It was a journey aimed at enlightening others about Malawi music. But the trip started on a sad note for Afro-soul artist Peter Mawanga and his Amaravi Movement as the group lost one of its key instruments en route to the United States of America (USA).
For a month, Mawanga took his Malawian intrinsically traditional melodies and rhythms to the US for a tour.
But the excitement of the six piece band was short-lived as minutes after touching down in Washington DC, one luggage was missing. It was the bag that contained the marimba, a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with mallets to produce musical tones.
“It was actually devastating and disappointing at the same time. Apart from the marimba, the bag contained guitar cases, stands and in total, all these would come up to $6 000. We tried checking with our airline; Emirates, to no avail. Up until now, the bag not been found. We are just grappling with the funny thing of doing crazy paper work as if we lost the bag deliberately,” said the artist in an interview.
The band flew to the US from South Africa via Dubai using the same airline. Two days after arriving and there was no bag in sight, Mawanga said with the help of a Malawian well-wisher, they had no option but to come up with a makeshift marimba.
“We thought we would get it the next day, but it did not and we started panicking. With the help of Eddie Naming’ona who took us to a departmental store to buy us materials, we constructed a makeshift marimba from scratch.
“It was not easy as we could spend hours assembling it at a venue. Venues had to go out of their way to help assemble the instrument. It was a bit unprofessional, but we survived all the eight shows in the US with that,” said Mawanga.
“With the other traditional instruments such as the sansi, chisekese and nemba available, these blended well with the improvised marimba such that some patrons did not notice anything,” he said.
“We had to take advantage of the sansi in particular and it played a bigger role in the absence of a proper marimba. Aside that, it was a great experience; touring with my band for the first for me in the US. It was amazing,” he said.
“It got us to appreciate that there’s a lot that we have here that is desired out there especially the type of music we play, type of instruments we use, the clothes we wear.
“One outstanding thing that happened when we were signing autographs at one of the venues was the fact that three people had to ask more about Omex, the drummer’s homemade shirt of chitenje he was wearing a and almost three people asked for it,” he said.
The band performed in Washington DC, Missouri and Indiana to varied audience, including Malawians, according to the artist.
“We performed at a church where a lot of Malawians in Indiana congregate. This is apart from the different world class venues that we showed up,” he stated.
Mawanga was also given a platform to give a public lecture on Malawian music, life and its people.
“I also spoke about the languages and how they connect with the music as well as instruments we use. This happened at one of the universities we performed. I had an opportunity to travel to a school through my peace corps connections in Malawi,” he explained.
But it was in Indiana that the group had the best moment as they performed with American saxophone player Rick Deja.
Patrons were treated to captivating performances from Deja who unexpectedly showed up at Mawanga and the Amaravi Movement show in Missouri.
“Rick Deja showed up at St Louis, University of Missouri and luckily he had his sax and he played with us. We also performed with him in Indiana and it was very good to have him,” he mused.
Deja studied in Malawi in the 1990s and has been a regular in the country ever since
Mawanga and The Amaravi Movemnet are set to go back to the US in July next year for another tour.
“The fact that since 2011 I have not released any new album, but patrons loved the old material. It was really overwhelming. They loved us at all events even though it was the first time going there as a band. My booking agency in the US, Myriad Artists is convinced we can do these shows and next year we will be on a more serious tour and we will start a bit earlier, with more shows. In fact, we have already started getting bookings for another tour next year in July,” he said.
The group comprises of Mawanga on lead vocals, nylon guitar and sansi, Faith Mussa on jazz guitar, talking drum and vocals, Marlyn Chakwera Chimombo on chisekese and vocals, Alfred Nkhoma on bass guitar, Nemba and vocals while Omex Chimpeni plays the marimba, mbalule and drums.n