Down at Chikwawa in the Shire Valley is a man who has made a name out of his art. He has, over the years, been famous in his community due to his versatility on the flute.
The story of Mathias Thamuseni Maggaso is all about hope because, for 51 years, he has been chasing a dream; vision and ambition that have been blurred over the years, but he never gave up.
Hope was all he held on to even on the edge of giving up. But slightly the five decades were worth the wait, for he is living his dream of performing in front of a big audience.
Maggaso, 69, was part of an array of artists that took part in the JTi Cultural Night in Lilongwe where he moved patrons gathered to celebrate Malawi’s diverse culture.
Watching him play the instrument he has known since he was 18, Magasso stands out as an astounding example of how a flute can conjure the richness of a complete orchestra by employing exceptional harmonics, talent and creativity.
There is something warm and romantic about his performance. Right from the first tune, there is a musical marriage between him and the flute. The union is sensitive and relaxed; in perfect synchronisation like two birds flying at the same speed in an innovative sky of creativity.
He was spinning it together, forward-moving harmony, progressive composition, and technical prowess with a verve and passion never before attempted in this genre.
“I have been playing the flute since 1963. I learnt it from my friend when I was in Standard 7 at Tomali Primary School in Chikwawa. I built interest in the instrument over time and today, I play it to the best of my capability,” said the sexagenarian after a performance that earned him a standing ovation.
Maggaso is a fabulous musician whose sound is as warm and welcoming as his seeming heart of gold. He grew up listening to the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lemy Special, Spokes Mashiyane and Abia Themba who inspired him to do more of music.
More of a lone wolf, back in the village in Masalimo, Maggaso plays with a cultural dance troupe.
“I am able to play any traditional song with Masalimo. If they were here, you could have seen what I have been doing with them. I do any form of song and I can challenge that I can perform with any artist across the globe,” he challenged.
Other than that, he also plays at church and weddings as well as different events—hired for or not.
“I make some money from my exploits as a musician through my performances at different events. Even when I am not hired, I still go and perform. That is a way of advertising myself,” he said.
When a musician works for half a decade, it is bound to reflect in their presentation and Maggaso has almost done it all.
But he still has one more dream to make his life complete. K5 000 is all he needs to have his life take another interesting turn.
“I have had this flute for years now and I can tell it’s slowly losing its grip. I need another one and it only costs K5 000. I can do more than what I am doing now if I get one. This is my immediate need. Other than that, I have no band to play with. I wish some artists would be hiring me to perform with them. I challenge them, I can do any of their songs,” he said with so much vigour and shots of dare from his eyes.
Other than his talent, two other things that capture one’s mind is Maggaso’s sense of fashion as he is conscious of how he looks. On that night, he was dressed in black suit with a white shirt as well as a bow tie. His shoe, though showing signs of worn out, glistered and shone from the polishing it seemingly thoroughly went through earlier.
Maggaso’s English is so perfect and pleasant to the ear like that of a man who has spent his entire life in England, yet he is a primary school dropout whose life has been in the lower states—Chikwawa and Nsanje.
“I had ups and downs with education and my highest education qualification is Standard 8 although I gave Form 1 a try. But I was intelligent at school and I used to challenge my peers that they cannot get the first position while I am around. After dropping out of school in my early stages of form 1, I got employed by Admarc,” he recollected.
He is even surprised with himself that he is able to speak English fluently.
“I don’t even understand how it is possible for a Form 1 dropout to be fluent in English like me. I have never been close to Westerners nor have I ever travelled outside Malawi. It is a wonder I am unable to understand because mu English is self taught. But I thank God for that,” he said while beaming with a smile.
He is now a pensioner having worked in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation for 28 years.
“I joined the ministry as a development assistant and rose within the ranks and retired as senior technical assistant in 1998. I am working tooth and nail to have something to make me feel comfortable. As such, I am into cotton farming,” he explained.
In many ways, Maggaso’s success flies in the face of the flute’s perennial position as a sideline instrument. He presently spends much of her time performing and composing new songs Maggaso is happy that one of his either 15 or 16 children born from different mothers is interested in flute playing.
“But one of my children, Patrick is so much into flute playing and I am so much happy because he will continue with the legacy I will leave. While I am teaching him how to play the flute, I will continue playing till I can’t play no more,” he said.