Gregory Gondwe, Malawi Best Blogger 2014

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Vita Chirwa: Kalimba's Memory

In 1976, Kalimba Band started the guitar strumming, drum beating, sax blowing, and percussion tingling business and never in their minds did the band members that started it, ever thought, that 35 years later the band will still be playing.

Griffin Mhango and Nassau Mkukupha used to play Jazz as their mainstay, standard, traditional and party music at a time when there was a strong unwritten law: “Despise the Musician, But Love his Music”.

The big statement for the band, though, waited until seven years later when it became the first band to try their hands on international scale and proved to all and sundry that Malawians were also musically endowed.
With the album, “Make Friends with the World” produced by world famed producer Attie van Wyk under the banner of a South African record label called Dephon Promotions, the band failed to beat its own records and even with proliferation of musicians it has not been possible to beat this bar.
It reminds me of the legacy that the 1984 released best selling reggae album of all time by Reggae King Bob Marley rightly called ‘Legend’ has achieved by being one such album that is still not been beaten by all the new and thought to be very innovative releases.
The Band was the work of five musicians that have unfortunately been missing from the list of the people that the country’s presidency honours every Republican anniversary celebration on July 6.
The main driver of the “Make Friends with the World” album was the masterful Griffin Mhango who was the Band Leader, Composer, Arranger, Guitarist as well as vocalist. Bright Nkhata on vocals and saxophone, Stain Phiri on Keyboards, Isaac Nyirenda on the drum set and Francis Chintembo shaking things with the bass guitar completed the list of the group that made headlines.   
Some of such tracks included ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, ‘My Love’, ‘No or Nada’, ‘Wake Up Get Up’, ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, the title track- ‘Make Friends with the World’, ‘Too Many Rains Ago’ and ‘In This World’. Six of these tracks which had Bright Nkhata’s dominant, unique and golden voice were a composition of Griffin Mhango.

Now, you can wonder that twenty-eight years after the release of the hit album, Kalimba is back. I am afraid to call it resurrection because Vita Chirwa the current band member and a friend of mine who is the band’s sax player will not forgive me.
In August Sunbird Capital Hotel and Capital City Motel were the venues where the band celebrated lives and success of the original members.
On September 24th and 25th it was the turn of Mzuzu to honour the five original members and this is when I realised that Vita Chirwa, the current Kalimba Band leader, Lead singer, and keyboardist is the institutional memory that is still carrying out the memory of a band started by his uncle Griffin.
Listening to sound radiating from their state-of-the-art 40 thousand watts brand new musical equipment you could not fault them at all on all the songs played from ‘Make Friends with the World’.   
But hours that they played would surely have made the show a laughing stock and in between they had to play tracks that were originally done by among others Kool and Gang, Eddy Grant, Paul Simon, Bob Marley.
Mzuzu patrons were jerked into a total surprise when Kalimba sprung the famous Nigerian song on the dancing floors across the country at the moment called “called “Sawa Sawa alĂ©” by Flavour.
It is not common to find a band holding together worldwide the way Kalimba has done over all these years. What is fascinating is that the line up has changed as years were changing, not to mention death taking most of its members as well, but Kalimba has stuck to its original ideals and vision.
Vita Chirwa along the way has released solo album and single tracks, but still etched somewhere in his psyche was the knowledge that Kalimba should one day return on stage.
The current crop of players seems resolute to perpetuating the Kalimba vision with Dick Chikweza on drums, Blessings Nkhoma on guitar, Dan Sibale on alto saxophones and Mayeso Chirwa on tenor Sax, Jack Chisinga on bass, Chifundo Katsekera on percussion and Steve Lifesa on keys.
Like those that have been honoured in the past, Vita Chirwa also deserves such honour, I am not just saying.

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