More Malawian-Irish Fusion

In The Rehearsal Space
In The Rehearsal Space
I have heard from so many people about the dearth of instruments in this country but you’d never know it stepping in to my friend Scott’s house. Scott is a transplant from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) but essentially a Malawian now having spent the last thirty-odd years here. Every morning 6-8 musicians show up at his door step and they literally play music all day long. “Come on by one morning and jam!” he said to me last week. So I did…and jam I did. Five hours to be exact.

Scott’s house is literally full of guitars (eight I believe) and one bass guitar. In addition, he has converted his storage shed into a rehearsal space which is filled with electric guitars, drums, and you name it. Dedicated to music, he is something of a coach for the musicians who come by and play his bounty of stringed instruments. Musically, the musicians and myself hit it off immediately. They sung some originals in Chichewa and I noodled around on my fiddle. To top it off, Scot’s place is literally at the top of Lilongwe and one can look out and see the maize and scattered settlements for miles.

The Jam Session In Action
The Jam Session In Action

Noodling Around On My Fiddle
Noodling Around On My Fiddle

In the afternoon we had an acoustic jam session. It was a wall of guitars…reminded me of the E Street Band. My friend just happened to be in Malawi visiting and being an exceptional bassist they asked him to join in. By the end, Scott was thinking big: “What if we started a band?” –“How about a big Malawian-style version of Eric Clapton’s guitar festival Crossroads? Yea, lets bring in every one of Malawi’s top guitar talent and do a giant concert!?” -“What about albums?” -“Playing at this restaurant?” -“That club?” Of course my head was nodding in eager agreement to all of these things and being one to let my ambitious ideas get the best of me, I was internally committing to all of Scot’s grand plans. Grand and doable. Its just great to see someone who is so energized about the music scene here and dedicated to getting it going. Whenever a musician leaves Malawi, Scot tries to buy their instrument to have yet one more for a talent like one of these guys pictured to cultivate their skills.

The Guys
The Guys

I have blogged about this before, but the real poverty here is in resources. Its not in talent, motivation, work ethic, or musical ability. All of these guys I jammed with are self-taught and are bending notes that would make Stevie Ray Vaughan cry. The same can be said for other ambitions besides music. The director of the NGO Nyumba ya Thanzi who generously facilitated some of our narratives is a hard-working Malawian who walks door-to-door in his surrounding nine villages convincing couples to practice responsible sexual behavior. His program is modest but not because he envisioned it to be small. Describing his program he gestures wildly: “here, is where we want to build a garden!” –“and over there, a storage shed!” Witnessing his work ethic, I have no doubt he will build all of those things. Still, I think the lack of resources has forced people to be remarkably…resourceful. William Kamkwamba’s crusade to build a home-made windmill and solve his family’s lack of electricity is a testament to the tenacity and cleverness of people working with limited resources. If you haven’t read “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, you should at least watch the Daily Show interview:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'William Kamkwamba
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

That’s all for now…more musical escapades to come!

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