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.
Feedback:drummingpen@columnist.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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