When arts critic Wonderful Mkhutche announced a biography writing project for one of the country’s renowned musicians Billy Kaunda, Malawians were not sure what the musician was willing to share with the world.
Since making his name in the music industry around 1997, Billy Kaunda, despite his hard-hitting lyrics, always came across as shy and an introvert.
That is the reason when the book was finally released, I could not wait to lay my hands on it. And the content exceeded my expectations. Billy Kaunda has been generous with his story in the book Hills and Valleys.
The 127-page book has detailed Kaunda’s early life in Che Mboma opposite Newlands in Blantyre, his entry into music, his struggles as he attained a basic education and his decision to join politics. The musician has said it all and more.
The first three chapters of the book give the reader a background of Kaunda’s early life. Clearly, Kaunda had a childhood full of struggles as his parents had 11 children, but less money to properly take care of them all. He, however, demonstrates a normal mischievous childhood despite the challenges. Those who grew up in the 90s will find his story relatable.
He writes in part: “Feeling the pressure and the need to help save the hapless situation, together with my brothers, we prioritised bird-hunting as source of food for our home.”
In the second part of the book in chapters Four, Five and Six, Kaunda talks about his music. This is the gist of the book in which he goes into detail to talk about the genesis of his musical journey which started in earnest as a small boy growing up in Che Mboma.
Reads the book: “For all its poverty, violence and ugliness, Che Mboma was like Arizona’s Tombstone City; a lawlessness place. However, just near our house was Jerusalemu Baptist Church.
“We did not belong to any church by then, because our parents did not seem to show any interest. But on Sundays, we could hear good music from the Lord’s house, and with passage of time we were getting attracted to it.”
From singing in a church choir, Kaunda chronicles in his book the ups and downs of his journey as a musician when at times he had to sleep in school halls after patrons refused to pay for performances.
The interest of many will, however, be in Chapter Four where he records his album Mwapindulanji? and eventually meets and starts working with Lucius Banda who becomes his mentor.
Kaunda details their working relationship and its ups and downs and eventual fallout which he does not shy away from detailing what actually happened.
The Mwapindulanji? hitmaker claims in the book that he was paid K76 000 in total for his top-charting album though he clearly says he feels he sold more and that Lucius Banda short-changed him.
Next, Hills and Valleys then chronicles the journey of breaking away from Banda’s Zembani Band and eventually forming his own Armageddon Band.
In the final chapter of the book, Kaunda explains how some of his songs landed him in trouble with the United Democratic Front (UDF) administration which forced him to seek help and protection from National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader Brown Mpinganjira.
He eventually joined politics, winning the 2004 elections on NDA ticket in Blantyre City South East Constituency, before standing in his home village of Mzimba West Constituency in 2009 on an independent ticket.
The book, though generally flawless, has some small grammatical errors as well as a peculiar design of the paragraphs. It is also interesting to see the musician admitting his promiscuous lifestyle before he settled down in marriage.
He admits life in the limelight is not easy for a man and that he fell for the tricks of the fast life.
Kaunda can be credited for his brutal honest admission that he is not the brightest star academically, saying he repeated Standard Eight four times but still did not get selected to conventional secondary school.
The musician also shows his other passions which are football and drama.
Hills and Valleys offers a window of knowledge for a common man to appreciate how falsehoods about celebrities are easily spread and believed. Kaunda demonstrates this when he narrates about false rumours of his marriage collapsing when he and his wife Sherry have never separated.
Reading between the lines, one can also appreciate the importance of family and his closeness to two of his 10 siblings. Clearly Billy’s closest sibling is Dexter whom he mentions often in the book in their various experiences growing up. His elder brother Obingtone clearly plays the role of the father as Kaunda’s dad died of suspected poisoning.
Though respectfully, Billy’s book demonstrates how his father’s drinking made his early life a misery. The book also highlights the strength of a woman (his mother) who had to take care of 11 children on meagre earnings as well as endure her husband’s tantrums when drunk.
All in all, Kaunda’s book is clear testimony that the life of this musician is indeed full of hills and valleys. If I were to give it a grade, it would be a seven out of 10.