Paul Chaphuka remains an enigma because he came at a time when there was the rebirth of Malawi music. His one and only album ‘Ndichiritseni’ released at the time he had just died on May 11, 1997 was only made possible by legendary brothers Paul and Lucius Banda. What would have become, had he not succumbed to skin cancer is a subject of conjecture.
But his album is marked in the all highly treasured archives as one of Malawi’s classic music production, albeit going with the equally pioneering all famous Balaka genre.
Chaphuka’s career started – or it is better known to have started – when he played with Mte Wambali Mkandawire and as an instrumentalist he used to play the bass guitar a departure well registered when he joined Alleluya Band where he was now playing lead guitar.
The album had many captivating tracks like Nkhoswe, title track Ndichiritseni – which of course is a Chichewa rendition of Alpha Blondy’s song ‘Heal Me’ found in the album Dieu. Just like Alpha Blondy who suffered a mental breakdown that prompted the release of the track in 1994, Chaphuka too, having realised of his ill health sought God’s healing power. As they say the rest is history; while Blondy survived, for Chaphuka, it was never to be.
Lucius and Paul had to finish the album and together included a tribute Tsalani in the album. This is all to give you a picture of the priceless sentimental value that this album has.
Now why I am all rumbling about Chaphuka today is because Sam Simakweli has taken a ‘leap of faith’ and done a rendition of one of Chaphuka’s great hits in the album called Mavuto Tawaona.
It is this one that has brought us to talk about Chaphuka in light of this production from Simakweli who currently brands as Sam Smack.
When you understand the pain and richness of this song just like the rest of the tracks in the album, you realise that it would require a special reason to do a rendition.
The place to look for such a special reason is obviously in the released newest production and my effort to look for one in Simakweli’s Mavuto Tawaona did not help matters as it left me with mixed feelings.
To begin with, this is a classic that, much as effort would be made to modernise it, there is still need to preserve its touch. This without doubt should have been achieved with Simakweli’s golden voice. But for whatever reason he decided to sound like a Nyanja speaking Zambian.
Smacks is one of the six-pointed stars in the local urban genre and if any attempt was made to do a Chaphuka rendition everyone would give it to him if he so decided to bring in the urban elements. Now he does so by bringing in a guy I am hearing for the first time called Michale Es.
My problem is not because I have never heard of this guy before. But here is my explanation:
There is a ring to all the classic tracks that are redone by modern artists. They tend to resurrect the old, by making it to the top of numerous charts. The reason Simakweli’s effort on this Chaphuka track has not made necessary noise is because it has not brought any fresh impetus to the resounding following that the initial track attracted.
Most of the old folks who fell in love with Chaphuka’s original toils feel short-changed especially with the rapping which, as most of our rappers do, did not bother to make sense and bring clarity to own lyrics thereby degrading itself to the levels of noise.
In short, with the bar that was set by Chaphuka, any attempt to redo his work should be well thought of and should not come in half measures. Unfortunately this one has.