In a township that has in the recent times become popular with husbands who behead their wives, and mobs that torch police stations, something good came out of Makheta—Ethel Kamwendo-Banda.
Born Ethel Timba Kambenje from Frone Timba, a kachasu brewer, and a banjo playing father, she adopted her grandmother’s name Kamwendo after joining Kamwendo Brothers Band at the age of nine.
“I had to adopt the name Kamwendo because it was a requirement of the band that we all change our names to our grandfather’s name,” said the diva in an interview with Chill this week.
Kamwendo-Banda said that she started singing at the age of six but sprung to fame at nine. She attributes her early beginnings to her musical family.
“I used to sing with my brothers and my father was a banjo singer so in short, I can say I grew up surrounded by music,” said Kamwendo-Banda.
She recalls that her brothers rejected her entry into the band several times but she insisted until at the age of nine.
“There was a vacancy in the band after my sister Beatrice joined the Malawi Young Pioneers which left the band with no choice but take me on board,” said the songstress.
The band had gained fame with their hits such as Akatolilira, Mwatonyanya Nsanje and Birimankhwe.
However, Kamwendo-Banda recalls one life changing moment as the time she was in Standard Eight when the band showed up uninvited at a festival organised by Jai Banda’s Entertainer’s Promotions called Reggae by Foot at the French Cultural Centre.
“The gatekeeper could not let us in as we were not invited, but we called for Jai Banda because we knew that if he saw us he would let us through,” recalled Kamwendo-Banda.
After an impressive performance at the event, the next day Ethel received an offer from Mitondo Band to lead which drove her into a dilemma; torn between pursuing school or being the breadwinner to save her home which was falling apart because of the deaths that had ravaged her family.
“I had to consult my mother to ask for her approval but in the situation that the family was in, she could not refuse but offer her blessings,” said Kamwendo-Banda.
Young Ethel had to drop out of school in Standard Eight to join Mitondo Banda as lead singer—a career that would later make her the breadwinner of her family and also one of the most famous musicians in the country.
Playing in Mitondo for some years, the band changed management, rebranding to Wapers, Sapitwa and finally Ravers.
It was during this time that she met Blessings Banda, a pastor who would later become her husband and the father of her two children.
“People think I got born again because I married a pastor but God has his own plans because the time we were meeting neither of us was saved. It was later that we got saved,” said Kamwendo Banda.
She says her deliverance came unannounced. Her weekend schedule was always busy but so one of her nieces invited her to a Wednesday night fellowship. After attending this fellowship for some time, her turning point occurred in 1998.
The blurry vision from the spotlight of fame and fans chanting her name and the thought of changing her diva attitude that she had developed in her secular music career, she feared whether she could survive as a born again.
“I never understood what it meant to be born again, it was not easy but the Lord has always strengthened me,” said Kamwendo-Banda.
She confessed realising more returns in gospel music than she did in secular.
“I have built a house for my mother and she doesn’t sell kachasu anymore; she is living a life she never dreamt of,” said the musician.
In 2001, she married Banda and the couple have three children, Peter, 17, Blessings, 11 and two-year-old Ethan.
Promoter Jai Banda described the musician as hard working and humble.
“Ethel believes in preparing as an artist, she spends most of her time preparing not only her vocals, but also her stage routine and choreography,” said the long-time promoter.
He further said Ethel has an appeal that speaks volumes of what she believes in.
“It is not my place to judge but this woman lives by the word she preaches, and she is very humble, something not easily attainable by an artist of her calibre , that’s why she is tough competition to other gospel artists,” said Jai.