The list of Malawi’s legendary gospel music legends is never complete without the listing Katawa Singers.
The Mzuzu-based gospel singers have played a major role in Malawi’s gospel music revolution and thus, it would not be wrong to crown them veteran gospel music pioneers.
Katawa Singers made Malawi realise how gospel music should be played. Little wonder the group were recently awarded a legend’s award during Malawi Broadcasting Station’s (MBC) 50 years of broadcasting celebrations.
Formed in 1989 as Katawa CCAP Praise Team, the gospel band became instrumental in fundraising for the construction of the Katawa CCAP Church building under the leadership of Allen Ntambo, Reverend Peter Mushanga and the late Pickford Jungu.
For some time, the band was performing for Katawa CCAP Church fundraising activities until later, in 1991, when they embarked on assisting other churches in church building fundraising events.
After making a name through the fundraising events, the group ventured into serious music production.
In 1992, the band recorded four songs at MBC Chichiri Studios with Auden Nthala, Thomas Lupeska, Eliza Kachali, Grey Mwanza, Andrea Kamanga, Mirriam Mhango, Eliot Msiska, Telita Moyo, the late Perfect Shawa, Ruth Kachali, Alice Luwinga and Yohane Njunga making the line-up.
Songs such as Ambuye Ndibwera, Welawelako, Yesu ali Kwiza and Uyimilire Nga!nga!nga! enjoyed airplay on MBC Radio.
“After recording our songs with MBC, the demand for the songs was very hig; we received more pressure from the public who asked us to record an album. We therefore, recorded our first album at Baptist Media Centre in Blantyre in early 1992,” said the band’s chairperson Nthala.
The Ambuye Ndibwera album made grand sales amounting to 20 000 tapes.
In 1993, Katawa released another album titled Chikondi Ndichanu that has songs such as Ayehova Tawonani, Kolesyani, I Have Wandered and Hlanat.
The band later recorded their third album in 1994, which has songs such as Nyumba Yawadada, Likunosya Dzuwa and Nthawi Inatha.
It was in 1995 that Katawa Gospel Singers came up with Ku Eden album, which has songs such as Mtundu Wantha and Mwazi Wona.
However, their sixth album released in 1996, is the one that band members say was more successful.
The album, Tiyimbire Yesu, comprised songs such as Kunjakwayipa, Ndivereni, Onani Dziko La Pansi and Kuli Mpingo Tikaoneko.
“The sixth album was marvelous, we made huge sales compared to other nine albums we produced; note that to date the demand for it is still there,” said Nthala.
In 2008 the band aligned itself to the new technology and released DVD which was recorded at BM Studio in Mzuzu.
The DVD also made strides, having realised more sales. It is composed of tracks collected from their various albums.
Meanwhile, the band has an office and a studio within Mzuzu City.
To date, Katawa has recorded a total of 10 albums and won several awards.
In 1998, the band scooped position number three in the Malawi Gin Music competition. It also emerged position two in the Millennium Music Trophy in 2000 and later won the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Music Competition Championship in 2011.
Katawa Singers is not only popular in Malawi, it has also performed at a number of international festivals.
The band once performed at a crusade in Lusaka, Zambia in 1998 where they pulled the crowd and won video recording deal at University of Zambia where they recorded their first music video at Lundazi studio.
Having lost many of its members, the band has incorporated young talent, who are expected to sustain it.
Meanwhile, using the youthful members, the band is working on another album Yankho ndi Yesu after a four year break.