Very few modern youth know about the Jupiters Band, a Ndirande born reggae outfit that started in 1983. The Jupiters Band was the music entity of the moment when Malawi was transiting into multiparty politics in 1993, 10 years after its creation.
The Jupiters, which is an abbreviation of Junior People Trying to Emphasize Reggae, Rasta, Religious Sound, is now set for a renaissance having prepared for it after experiencing how the music industry has transformed in the last 35 years that it has been in existence.
The two of its surviving members of its six pioneering cast, John ‘Nizye’ Namalima and Chicco Nyirenda told this blogger that having s
tudied the music industry they have realised that the only way for a band to survive is to be on the road and continuously perform.
“The 2018 is challenging us as a new season where we now need to start afresh,” said Nizye. “We are establishing recording studio and what it means is we are to start recording a new album in February before getting on the road in April.”
The band which has two albums to its credit Jupiters Burning which Nyirenda claims was Malawi’s first commercial album recorded at Studio K in 1991 and Nkhondo ndi Anansi recorded in 2000 but released in 2003 also plans to shoot videos for these previous tracks.
The 2018 in Jupiters’ Perspective
Chicco says they are diving in back, cognizant of the numerous challenges that await them.
“Chief among these is the issue of piracy,” he said before claiming that at the moment there is no music industry in Malawi.
“There is nothing that we can point at as Malawi music industry when there is no marketing structure,” he says.
He says most music groups are being forced to follow the only way to survive which is to hold live performances.
“We know live shows are capital intensive and we have heavily invested in this area so that once we start, we have a smooth going,” he added.
Chicco who accumulated a lot of musical equipment during his stay in the UK also said regulators have not helped the music industry.
“Royalties are not trickling down to musicians and yet Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) and Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) are there to do something about but are unfortunately sleeping on their jobs,” claims Nyirenda.
Copyright is a law which Chicco says should ordinarily have enforcers and yet musicians are left to carry out the enforcement themselves which is already destined to fail.
“These music institutions are part of the system that is contributing to the dwindling of the music industry in Malawi,” he says.
Chicco says a music industry without a substantive marketing system is a mockery to the artists.
“We need to have an outlet where we can sell our products,” he insists.
Nyirenda says politicians are also busy fighting each other without looking at the welfare of a lot of hard working Malawians including musicians.
They needed to check bodies like Cosoma to see if they are indeed doing their job. Otherwise if Cosoma was following what it ought to do, musicians in this country would be reaping fruits of their toils and become rich as is the case worldwide.
“Musically everything is rotten, and not even parliament can summon these public bodies to find out what is happening” says Chicco who was once Southern Region vice Chair for the then Musicians Association of Malawi and Southern Regional Treasurer for MUM.
Genesis of the Jupiters
Nizye says the other four pioneer members of the Jupiters who are unfortunately all dead are Black Mandiwa, who together with him, was the lead vocalist; Gusto ‘Pablo’ Zuze, the bassist; Gulamu ‘Aston’ Nathu, the drummer; and William ‘Bunny Widz’ who was the rhythm guitarist.
“On this day in 1983 I was walking on the road in Ndirande with William who was carrying a guitar when we bumped into Black who had come from Zingwangwa to see his parents at the Newlines in Ndirande,” recalls Nizye.
He said Black enquired if they were into music and when they said yes he promised to come the following day. He kept his promise as he turned up with Aston and from there on they agreed to form a band although at that time he was a member of a Zingwangwa based band ‘Rising Power’.
Nizye evokes that their first outing was at the French Cultural Centre in Blantyre where together with another old time local band The Gas Machine Head curtain raised a French music outfit called Cyclop.
“At that time we were only doing cover versions for Ivorian reggae stars Ishmael Isaacs and Alpha Blondy,” he said.
Nizye recalls that Jupiters only started playing their own tracks after Chicco joined them and started composing songs that made their name including the famous Jupiters Burning.
In 1986 Nizye recollects that they met up with Jai Banda, Mr. Entertainer, who was compelled by their skills to start what was to be called Reggae-By-Foot shows.
“We used to hold these shows at the BAT ground and had other reggae bands like Young Generation, Flashers Band of Steve Ndiche, Burning Youth of Caleb Munthali and many others,” remembers Nizye.
He said it was at such shows that they interested one Robert Gondwe who had just arrived back home from Zimbabwe and took them to Studio K where they impressed with just one audition session and started recording under the production tutelage of Patrick Khoza.
He said things would have remained rosy but along the way that’s when they underwent the most difficult times. They lost Black Mandiwa who place was taken by Niccodemus Njolomole. Unfortunately he also died immediately after the death of another member William.
Nizye said then Gusto also died and was briefly replaced by the current Black Missionaries bassist Peter Amidu.
The Jupiters future was bleak when Nizye left for the United Kingdom in 2002. There was some hope when he sent money to Chicco and Aston while there to help in releasing the second album which had already been recorded. However, after Aston also died soon after the release of the album Chicco also left for the United Kingdom in September 2005.
Upon his return in 2008, Chicco founded another band which he called Natural Rites which was only doing live shows.
“We revived Jupiters in 2012 when Nizye came back from the UK where got other members,” said Chicco and Nizye chipped in saying at this point they teamed up with Jai Banda again.
The New look Jupiters
Nizye says they have now opened a new chapter with new members that include Yamikani Makate on the bass who is ironically a nephew to the original bassist Gusto.
The others are drummer Ellard Chiwaya, Keyboard player Mwai while Chicco is playing the rhythm guitar and Nizye is both leading guitarist and vocalist.
Jupiters’ Reggae Genre
Chicco recalls that when they recorded an all reggae album, the genre was not as popular but they had a vision that it will be accepted in future.
“We however vowed to ensure that we give people genuine reggae music of the Jamaican type not the local Khunju reggae,” he says.
He says to date the reggae genre has taken over as everyone including gospel artists are now settling for it.
“Now three-quarters of Malawi music is reggae, we are a reggae nation!” declared Chicco.
The two Jupiters founding members said the 2018 continuation of their journey will therefore perpetuate the reggae genre.