firm that was into music anddocumentaries.
At that time I was deputy chairperson ofLilongwe Press Club, a grouping of journalists of central region and RastaEzaius Innocent Mkandawire working for the press club secretariat waspioneering a documentary to do with food security in Salima and he had taken methere to check on Ken who was applying to the documentary his video editingwizardry.
 Intheir production studio there were only the two of them; Ken and Prince Donda andfate had it that both had to be employed at MBC, later in the years.
From the first day that we met we clickedand we have never known any discomfort or displeasure with each other’scompany.
A smile on Ken’s lips was a permanentfixture; even under intense pressure on any project he could still afford aninfectious smile for all those around him.
When you could be watching a movie or aninternational music video, while you would be captivated with its storyline,Ken would be pointing you to areas within such video production that wereoozing with ingenuity.
We loved the same genre of music and weused to discuss that as a country, we were not doing enough to promote such agenre and he used to say there will come a day when he will do something aboutit.
Indeed he started the Dancehall programmeon television, those who used to watch it can testify that this was one of thefew video graphical innovation on display on our television station.
I witnessed Ken Siyabu working on thevideos for Lucius Banda’s album ‘Survivors’ especially the ‘Zakukhosi’ track; howhe explained on what he wanted to do with the video was a complete sign ofgreat things in store for him.
Ma Blacks and Lucius are the country’s topbilled performers and Ken handled their video projects with aplomb. Everwatched the ‘Dalo’ video?
On Saturday evening last week Luciusperformed at Key Lounge in Mzuzu a few days after burying Ken and when he tookover the stage he observed a minute of silence in honour of the fallen Giant.
The following Sunday at Mzuzu Hotel’s BomaPark, he played ‘Nthawi’ from the ‘Freedom’ album as an honour to Ken whohandled its video.
It must have been on October 11, 2011 thatI last met Ken. It was in Eswazini in Mzimba during the installation of InkosiKampingo Sibande. He had come with Dr. Rupert Poesch? A German Researcher whofor years on end has been recording cultural practices of the Ngoni people.
They had brought state-of-the-art SonyVideos Cameras and in his own words, he had told me that the machines were thelatest on the market. The German was manning one, the other one was manned byLawrence Nyale while Ken handled the other one which had a roving mounting likeone used in film making. He went on to school me on how sophisticated themachine was and how unbelievable its ability was.
He explained to me about his collaborationwith the West, how he used to travel to Germany to edit the materials he wascollecting and more dreams that clearly removed Ken from the common expertsdoing his very job and placed him above all.
You know one thing? He accused me of notwriting about his efforts; he said after discussing about reggae, ragga anddancehall at least he had started something and I never showed any initiativeto write about him.  
I promised Ken that I will write about him,comfort in the feeling and knowledge that he would outlive me since I am of oldage, but I never at any second imagined that the next thing I will write aboutKen I will be eulogising his beautiful life.
Ken was a brethren who never shared thesame womb with me, his artistic gift only endowed in him by the ALMIGHTY waseverything that we cherished as his friends, brothers, colleagues and cronies.
I have struggled with PAIN to cry for KENhere and I am trying so hard not to over bereave him – whatever this means – butcelebrate him.
Sorry Ntcheu, death has overstayed on yourveranda, robbing us of the sons you gave us to serve in the world of music.After Lovemore Mwanyama, now it is Ken.
Go ye well Brethren Ken ‘7yrs’ Siyabu;Rastafarie Liveth!!!!!!


When Blacks invaded North Again

After two years, the reggae outfit TheBlack Missionaries toured the Northern Region again. Did the people in theregion miss them? Were they up to the mark?

