Good people, the lengthy search for Malawian gospel music almost ends in 2016.In the world of spiritual music, tongues of Malawians are no longer wagging about the songs singers of godly lyrics often shoplifted from South African stars both famous and largely unknown.
Neither are they entirely sold to the glitzy western performances of Don Moen, Hillsong and Women of Faith.
It seems the local stars are already born—for the likes of Faith Mussa and Patience Namadingo have realised they do not have to sing in foreign tongues to glorify their creator.
In their songs, the two youthful singers personify the wind of change sweeping across the continent that Africans need not submit to beats fashioned beyond their reach to preach the God who created all of us equal.
Namadingo’s talent has been beyond question since he switched from rhythm and blues to local beats typical of the hit Msati Mseke in which he brings together gule wamkulu, malipenga and other traditional beats in a rare pack of lyrical brilliance. When Malawi listens to this, we all seemed to agree that it is good.
But the season of Faith Mussa has already began. The tiniest member of Mussa Family in the 1990s has fledged into an utterly talented man who exemplifies everything good about enculturation, originality and persistence.
Listening to the single Mdidi, it is clear Mussa has walked free from misrepresentations of gospel music as a stroll down the path paved with barbed wire by colonialist missionaries who hastily renounced African dances as sheer paganism.
On the beat, the musician, whose masterly of the guitar, shakers and aerated instruments will blow your mind at any point you attend his performance, feels liberated and at home bringing to the front the beauty of manganje and other local musical delicacies.
The mention of manganje obviously stirs emotions from fanatics of ‘gospel music’. What does it have to do with the way we preach, praise and worship the Creator in music?
We heard this back in 2003 when songbird Grace Chinga debuted with Yenda and all those hip-provoking rhumba beats.
But on Mdidi, Manganje is no longer what you marvel when culture enthusiasts meet at Chonde in Mulanje for Mulhako wa Alhomwe cultural festival.
The spiritual song persuasively and blamelessly demonstrates that the folk sound from the Lhomwe Belt is not exclusively meant to be adapted by secular songs as was the case with Mafumu Matiki’s Chindendelinde which used to dominate the playlist of the defunct Pan-African broadcaster, TV Africa, in 2003.
A musically decolonised mind and immensely talented long-timer at his age, Mussa harnesses some crisp, well-knit and astutely packaged manganje to deliver deeper gospel messages than self-styled spiritual singers whose often begin lyrics and end with repeated alleluyas and amens.
This is creativity and it dispels the notion that gospel music is no music like any other. Mussa and Namadingo challenge gospel singers to sing so that their music must not be found wanting when weighed on the same scales as secular compositions.
Mdidi is simply contextual theological art. It mirrors some maturity and determination to scale new heights without downplaying the beauty of traditional influences.
Inculturation, the ultilisation of positive influence of the native way of life to propagate spiritual teachings, comes in recognition of the immutable equality of peoples and cultures of the world.
It is the unique Malawianness that suffers when local artists desperately steal or copy tunes from abroad.
This indebtedness to prevailing cultural elements is more pronounced and regularised in the Catholic Church where Dr Martin Mtumbuka, the Bishop of Karonga, has banned the use of keyboards, electric guitars and foreign languages in all prayer houses.
The beauty of Mussa’s new release shows no culture is inferior to the other.
We deserve more of this in 2017. Happy New Year. n