Chileka: Malawi’s Music genesis?

I have, sometimes hours on end, dwelt so much on music from Balaka.

If anything, I have at least for once talked about how the music and musicians from the Lhomwe belt have influenced the experts sway to settle for a conclusion that this has to be the cradle of our local music.

But in my fixed opinion of music from these two spots, I have both won and lost. In the process I have cut myself a figure of a music demagogue; I have also broken the hearts of even the most fastidious followers of our music.

Apparently, it looks like we have all been cultivating on a borrowed land and Chileka’s Singano Village is now a laird out to show us she has pegged her stakes where we thought belonged to us.

What is funny about Chileka is that it was not like the whole area whose provenance can be tested to see if indeed this is where it all originated from, genesis, they call it.

It is just a small village called ‘Singano’ clipped between Michiru Hills in the West and Chileka Airport to the East. Even funnier is the fact that while I have mentioned of Lhomwe belt, this particular village is under a Yao chief, Traditional Authority Kuntaja.

If you consider that Malawi music history had to mutate from one point, may be Singano would be that probable spot, arguably so, though.

Perhaps this can be the best shot at trying to figure our music history, in the case of our situation where information gaps in the whole background leaves out yawning chasm of details we try now to glean for.

Let me try to work on a chronology that will try to make sense of a music history, secure in the knowledge that if it is merely a figment of my imagination, then someone would have to right it.

The Kachambas started being heard from Singano in the 1940s. But Daniel Kachamba went on to get a doctorate degree in music from Germany because how he produced his music no one else did.

According to the 1988 edition of ‘Year Book for Traditional Music’ published by International Council for Traditional Music, Daniel James Kachamba was born in 1947 in Limbe at a time when Malawi was hot with guitar and banjo music.

At Chileka in Singano Village his father James, who died on January 10, 1988 and his colleagues Mofolo Chilimbwalo and Moya Aliya were at the thick of things during this period and their music exploits would later have an influence on young Daniel.

Daniel’s musical style on the guitar belongs to the era of second generation of guitar music composer in Malawi, as the first generation is represented by his father and colleagues.

His father’s influence notwithstanding, Daniel soon developed a style of his own, leaning toward the more recent fashions of those days.

Now with the father, his elder sister Anasibeko and his young brother Donald and the mentioned colleagues, it is clear what Singano Village is, musically.

Daniel’s adolescent years were spent in Harare, where the family had gone to work in 1957, where he also became acquainted with urban music of Southern Africa of the day such as Saba-Saba, Sinjonjo, Vula Matambo, Jive and Kwela.

He received his first introduction to the technique of guitar playing from a British Born teacher in Harare but he bought his first guitar in early 1960s having been impressed by a famous Kenyan guitar record ‘Julieta uko wapi’.

After the family returned to Malawi in the 60s he formed a band with another Chileka based guitarist only known as ‘Chinyama’ and after they separated it is when that he formed an ambulant kwela style performance group of three members, the Kachamba Brothers Band in which his young brother played flute.

His guitar style varied from alternate bass line thumb-picking with index finger doing the melody à la Country Blues stylings of Mississippi John Hurt, to Rhumba bass patterns underneath syncopated melodic lines (also thumb and index) to condense the sounds of Congolese Rhumba on to one guitar.

Needless to say, Kachamba radically changed many artists’ approach to the guitar by loosening up the “western” rhythmic strictures they imposed on their baselines and facilitating greater interplay between melody, bass, and groove.

A dark cloud fell on Singano on July 25, 1987, when Daniel Kachamba died leaving behind a legacy of one of Africa’s foremost guitar music composer of the 20th century.

Although he says his first recording was in 1966 at MBC, the first known recordings done on February 25, 1967 in Blantyre by Maurice Djenda and Gerhard Kubik are archived in the Musikethnologische Abteilung, Museum fur Volkerkunde, in Western Berlin in Germany.

After Kachamba, then Singano produced Robert and his younger brother Arnold Fumulani before hell broke loose.

Evison Matafale, Fumbi Dance Band, Anthony Makondetsa, The Blacks, Kachamba New Breed and Davis Kapito who was part of the Christ in Song Quartet…

Now can Singano village of Chileka claim to have been where the embryonic stage started?


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