Music was there when the country got independence in 1964 but due to political atmosphere, there was self censorship that by extension killed creativity.
The scenario remained the same until 1993 when first the country voted through referendum to have multiparty political governance and a year later when Malawi had the first multiparty system of government in place.
This also saw the birth of Malawi’s modern music history; this is digital music history.
The beginning of such history will, therefore, be a different story if it does not start from Alleluya Band; it will be mere falsehood if any such history removes the band from the origins of the country’s music history.
It is not as if there were no bands that used to play before the multiparty dispensation; there were bands like the Likhubula Dance Band, which was backing Robert Fumulani, there were also Police Orchestra, the MBC Band and the Chichiri Queens and uncountable local artist.
There was also talent within the country; but there was no knowledge of how one could put his talent into musical product through a recording studio.
Bands used to go to one and only place where the Malawian music was played and therefore this is where they used to listen to their music and for that reason, they knew that bands used to record there because there was nowhere else and this was at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation MBC studios.
The music was also being recorded merely for MBC airplay because it was being stored on reels, which was something that could not be taken on the market for sale?
At least it was only the emergence on the scene of Alleluya Banda from Balaka, led by the agile guitarist hands of Paul Banda, that led people to realise several things about what can happen with music.
They appreciated that independent studios can record elsewhere other than the MBC studios alone.
They discerned that local music performed by local artists could also be put in a cassette and be made available for the take of those with money to, to enjoy it in the comfort of their homes.
Whether one likes it or not Paul Banda ‘revolutionarised’ Malawi music.
Banda achieved all his deserving accolades through the Alleluya Band from whence he launched his decorated musical career.
Lucius Banda, Paul’s younger brother needs no introduction to the world of music from these parts; he has marked his name; no, he has engraved his name in the hall of fame.
Like Paul, he can also trace his history to Alleluya Band.
Then there is the list of the country’s most accomplished artists, you mention artists like Charles Sinetre, Coss Chiwalo, Isaac Liwotcha, Rod Valamanja, Paul Subiri, che Kachingwe, and the list is just too long to fill the whole page with names.
Throughout its history, artists have prospered while others have fumbled along the musical journeys.
While we have striking stories to tell, there are stories of Alleluya Graduates that leaves the mind wondering whether the band has a strategic plan or not.
Foster Chimangafisi, fast comes to mind. Together with Sinetre at one time they were two famous Alleluya products and one of the valuable musical artefacts that bought them fame is the ‘Chimangafisi Dollar’ album and track.
‘Tipange yathu Dollar, Chimangafisi Dollar, Tisamavutike ndikumadzitsaka’.
This is the chorus line of the track and remembering it now makes me start thinking; did we miss something in the song? Did it have a hidden meaning that we are so daft and failed to notice?
Were the two talent endowed musicians clearly telling us that Alleluya Band was just attractive from the outside and therefore the best way to get money was to have their own currency?
The story that Foster Chimangafisi was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and he is now bedridden in a hospital bed where he was also suffering financial crisis because Alleluya Band could not provide for him spoke volumes of how troubled our music industry is.
Many questions arose from this and effort to find answers gave us a number of issues to ponder on deeply.
The first one is why is it that it is Foster Chimangafisi, out of the accomplished list that seems to be suffering in this manner?
While we sympathise with Chimangafisi for having fallen to the exploitative means of a church managed secular band, we also have to answer the question above.
Does he fall in the category of artists who live for today. Our musicians are usually a sorry tale; they perform in all places and find little monies and unfortunately, they do not have any sense of saving.
One might argue that they do not make enough to save anything at all.
However, how is it that some that have come through the rank and file of the band have progressed so gloriously?
It is a shame that a band like Alleluya on whose apparel, uncountable medallion for their unsurpassed musical achievement are pinned, should be paying its musicians K1500 a month.
One might wonder if this is the money they are getting now, how much Lucius or Paul was carting home.
However, while we are at this, we must blame the artists for not taking the skill to fishing that is imparted upon them by Alleluya Band to a step higher.
But one other artist that can give us the answers to how best to utilise the talent that Alleluya Band imparts to its band members can be traced in one Sinetre.