The first show on the Mzuzu tour on thenight of November 4, 2011 at Key Lounge which preceded the Mzuzu Hotel BomaPark show on November 5 afternoon proved the same fact that the band stillholds sway.
The record turn-out in the two eventstalked volume of what respected the band is in the region even in the face ofbeing glossed over by the band which never gave a plausible reason for a 2 yeargap that the region had to endure with.
The northern region in general and Mzuzu inparticular is still considered as the backwater. Even the region’s own MtebetiWambali Mkandawire chose to launch his ‘Liberty’ elsewhere and never repeatedthe act anywhere near the centre where he is now doing his missionary work.
Let me not digress, but talk the BlacksTour in the north; the band showed that it is still as tight as ever in termsof performance.
This is one of the only few bands that seemto take the audience down the road they are very familiar with. It manages tolight the dancing floor with fire and douse it whenever necessary, more so whenpeople are on the verge of collapse with over excitement. The band alsorekindles the fire when only ambers are visible.
Meaning, they have realised they have thepower of drugs to an addict. They know when to give a fix and how well topunish the addict.
Apparently, they seem to be so serious withwhat they intend to dish out so much so that they tell you that they weretraining before bringing the music on. Chumbu, Moda Fumulani, Anthony ‘Mr.Cool’ Makondetsa and the band seem to be talking one and the same language.
Of course at Key Lounge, a big letdown wasthe size of the venue and even the down pour which found its way right on thedance floor even when it hitherto boast of a roof above.
The art of chaining a number of singswithout faltering and denying the audience of quality was also evident on thetour, which but exposed the band’s rigidity to play only what they practicemaking you want to attend a single show and decide not to attend any subsequentone because you know their act.
Why live shows are called live, is becausethey somehow tend to be experimental moments for the band. It is risky ofcourse but worth trying because this is what has pushed bands to the stardom.The reason lead vocalist says “take it down,” only when it has started isbecause it is live.
Anthony Makondetsa tries it with ‘Mbumba yaAbraham’ but it looks over rehearsed and steals the thunder it is supposed toeffect on the audience.
The Key Lounge tour also revealed to theregion that Chizondi the master keyboardist for the Blacks has come of age.This was apparent when everyone was surprised when Anjiru moved back on thebacking queue when his young sibling took charge berried out “Pamene tiyenda muMthunzi wa imfa; sindizaopa zowopyazo, Yesu zandigwira zanja”…
Yes, with this track which I always say wasMsamude’s parting shot and how Chizondi handles it reminds me of Gramps Morganand how he juxtaposed his leading vocal charge with that of the front man Peter‘Peta’ Morgan.
I would not want to talk about the audienceresponse at Key Lounge because of the influence that alcohol had over theaudience. Anything was danceable although on a few occasions; legs would beseen hanging in the air because the sound could just cut off or because onedrunkard had decided to jump on a speaker as a sign of excitement, which thespeaker would not take kindly as it crashed down with such a crazy imbiber.
Talk of the Mzuzu Hotel Boma Park show;very few would be seen dancing at times, while many more would be seenappreciating the musicality oozing out of the band as it played, reminding meof how the Dutch audience is taken spell bound my performances in a musicalhall in Amsterdam of Salif Keitha for example, when they miss out on what thelyrics are saying but not what the music is communicating.
Like I argued when the band released Kuimba8, I still would reiterate my position on the band’s output.
The show was still apparent that the BlackMissionaries still continue a journey started by founder Evison Matafale whichwas taken over by Msamude when Matafale fell and taken over now by Anjiru whenhis elderly brother equally fell as well.
I should believe very soon we will haveKuimba 9 and this is the time the current Blacks should attempt to stir veryfar away from their traditional songs.

Last time I said when you are listening tothe tracks from a distance where you are missing out on what the lyrics aresaying, you are bound to think this is one of the many old tracks from theblacks.
And yet these are the new songs that are same old, same old.

One thing that is very clear is theclinging to the template that Matafale and later, Msamude created.

Anjiru and kid brother Chizondi, PeterAmidu and brothers Takudziwani and Paul Chokani need to rethink their futurewith the forthcoming Kuimba albums.
This is the time to dismantle theMatafale/Msamude template and come up with their creativity.
Today I still ask the same question as towhy people flock to Black Missionaries performances.
 Isit more to do with their pedigree that separates them from the competitors fullof mediocrity, than it has to do with whether they are progressive musically ornot?
With the Mzuzu tour they proved otherwiseand I hope Kuimba 9 will say the same.

