Stepping into Nkhata Bay, chances are high that the sound of honala can be heard across the mountainous plains. Honala is one of the famous dances among the Nkhata Bay population.
However, Park Town Band is one of the few remaining honala groups aiding the continued existence of the dance in the country.
Having performed at various venues, recording their songs and dancing throughout the decades, Park Town Band have secured a spot as a fan favourite that even their music is often broadcast on MBC television.
Honala is a secular dance performed mainly during wedding ceremonies by men and women in elegant clothing to the melodic tunes of live accordion music.
But Park Town Band has taken the dance to various podiums where they earn money from their performances.
Clocking 82 years of existence, Park Town Band still generates enthusiasm as it entertains the populace at various events that feature dancing.
Everywhere the band performs; Park Town Band entertains patrons with its fascinating dance and accompanying music.
Singing, dancing, masquerading and dramatising are part of the band’s conceptual music package.
According to the band’s general secretary Chester Mangwe, Park Town Band was formed in 1933 by Sheck Phiri.
The band owes its origin to the time the Tonga men would regularly trek to South Africa to work in the mines.
While in South Africa, the men would normally meet at a place called Park Station in central Johannesburg.
The band’s name was then created in commemoration of Tonga men’s life in South Africa.
Currently, Kaligogo Manda is the longest serving member who joined the group in 1947.
The band recruits members annually and currently has a 21-member entourage, eight of whom are women.
“It will not be easy for the band to come to an end because we routinely recruit new members every year. However, we also encourage those interested to apply if they want to join the band during any time of the year,” said Mangwe.
While performing, each member has a role to play; some they dance while other sing or play their instrument of choice.
“Not all are involved in dancing; we have some members that are especially recruited for singing and playing instruments. For instance, we have Wonders Longwe, Typis Salima and William Banda who play the musical instrument while the eight women add colour to the dancing crew,” said Mangwe.
Taking into account traditional dances celebrated in the country over time, Park Town Band deserves its share of recognition.
Mangwe said the band has performed in more than 10 000 functions of various nature.
“We have performed at countless functions and occasions across the country; be it political, national celebrations such as Independence Day or other ceremonies. To date, a week does not end without someone seeking our performance. On many occasions, we were invited to perform during State functions, even during the reign of former Malawi president late Hastings Kamuzu Banda,” said the band’s general secretary.
Mangwe said the band strives to educate the public through the songs they develop from the theme of the events to which perform.
“When we are performing, we contribute a lot by attracting crowds using our music. Just recently we performed during the Copa Coca-Cola school tournament launch at Nkhata Bay Community Ground, we welcomed the guests with our singing and dance. We often interpret complex message through the songs,” he said.
The band also participates in promoting tourism as it performs at various Nkhata Bay tourism spots for free.
“Knowing that dance can assist in attracting tourist to the country, we do perform at various lodges in Nkhata Bay, especially the Chintheche area, for free as these lodges are close to our homes,” said Mangwe.
As a way of ensuring the survival of the honala dance, the band has recruited more youthful members this year.
“Our youths now shun traditional dances such as honala for fear of being labelled old fashioned. But if they do not dance this traditional dance, we will lose our culture.
“However, we have tried another strategy of recruiting youthful members such as James Msisi, Karen Mphande and Khanyanya Phiri so that they should act as idols in motivating others to start loving this traditional dance,” said Mangwe.