I am a kind of person who was born very artistic, not in the creative, imaginative, inventive and arty sense, but in a recipient sense; I am a receptacle that has an affinity to everything arty. It ‘plugs’ into me like a glove into a hand.
Last Sunday I made a trip to Nanzikambe Arts Cafe in Naperi where the Karonga based youthful Lusubiro Band had organised a free-for-all performance.
I arrived when the band was playing a rock and roll track originally done by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The band was doing the cover version of the all time great, the anthemic “I feel good” which Rebecca Johnson Mwalwenje took it on, on vocals, and oh boy! She did it justice, albeit being a woman.
Those of you who know the voice of James Brown, especially when he used to do this track and to have a woman vocalist do it’s a cover with near perfection, then you better guess how good she has to be – more so when she is coming from Karonga. It is not all the time that I will have goose bumps when something like this is happening, but I tell you I got ‘sick’ with disbelief, that right before my eyes, a band from remote place of Karonga was indeed playing James Brown with near unblemished accomplishment.
What was intriguing was how the youthful band members showed total discipline and perfect know-how when playing this particular track and the subsequent ones that they showcased.
Of course considering that there is not much brass aspect about our musical performances these days, seeing the lads and lasses doing the Brown cover and later their own compositions with the faultless brass contribution, I wish Dan Sibale was there to appreciate that he will no longer be the lone brass star, breathing his life through the wind passage of his saxophone, devoid of the completion of the accompanying siblings in the trumpet and trombone to complete the brass trilogy.
I know Tiwonge Hango who is one of the teachers at the Music Centre of Lusubilo in Karonga is a UK trained musicologist but I really need to make a special mention of one of the band’s leading vocalists Rebecca, who has to have her own natural talent that has only being helped to surge into some variety of visibility with the establishing of the music centre.
She has undeniable and charismatic stage presence with matching haunting stage antics. In her own right she has a very strong voice which has both technical and emotive prowess, as it is able to speedily or slowly move from pole ranges without faltering in holding notes for lengths of time with ease.
She is an asset in that the range of her vocal capability has the good measure of the necessary weight, colour and a ‘heavy’ timbre and she was able to use it by shifting it between different registers.
Rebecca has a rare voice because it’s an admixture of Aretha Franklin in vocal range aspect and her namesake Rebecca Malope in its vocal weight and texture. It’s more than a dramatic mezzo-saprano voice type.
With the covers that they are doing, I am told before my arrival they had done perfect covers for George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ and Kool and the Gang’s ‘Kool’s back again’ , there is strong hope that this will become a great musical outfit in the country.
I guess since they are at the centre, they are still going to scatter anyway and no need to bank too much for the better.
Well, while I was really impressed with their covers for James Brown, I cannot say the same thing for their tracks ‘Africa Inuka’, ‘Asimenye Yo Kyala’, ‘Kachitsa’, and ‘Kalonga’. The many years that I have stayed in Mzuzu helped me to appreciate music done by groups in the north like Body Mind and Soul as well as Kula Band.
There is a similar afro-beat strike with what Lusubilo is playing and the music that the two groups from the North I have mentioned above play who have both benefitted from the rigorous training bands undergo when they have won a final spot at regional music crossroads competition.
I was wondering, if this is also present because Tiwonge, their teacher, has ever won regional finals of the same competition when he was playing alongside his brother musician Khumbo in a band made from their first letters of their names, Tikhu Vibrations long in the days.
There is however still room of reprieve considering that the music centre is an experimental ground and just as they made me develop goose bumps with James Brown’s cover, they surely will one day make me tears fall, which is a rarity, when they will come up with perfect afro-pieces that will not sound as if they have some borrowed elements from elsewhere.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, try to make a date with Lusubilo Band, the lads and lasses will send you spell bound and for some time they will be able to separate you from your soul, by the time it returns after the fall of the curtain, you will not be sure if you are really back in your body or somebody else’s; that how good they are.
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