When Chris Kele says ‘it is a disdainful attempt’ to even compare the aspect of art and trade in Malawi music to that of South Africa, you might think he is only trying to cheapen the local industry because he has hit gold in the rainbow nation.
But when you hear him tell you how the South African government is unlike their Malawi counterpart when it comes to supporting music then you would understand why after 3 years of sojourning South Africa he can claim victorious.
Unlike Malawi where only sports can be the only engagement government can support, in South Africa, government’s tune is cheery to the ear of musical artists.
“If the [Malawi] government would fully support music the way it does with soccer, Malawian music industry would turn down side up for sure,” says Kele.
Kele the Producer
And why can’t you believe him.
As a guitarist with authority, studio artist with clout, a composer with finesse and professional producer with proficiency of the trade, Kele has made it big in a music industry where talent beckons you to more prosperity but only when you stand out to be counted.
“One good thing about South Africa is that music is highly appreciated and well understood,” he intones. “And if you are good and strong minded musically, it gets easy.”
Kele believes that the South African music industry is in high-speed in every sense including technological and organisational characteristic because musicians are treated very seriously while government support is without stint or limit.
Composing for Ringo
When Kele travelled to the rainbow nation, he worked with different artists in studios besides performing with several musicians and other artists.
At the moment he says he has composed a song for Ringo which they are to record soon.
If you must know, Ringo is a South African celebrated jazz guitarist, full name Ringo Madlingozi, who has released a string of highly successful albums that have garnered several awards, including Best Male Vocalist at the South African Music Awards as well as Best Male Artist (Southern Africa) and Best Male Vocalist (African Continent) at the Kora awards.
His journey started in 1986 when his band Peto won the Shell Road to Fame contest and ever since he has built a prosperous career, collaborating with celebrated artists and groups including UB40, Dillon O’Bryan and HHP.
Many local artists know that Kele is no stranger to the local industry either, having cut his first tooth as a producer with the all great MC Studios, at the Lilongwe base.
And having learnt the ropes, Kele who has ever played alongside Erick Paliani, who is also riding high in South Africa, as well as multi-award winning Ben Michael Mankhamba in the Acacias Band, established his recording studio which he called ‘Metro Jive Studio’.
His Malawi studio exploits was like undergoing rite of passage because once he hit South Africa he established himself by working with different artists as well as musicians in studios.
Already, he has produced artists like Born African, especially his latest album ‘The Past, Present and Future’.
“I’m currently producing a UK based South African Reggae dude by the name of King Pablo,” says Kele who has once again established a recording studio called Mavume Productions which deal with music production.
Kele the Band Man
Like he did with the studio, Kele also formed his own band in 2006 in Lilongwe which he called ‘The Jazz Image Band’ and had a three year contract agreement with Chameleon Cafe in Lilongwe.
“The Jazz Image Band was formed when I was in Malawi and the remaining guys are still playing Sunday Jazz at Chameleon cafe along State house road C-Centre,” he says.
Right there in South Africa, Kele has also formed a multinational band he is calling ‘Mavume Gurus Live’ a similar name of his studio which in Venda language of South Africa he says means big noise from a huge crowd .
The band which has a South African bassist, a Ghanaian drummer, and a Zimbabwean keyboardist has Kele on the guitars, and already it has written itself a curriculum vitae of note considering the places and artists it has played with.
“With Mavume Gurus Live, we have performed in places around RSA, and I personally have performed in different stages in South Africa,” says Kele.
At Ditsong Museum he has played side by side with Jamaican reggae great Ibo Cooper. At State Theatre he has performed alongside Louis Mhlanga. At Shikisha Club he has executed musical shows alongside Sister Phumi. At Orange Farm Music Festival, Kele has shared stage with Zahara, Black coffee, Big Nuzz, Gangalee Adeluler, Bass line, and Pata Pata. He has also performed at The House of Tandoor, Afrocentric cafe, as well as in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland just to mention a few.
For one to be such a conqueror in South Africa, Kele says it is not just a matter of playing chords, but one has to know music communication within your group; one need to understand what the other fellow is playing and how to accompany him/her.
“If your goodness makes you visible, it is easy for other artists to notice you and that’s a starting point because here in South Africa one can be very talented but if he is not connected its difficult sometimes,” he says.
The industry is very advanced and depending on the genre that you play, once you advertise, he says you are likely going to have patronage of a kind of an audience that understands what you play.
“If you advertise for a Jazz show you should expect people who understand Jazz to be there,” he says.
This third born in a family of seven also says record companies in South Africa are real deal, unlike in Malawi where most exist in newspapers.
He says in South Africa, record companies have simplified what would have otherwise been a complex scenario for musicians.
“Record companies really help you. Once you are signed in, then you have made it, it’s up to you to deliver. Once a record company signs in turn show them songs which are making showbiz sense,” says Kele.
He says the day Malawi will have record companies, will be the baptism of fire for the local music industry from where, it will never be the same again.
Who is Chris Kele
Kele who declines to disclose his age is a widower, having lost his beloved wife Bertha.
He discovered his music interest at the age of nine while in Blantyre Mandala.
“Then when my parents moved to Lilongwe area 15, I met some friends like Erik Paliani, my own brother Mada and other guys. We started a musical group although we were primary school kids,” he recalls.
Kele says he did his primary school at Dharap in Blantyre and Chigoneka in Area 47 in Lilongwe before pursuing his secondary school studies at Zomba Catholic Sec School and Bvumbwe Private Sec School.
“I’m currently studying Music Management and theory in RSA while pursuing my music career too,” he says.
The ‘Ulendo’ Album
Kele who is now a single father to Nick and Samantha says he started the album project with his late wife Bertha five years ago.
“I wasn’t sure of the type of Jazz I could do until I realised that I had great familiarity with Jazz which I then fused with other African rhythms,” he says.
“Bertha (late wife) helped me a lot on this album and she brought the choruses of several songs like ‘Ulendo’, “says Kele who says he can’t believe his wife whom he buried in Mulanje is gone.
Because the fusions of Jazz and African melodies / rhythms in his music he has coined a name for this particular genre and he is calling it ‘AFRICULTURE JAZZ”.
“I did it in seven languages as follows: Sena,Tumbuka, Shona, Nyanja, English, Yao and Zulu just to at least let everyone get something out of my music. I’m Sena though,” he says.
Kele says the album has been recorded at Mavume Productions, Nubian Studios and Zoi Recording Studio (RSA).
He says the album has different African flavours because he has worked with Ric Deja, the American saxophonist, Joy Sevens the South African Keyboard player and King David the Nigerian saxophonist.
Some of the musicians Kele has featured on the album include South Africa’s jazz artists Nqobile Douglas and Samsam Manjeya.
Late Mayeso Chirwa also features in one of the tracks in the album called ‘Dimingu’ a re-edition originally done by Joseph Tembo.
“I had to use Mayeso because he was very familiar with the song,” explained Kele.