Ndirande Township is one of the populous places in Malawi and it is one place that has historically bore legends of every nature across the social and political spectrum.
The low lying area overlooking the massive Ndirande Hill, which has its roots on the tip of neighbouring locations such as Machinjiri on the eastern side crawling all the way to the Chirimba industrial site.
The dwellers from this famous place spread across different society placements as is evident by quality of and nature that the outlook from its inhabitant structure presents.
There is a slum here, a bit of affluence there and middle-class modernism in abundance too. Ndirande Township has it all. And as such, its story has ticked in all boxes from politics, football to art.
In 1999 a new story from the township slowly started curving out. The genesis and source of this tale happened to be the unlikely Ndirande Anglican Church which is located in village head Makata in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kapeni in the area.
A group of 36 youths from the church, boasting full and fresh inventiveness, came together to kick start a gospel music mission under the banner of Ndirande Anglican Voices. Since then, the group has hardly batted an eyelid in its quest to soothe souls with heart-rending renditions which have subsequently come courtesy of the six-album placements.
Today, the Ndirande Anglican story descends a 22-year-period which according to the group’s creative director Denis Kalimbe has been everything but a rollercoaster.
“Maintaining the lifecycle of the group and keeping it vibrant to sustain its initial goals has been one of the most challenging aspects. When other members leave, the process of replacing has never always been easy,” he says.
From the group that started out in 1999, only Kalimbe, Symon Lufani, Christopher Malani, Ndaona Chinyati, Maria Kamanga-Mankhwazi and Eluby Kaunda are still with the group as the rest have moved on and new members have come in. Others, sadly, have departed this world.
Looking at the longevity of the music ministry that that has been championed by the group, the contribution that the establishment has made cannot be captured in musical terms alone. The musical group has built and continues to build lives away from music.
Mankhwazi joined the choir in 2000 as mere ten-year-old. Right now the 31-year-old is working as an orthopedic clinical officer at Chikwawa district health office, having graduated from Malawi College of Health Sciences.
The mother of two says her development as a person, in good part, owes to the values that have been imparted to her as a member of the choir.
“The secret is about what we have been taught. At first, we thought the institution was being hard on us, but reverence for God had no substitute in our books. Clearly, we benefitted from that,” she says.
Esnart Mphondo Masula, 29, who works as an attendant at Polytechnic Total Filling Station joined the group in 2012 when she was 21 years old and she also pays tribute to the contribution that her association with the group has made to her life.
Masula said: “It has been a give-and-take situation. If it was free-for-all then some of us would not have made it this far. There were times my parents really struggled to pay school fees for me and the choir would come in and bail us out. It has been an amazing experience.”
Another long-serving member Eluby Kaunda Sulaka, 31, who has been with the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust for 11 years said they are looking forward to groom the other new members who are just joining the choir.
“We are supposed to be exemplary and act as points of reference if they need help. We have been groomed by the choir and grown as independent individuals. Being part of the choir has made us to always be exemplary in society as well,” she says.
For Kalimbe, the 20 years that the choir has been in existence has been a fulfilling experience which has managed to meet its core mandate of building the lives of their members beyond the studios and performance halls.
He says: “Honestly, it is a satisfying feeling to be able to accomplish one of our main goals. Most of the people who have gone through the system are independent and accomplished members of the society. For us that’s a big win.”
As they step into the new era, Kalimbe says their main goal is rebrand as a group and increase on their visibility as a corporate entity so that they can better meet their needs of their wide clientele base.
When the first trumpet was sounded out in Ndasaina in 2001 nobody had an idea how loud it would become and how longer it would echo. But, 20 years later, premised on the same resolve, the voices from Ndirande keep resounding from multiple corners of the local music space.