Wambali at Liberty

Yes, Mtebeti Wambali Mkandawire is at‘Liberty’ to come again; and come again he has done and more so in English thanin the languages that we have known him for.
I remember some people were once arguingwhy Wambali does not sing in Chichewa. The reasoning behind this argument wasbasically based on the fact that he is too good to be singing in chiTumbuka.
To me it was more like wondering or gettingangry why Lucius Banda does not sing in chiTumbuka. Your answer is as good oras bad as mine.
It’s not like that Mte. Wambali himself isnot aware that Language has played a very bigger stake in his music.
I bought his latest album ‘LIBERTY’ inMzuzu at the Computer Connections at a price of K1600 where on the sleeve hedeclares: “Singing in ChiTumbuka comes naturally for me, chiChewa comes secondand chiEnglish third.”
The album has 13 songs, let me provide the tracktitles: The Wonder; Will be there; Liberty; Holy Ground; Chete; The Spirit;Celebrate; Chikondano; King of Glory; The Name; Will Sing; Tiwonge; Satisfy.
When you check this list you realise that ‘Ten’ are in English, ‘Two’ thus Chete and Chikondano inChichewa and taken from the Chichewa Hymn book and another one in Tumbuka.
Listening to Wambali at liberty withEnglish language you would mistake his voice as being forced to sound somewhatdifferently. You are left with a nod over his declaration that he is naturalwhen singing in Tumbuka.
One other thing I have noticed with theLiberty album is that he has decided to change the kind of audience that hewanted to target. However, the Mte Wambali signature could be noticed in theinstrumentation of this particular ‘liberty music’. As a servant of God he hasattempted to use the beat that we have known him with over the years to preachto English speaking folks most of whom are kind of losing faith.
By the way, long gone are the days whenpeople used to come from the West to spread gospel in Africa, apparently the tableshave been switched and it is Africans that are going to, or attracting the Westwith Gospel.  
Not that his previous music lacked thespirituality that goes with gospel, but this particular album brings somemeaning of what shade he would want people to view him from. The Cover of thealbum depicts a silhouette of a man with dismantled chains to show liberationand the right hand holding a guitar ready to dish out music.
But soon after he was born, Mte neverlearnt music from a language of his mother tongue as he was first introduced toCongolese music where he was born.
Upon his return to his lakeshore homevillage in Mlowe, Rumphi he was also introduced to South African music by localnatives who were returning from the South African mines and it was through theradio, that he came across Western pop music, obviously English songs.
His first band to joinwas a rock band called the ‘Pentagon’ that played western pop music. But as leadsinger of the band it is here that he first started cross-pollinating the genresthus rock music fused with traditional Malawian music.
Since 1977 when he experienceda dramatic religious awakening that led him to pursue religious training in theChristian missions by 1984, by 1989 he went to the UK to study BiblicalCross-Cultural Musicology.
Not in order of yearof release, albums that came forth include Ku Mtengo, Kavuluvulu, Kawunjiwunji,Tidzamtamanda, Ntchemo and they came until the 13th Album Liberty.
For the outside world “Zani Muwone” releasedin 2002 and produced by JB Arthur, co-founder of the Instinct Africaine label, togetherwith Sibusiso Victor Masondo, and owner of Joe’s Garage Recording studio inJohannesburg brought him popularity in South Africa and more popularity inMalawi.
This led to performance at the NORTH SEAJAZZ FESTIVAL 2002 in Cape Town besides winning many international awardsincluding being the first African to win the WIPO (World Intellectual PropertyOrganisation) AWARD FOR CREATIVITY with Zani Muwone album. The standing of thisalbum never lost its grip to the 2007 album ‘Moto’ that led to his retirementfrom public performances.
“Zani Muwone” also earned him KORA AWARDNomination in the “Best Artiste from Southern Africa” category. He also won SAMAMusic Award – for Best African Artiste – 2003.
I might therefore look too junior todiscuss his music, but I should nonetheless say it here that listening to hislatest album ‘Liberty’ you are like lost in a jungle that at first lookedfamiliar, only to realise that it is a maze that you cannot escape from.
He seem to realise the gigantic shift thealbum has made from the previous albums going by his declaration on the albumsleeve: “As Africa stands on the verge of the next spiritual revival and I am remindedthat every revival comes with its own music”.
I should believe this is the explanationof the strange effect the album is leaving if one compares it with the last 12albums.