Nineteen years in the game, Barry One, who has just released his fourth album Maso Atseguka, has proved that he is more than a hip hop artist. He is hip hop itself. EPHRAIM NYONDO traces his musical story.
His voice, gruff and menacing, is his identity, a conception of character. His poetry is frank—nothing obscure. His metaphors, vast and illuminating, capture the depth of his lyrical literacy. And his lyrical flow on a stream of a dense beat is ruthless like raging waters at Nkula Falls.
His name is Barry One, one of Malawi’s foremost hip hop artists.
With four albums to his credit—Tionana, 2006; Legendary, 2010; Footprints, 2013; and Maso Atseguka, 2016—Barry One is the only hip hop artist who, spanning two decades of relevance, has released more albums than any other, stubbornly remaining loyal to the game. He has glued his hands to the microphone against various odds that consumed, to oblivion, many of his time and age.
“I am not a quitter. I believe in pushing on and on, trying harder everyday than yesterday. I grew up that way,” he says.
Born Barry Mkorongo, 34 years ago as a first born in a family of four—Randy, Patali and Tamara—Barry One first experimented hip hop 19 years ago.
“I wrote my first rhyme back in the late 90s—precisely, 1997. It was when I was in Standard Seven,” he says.
The experiment, which was inspired after months of imitating US rapper Tupac Shakur’s Dear Mama, was phenomenon for Barry One and his childhood friend Michael Munthali, known to hip hop circles as Chat Rock or, to others, Dynamike.
“It was not easy to scribble the bars [lyrics],” he says, adding: “the coordination wasn’t easy and, in fact, it took me a week to finish.”
But with time, Barry One saw his writing skills perfected—something he owes it to persistence, courage and, most importantly, studying and listening to various forms of musical compositions.
Weighed by the confidence he developed with time, Barry One dared recording. With Dynamike, Snalo, Smoke Mo and Lax they formed a rap group called Upper Squad in 1999, went to MC Studios and recorded a song titled Keeping it Real.
Barry One recalls the experience as ‘great fun’ though they had a lot to learn ‘but as the saying goes, we learn through experiences and the more time we went to record was the time we learnt so much’.
Unfortunately, Upper Squad did stay long. It gave way, in 2000, to another group, MO EFX—comprising him, Lax, True Docsy and Casco—and that, too, after a year and half, suffered Upper Squad’s fate.
The muse in Barry One, however, failed to die with the two groups. He, in 2001, teamed up with Twiz, Tah, Tony Khoza and Xaxxy and formed what became a sensational gospel rap group known as The Strategy.
“We were known for songs like Akubwera, Tivine and Nthawi. The songs really had made a great impact on the hip hop music scene,” he says.
Not most hip hop songs, then, would appear in radio charts, but Akubwera topped the MBC Radio 2 chart trumping over various songs from different genres. However, despite being a sensation for two years on a musical scene defined by local songs, The Strategy disbanded.
Instead of going the usual way of getting into another band, Barry One chose the unusual way of going solo. By then, the hip hop scene was already becoming crowded with groups such as Real Elements and Khamuradz taking the US born genre into Malawian homes.
Barry One, furiously and daringly, stepped on the scene and, right way, worked on a solo album Tionana in 2006 which was produced by Dynamike. Alone and confident from trials of time, Barry One—in the face of relentless mushrooming of different other hip hop artists from Young Kay through Third Eye to Gwamba—stubbornly refused to flinch. He kept his spot to the bone.
“I have worked with all the great names in the industry. The list is just too long to mention,” says Barry One who has made popular songs with Maskal and Armstrong [Onesimus] such as Kapilire and Ulendo, respectively.
One of the artists he has worked with consistently is the gifted lyricist, the award-winning Young Kay, born Francis Kaphuka. With two albums to his credit—Broken Knowledge, 2007 and First Impression, 2008—Young Kay, the first Malawian artist to perform at Big Brother Eviction show, regards Barry One as a ‘big brother to the game’.
“He is a fan of the music and so he is always open to what is new. Down to earth and easy to be around makes it comfortable working with him,” says Anankabango hit maker.
Barry One’s latest album Maso Atseguka which features gospel hit singles such as Wandochosa and Suli Wekha, currently their videos enjoying wide airplay on all television station across the country, has got tongues wagging that he has turned his life to God.
However, Barry One feels the talent he has is from God, as such, it is imperative to sing and do things according to God’s word, spread the gospel and touch some souls.
Besides, Barry One says he has a strong calling for the youths.
“My space in hip hop, youths, change and society is to make a difference by preaching positivity through my music. I like to address issues that affect our daily lives in a quest to find out how best we can deal with our times,” he says.
But his journey, he says, will rage on, undisputed. n