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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wambali at Liberty


Yes, Mtebeti Wambali Mkandawire is at ‘Liberty’ to come again; and come again he has done and more so in English than in the languages that we have known him for.
I remember some people were once arguing why Wambali does not sing in Chichewa. The reasoning behind this argument was basically based on the fact that he is too good to be singing in chiTumbuka.
To me it was more like wondering or getting angry why Lucius Banda does not sing in chiTumbuka. Your answer is as good or as bad as mine.
It’s not like that Mte. Wambali himself is not aware that Language has played a very bigger stake in his music.
I bought his latest album ‘LIBERTY’ in Mzuzu at the Computer Connections at a price of K1600 where on the sleeve he declares: “Singing in ChiTumbuka comes naturally for me, chiChewa comes second and chiEnglish third.”
The album has 13 songs, let me provide the track titles: The Wonder; Will be there; Liberty; Holy Ground; Chete; The Spirit; Celebrate; Chikondano; King of Glory; The Name; Will Sing; Tiwonge; Satisfy.
When you check this list you realise that ‘Ten’ are in English, ‘Two’ thus Chete and Chikondano in Chichewa and taken from the Chichewa Hymn book and another one in Tumbuka.
Listening to Wambali at liberty with English language you would mistake his voice as being forced to sound somewhat differently. You are left with a nod over his declaration that he is natural when singing in Tumbuka.
One other thing I have noticed with the Liberty album is that he has decided to change the kind of audience that he wanted to target. However, the Mte Wambali signature could be noticed in the instrumentation of this particular ‘liberty music’. As a servant of God he has attempted to use the beat that we have known him with over the years to preach to English speaking folks most of whom are kind of losing faith.
By the way, long gone are the days when people used to come from the West to spread gospel in Africa, apparently the tables have been switched and it is Africans that are going to, or attracting the West with Gospel.  
Not that his previous music lacked the spirituality that goes with gospel, but this particular album brings some meaning of what shade he would want people to view him from. The Cover of the album depicts a silhouette of a man with dismantled chains to show liberation and the right hand holding a guitar ready to dish out music.
But soon after he was born, Mte never learnt music from a language of his mother tongue as he was first introduced to Congolese music where he was born.
Upon his return to his lakeshore home village in Mlowe, Rumphi he was also introduced to South African music by local natives who were returning from the South African mines and it was through the radio, that he came across Western pop music, obviously English songs.
His first band to join was a rock band called the ‘Pentagon’ that played western pop music. But as lead singer of the band it is here that he first started cross-pollinating the genres thus rock music fused with traditional Malawian music.
Since 1977 when he experienced a dramatic religious awakening that led him to pursue religious training in the Christian missions by 1984, by 1989 he went to the UK to study Biblical Cross-Cultural Musicology.
Not in order of year of release, albums that came forth include Ku Mtengo, Kavuluvulu, Kawunjiwunji, Tidzamtamanda, Ntchemo and they came until the 13th Album Liberty.
For the outside world “Zani Muwone” released in 2002 and produced by JB Arthur, co-founder of the Instinct Africaine label, together with Sibusiso Victor Masondo, and owner of Joe’s Garage Recording studio in Johannesburg brought him popularity in South Africa and more popularity in Malawi.
This led to performance at the NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL 2002 in Cape Town besides winning many international awards including being the first African to win the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) AWARD FOR CREATIVITY with Zani Muwone album. The standing of this album never lost its grip to the 2007 album ‘Moto’ that led to his retirement from public performances.
“Zani Muwone” also earned him KORA AWARD Nomination in the “Best Artiste from Southern Africa” category. He also won SAMA Music Award - for Best African Artiste – 2003.
I might therefore look too junior to discuss his music, but I should nonetheless say it here that listening to his latest album ‘Liberty’ you are like lost in a jungle that at first looked familiar, only to realise that it is a maze that you cannot escape from.
He seem to realise the gigantic shift the album has made from the previous albums going by his declaration on the album sleeve: “As Africa stands on the verge of the next spiritual revival and I am reminded that every revival comes with its own music”.
I should believe this is the explanation of the strange effect the album is leaving if one compares it with the last 12 albums.
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