April 13, 2010
A few weekends ago I had the privilege of playing with Peter Mawanga at Lake Malawi as part of the Sunbird Hotel’s Easter Bash weekend. Braai meat, a pristine beach, and huge stage-it couldn’t have been more perfect. The show was emceed by Malawian reggae icon Sally Nyundo who is featured on “Sungani Mwambo,” Peter’s current hit single taken from Paphiri ndi Padambo, which is dominating radio airwaves right now. Here are some pictures taken from that performance by my fellow musician/friend Andy Kerkhoff:
Yesterday, Andy and myself had a great jam session with two Malawian friends in the most unlikely of places….the market. To fully appreciate this scene, its necessary to have an idea of what a Malawian market feels like, looks like…smells like…sounds like. Imagine the center of commerce in any major city with all its chaos, arguments, tension and rapid exchange of money and opinions. Its busy, crowded, and has its share of characters…many of whom we were to meet. As chaotic a picture as I may paint, for many a vendor, going to the market is just another day at the office and life teeters on the edge of tedium. So when two white guys with instruments and two Malawians with guitars slung over their shoulders walk up and ask to play in front of your barbecue stand, the most logical response seems to be “why not?” After all, it’ll be better for business right?
This was really an experiment in crowd control. For as soon as we had begun tuning our guitars (and I, my fiddle) a crowd of four to five men deep had swelled around this tiny unsuspecting grilled chicken vendor, peering over shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of what was about to take place. We immediately launched into a Malawian number that got the crowd shuffling and smiling. I immediately learned the word for “awesome” since several young chaps felt compelled to yell it every time each of us finished a solo: “Zooo-naaaa.” Zona literally meant “truth” or “truths,” which seems to fit. One guy began dancing up a storm right in front of us and it became a duel between my bow and his flailing limbs.
Our sales pitch to the chicken vendor–to literally create sales, backfired. The crowd got so big (150-200?) that literally no one could get into his little outdoor restaurant. So we packed up and headed for the other end of the market instead. We repeated our act to an equally appreciative crowd, although a little smaller and less rowdy. The rain ultimately forced us to pack up early but before it did, we played all the crowd favorites, your African Bob Dylans and Van Morrisons: Oliver Mtukudzi, the Black Missionaries, Wambali, etc.
Both my guitarist virtuoso friends Chiko and Austin are in successful bands that have played all over the world. Chiko has played all over Europe (thirteen countries I believe he said) in a band called Konga-vibes. Austin had a band that toured in China but is currently investing most of his musical energy in the Kumbali band like Chiko. In the blog ‘More Malawian-Irish Fusion’ there are some pictures of myself playing with the Kumbali band. Austin is the one playing a blue fender guitar and wearing a little woolen hat over his dreads. After that practice session I had the great opportunity to play with them twice at the Kumbali Cultural Center, an awesome place whose activities are orchestrated by the same Scott mentioned in that Malawian-Irish Fusion blog. The crowd at the Center seemed to dig the fusion sound of the fiddle and the Kumbali Band’s Malawian rock stylings.
Chiko’s band Konga-vibes got a great boost through a southern African music competition/NGO called Music Crossroads, working in five Southern African countries. Konga-vibes was invited to the event a few years ago and got some international exposure. Some of the bands which have gotten a great boost through Music Crossroads are Malawian luminaries Body, Mind & Soul and Mafilika who reached the finals of the competition in 2007 and 2008 respectively, with Body, Mind, & Soul winning in 2007. So far I have spent every big holiday here (St. Paddy’s Day and Easter) jamming with musicians, which I think is the ideal way to celebrate anything.