I am impressed with Wailing Brothers’ maiden album rightly named – ‘Unfinished Project’.
They don’t even waste time to get down to business. The opening track ‘Mwatero ndi Inu’ is a loaded dice. It leaves you scampering all over the place for cover; running away from own shadow apparently. It’s so allegorical reminiscent of compositions of their first known leader Evison Matafale – not that I am disregarding the fact that the band was started by Elias Chokani.
This track leaves you with so many questions whose answers are in the chorus – ‘It is as you say’.
This particular track, like the rest that have been led on vocals by Chikumbutso Simbi, is a revelation of more than one thing; the sibling band leadership of Paul and Takudziwani Chokani has realised their deficiencies in delivering vocal output. I might speculate that this is perhaps the reason they had Matafale in the initial stages.
My observation is not without proof as it has been rightly represented in the tracks that Taku is on vocals which clearly show that this voice gift God did not provide him with when He bequeathed him with the skilful manner he puts on display when given a lead guitar.
In the track ‘Afritune’ the band has been very naughty with experiment where they play African drums that have been well intertwined with reggae elements coming up with a piece of work oozing refined creativity. There could never have been any better way to pay their tribute to their fallen brothers and cousins in Elias and Luis, Gift and Musamude Fumulani and of course Matafale, than in the ‘Afritune’.
The track does not demand stringent vocal levels that separate the novice from the elite. It has therefore suited the voices of its lead vocalists Taku and Paul.
‘Levi’ is a track which like ‘Mwatero ndi Inu’ is serious minded reggae track. This is the album’s other best, done by Chiku on the vocals and like ‘Mwatero ndi Inu’ it is inclined towards religious, or is it spiritual foundation.
The flair with which the works of ‘Unfinished Project’ has been appropriated is easily noticed in these tracks. This is the more reason why, unlike those who faulted the revival of Wailing Brothers, I still maintain that we really needed a different voice of reggae in the industry. This is a superlative variety; I would hate to call it an alternative to productions by Black Missionaries because to do so will be playing into the hands of those who are chanting that music is a mission and not competition in reference to the departure from the Blacks by Paul and Taku to reawaken Wailing Brothers.
‘Sindidzakusiya’ is a love track full of praise of a beloved woman which is another delivery from Chiku offered in a typical reggae beat, riddled with the usual rub-a-dub thump that goes with a serious bass line.
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, the highly promoted track in the album is a mixture of the complicated and the simple and not so complicated vocal pitch arrangement. Of course the mistake has come about with the inclusion of this complicated vocal counter which clearly shows that it does not suit Taku’s natural vocal strength. Even the best instrumentation that goes with this track is failing to conceal this vocal inadequacy; when you have the opportunity to listen to the track especially when being performed live, and then you will get the perfect opportunity to appreciate my observation.
I am not sure who is behind the compositions in the album as the information on the sleeve does not say anything. Of course this is one information aspect that lack in Malawi music. However, going by quasi-religious themed tracks that have been vocalised by Chiku, I would be tempted to believe that those putting up the voices to these tracks in the album are also the ones that composed them.
Take for example a track called ‘Tikudikira Munthuyo’ which has been built on a Biblical story of slavery that the Israelites suffered at the hands of Pharaoh. Apparently this is a prayer to God to save them from servitude.
Toza Matafale who is known to do covers for his late brother Evison with a kind of clinical imitation that can be mistaken for the original voice of Evison, going by his live stage performances with The Blacks and lately with Wailing Brothers, did not live up to the billing in ‘Nkhawa Biii’ also in the album.
I have said before that covers or what others mistakenly call ‘copyright songs’ that are based on compositions of the greats ought to have a unique element that should add value to the original and not devalue it. I am afraid this performance has achieved the latter.
‘Hungry Tiger’ one of the three English tracks in the album is also another reggae piece which forces you to listen to all its intended delivery. It has been done with mature weightiness. It has a ring to some vocal productions of Jamaican Alvin ‘Keith’ Porter of the Itals, but again as earlier observed it has a religious connotation. Why, because there is Chiku on the vocals.
The chorus tells you that once polished just a little bit, then Wailing Brothers Band has a lead vocalist in Chiku, who can take head on any international reggae stage and perform without bringing any shame to compatriots.
‘Dzuka’ has a Robert Fumulani identity. This is a track whose vocalist is drummer Paul Chokani. According to my appraisal he is a notch up than Taku in vocal abilities but this is not to say he has what it takes for him to depart from the drum set and take over the vocal leading mantle. He is still best suited as the gifted drummer whose skills and talent few can match and this is where he belongs.
‘Sing a Song’ whose vocals have been done by Taku is where he is challenging that as long as he lives he shall sing a song. No dispute about that of course, but just like another track ‘Hallelujah’ where he is on vocals, this is where he has proved my conviction right that lead guitar is his place and calling but not vocals.
‘I Love My Guitar’ done by Taku and Paul has the same vocal shortfalls underlining the fact why this album’s title is indeed ‘Unfinished Project’.
This album reminds us once again that for over a couple of decades now, Donald Custom and MacDonald Chimkango remain the best recording backing vocalists Malawi has ever produced and their work in this album is unblemished.
But the vocals on the ‘I Love My Guitar’ piece have progression that tells us all but one thing; that there is still need of a great deal of improvement. The title of the track is in a way a telling testament that Taku better show his love for the guitar by somehow sticking to it more that his attempt on lead vocals.
Those that are true lovers of music in general, and ardent reggae listeners in particular, will doff their hats off for this particular album.
This is one of the few best reggae albums in Malawi but nevertheless it tells us that Wailing Brothers music mission is an incomplete project that needs to be perpetuated not finished.