The duo of Max Jere and Chakul Nyambo is little known in Malawi music circles. But the two musicians have scaled heights that some giants can only envy.
Two years ago, they debuted with Let Them Speak album recorded in a mud house in Salima. Little did they know that from such a humble building will come out an album that will shake the music world in the UK and the US.
The little-known album back home gained remarkable airplay and positive reviews internationally, more specifically with the Welwyn Hatfield Times, BBC Three Counties, iTunes and Radio Verulam’s Music Lab Show.
Now, the duo is back with four diverse tracks recorded in Malawi, the UK and the US to consolidate their fame on the international scene.
The songs cover different styles – Ndikafikabe sees Jere and Nyambo rapping with a live band and horn section, Zikomo is a floor-filling disco track, Uzibwelera sounds like a traditional acoustic song but is brand new, and Tiwathandize shows the Malawian singers as true jazzmen.
Joining them on these recordings are top musicians from the UK and special guests, including US-based Mo Pleasure on bass guitar. Mo is a top composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who has played with Christina Aguilera, Mary J Blige, Ray Charles, and Earth Wind and Fire.
He is also one of the few musicians in the world to have played with both Michael and Janet Jackson and appears in the 2009 Michael Jackson documentary This Is It and Janet Jackson’s film Janet: Live in Hawaii.
However, these musicians are led by London-based producer John Tobin, who was born in Blantyre, through his Umoza Music Project.
Tobin says the band is releasing the first four tracks from their new album exclusively in Malawi to thank their fans for their support.
He says the success of the band’s 2015 Let Them Speak album funded the birth of a new studio on the shores of Lake Malawi in Senga Bay, Salima to replace the mud one.
The studio is valued at K5.8 million.
“The Umoza Studio now offers music recording and video production services to other musicians, solo acts and church choirs – many of whom stay at the studio while recording,” he says.
Let Them Speak was recorded at a mud hut first in Salima, with further recording and mastering at Abbey Road Studios in the UK.
The final product was made available on every major digital music store and streaming service worldwide and was distributed by Sony-owned company The Orchard, thanks to Umoza’s record label Nub Country Records.
Among other download and streaming sites around the world, the album was available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play store and Soundcloud.
Jere says the album managed to rake in more than K3 million. He says the proceeds have been used in constructing the modern studio at their base in Salima.
Jere says the album has been a success because of the collaborations they did with international artists.
Apart from Jere and Nyambo as the main voices, the album also features 18 Hertfordshire and London-based musicians, who gave their time and skills for free.
The music in Let Them Speak stands up with the best that the world offers.
The title track is an acoustic that features a full string section, guitars, ukulele, kalimba, hand drums and layers of female and male voices blending with the strings-speaks of how we should respect those who work hard to survive and make a living, and that they should have a voice.
This track has no electric instruments at all in honour of the power cut that happened when the musicians were writing the song in Senga Bay. The track is built on the sound of stomping feet—people marching to work.
The other song Upewe-supported by a rocking jazz band back in the UK, featuring drums, bass, guitars and saxophone-delivers their ‘know your HIV status’ message with passion.
Listening to Airborne Soldier one understands the huge talent hidden in Jere who recorded it and produced by himself.
The song reveals Jere’s stints with the Malawi Peace Corp with whom he does a number of parachute jumps, and the song is about conquering one’s fears-as jumping out of a plane takes courage.
The other songs in the album include Ndimakukonda, Reggae Banta, Atate and Just Before Midnight.
The album is a testimony of hardwork spanning five years when John Tobin met Jere in 2010.
In an interview with UK’s Times, Tobin explains about his encounter with Jere: “He claimed to have a studio and he took us. It was the most unlikely studio I have ever seen. I was more impressed by that than any other studio I’ve been in, because it’s against all odds. n