Alleluya is such a band that even when artists left it to turn solo, they would gain so much confidence to call themselves nicknames like ‘Soldier Lucius Banda or like in the case of Sinetre ‘Music ambassador’.
Through the band Sinetre managed to study at University in Italy.
Perhaps the biggest achievement that the band chalked, is its influence of the growth and establishment of the Andiamo Youth Campus especially at its Cecilia Youth Centre.
And this is where Sinetre was Music Teacher and Trainer.
Sinetre also spearheaded the growth of Alleluya Band and made it to still stand tall even after the departure of the Banda brothers.
Exist Sinetre, enters Chiwalo. I have argued before that I have no urge to out rightly look at one Coss Chiwalo as a sign that connote death of the all famous Balaka beat started by Alleluya Band.
Having been started when Paul Banda was leading the band and extending his services to record artist from within and without Balaka, that include Lucius Banda, Sinetre , Isaac Liwotcha, late Paul Chaphuka, Vincent Kachingwe, Paul Subiri and Rod Valamanja, etcetera, the future was so bright.
Balaka opened musical doors that led to different genres for Malawi. It became so common that people started detesting it, Lucious Banda amongst them, as he eventually tried to run away from it.
Check his song “Achimwene mumvetse chuma ndi m’malele kumbukirani makoro – muzawafuna” the last he did with Alleluya Band – a musical outfit that became synonymous with the Balaka beat – to the South African recorded ‘Mabala’.
Well, while most of the old timers of the Balaka beat have excused themselves in one way or the other, Coss Chiwalo has not yet given a convincing reason why he is not there up to date.
He appeared on the scene with a storm, I think that should have been in 1997 when he released his debut album ‘Amandikonda’.
The album was full of promise, like how the Billy Kaunda likes had graduated through the Balaka School of musical Excellency under the tutelage of Sir. Paul Banda; it left no doubt that we have a man to carry forth the aspirations of the youth in the area.
Two years later, Coss re-emerged with ‘Amakonda Aliyense’. Here, as usual, opinion started to split. While others felt the production in this aspect failed to beat the first album, others were of the view that this was an improvement from the previous works.
The debate promised that with such pace setting, life will no longer be the same.
But what has followed has been a complete disappointment.
Between 2001 and 2008 Coss released three more albums which in my view were total flops, that is if we are to compare them with his own set standard with the first two albums.
If you think I am lying, tell me how many of you know that in 2001 Coss Chiwalo released an album he called ‘Mudzithandizana’ or that he followed this one with a 2003 album named ‘Chindalandala’? Do you also know that Coss has an English titled album called ‘Heart of Hope’ released in 2008?
I have several theories that I have been trying to use to explain why Coss never impressed as was the beginning of his career.
In between he left Alleluya Band before returning as a prodigal son which could be one contributing reason. The other one could be that once he returned to Alleluya he re-discovered that the band had an international stage through the Catholic Church where they would go to Europe to perform.
There could be a sneaking feeling in Coss that if he is able to make the white people jump out of their skins with his synthesizer wizardly, then why should he waste time polishing up songs that Malawians have long stopped appreciating.
The other explanation would be that the competition is stiff and that the Balaka beat which used to massage the musical minds of the people has now started twitching the very soul it used to caress.
I know Coss holds the biggest of stakes at the moment to make the Balaka beat still stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with the sound that is slowly but surely edging out what could be the genesis of Malawi’s modern genre.
The start of the Balaka beat has influenced the reggae and the urban stuff that has become the in thing for our radios and all dancehalls in the country.
Now remember how every latest release by Alleluya Band used to turn the nation on its head? Do we still expect anything from Balaka? What have the artists in Balaka done to our hunger for their music?
Is it us who are to blame for poor patronage or it is them who have stopped being creative and in the process they have lost us all?
These are the questions anyone who has a penchant for Malawi music needs to ask. There seem to be no sense of history for the country that one has to preserve and propagate, let alone musical history.
But Balaka genre, the Balaka beat should not die, I leave it in the hands of Coss!
Paul Banda, Lucius Banda and all the graduates including Chimangafisi better read this as well.
These people should not the Alleluya Influence and its Balaka genre die. If anything let it outlive the rest of us, posterity has sharp and hungry ears that will still need this music.