Local music ace Joe Gwaladi is one of the country’s hot items that present a stunning example of true talent which has survived the testes of all time and different winds of change.
From the little boy who embraced passion for music and pleasure in making hand-made musical instruments such as guitars and drums, Gwaladi had a humble beginning of music career stemming from Magaleta village T/A Nkanda in Mulanje. He started performing in community events such as beer halls, weddings and initiation ceremonies before he started recording his music and performing in the streets using his handmade acoustic guitar.
Inspired by legendary artists such as Madolo, Gwaladi’s music has been strictly local and revolved around different issues including everyday life, poverty, HIV/Aids, hard work and persistence. He also delves into common issues such as reckless lifestyles that haunt young people.
Speaking from his base in Blantyre’s Limbe market recently, where he sells his music, Gwaladi said his music was purpose-driven aimed at disseminating critical information to people especially youths.
“My music is a weapon of change in our society. I cannot physically reach out to everyone especially young people with the message I have. But I want to help people access facts about life including other challenges such as HIV/Aids for them to make informed choices. People should know that HIV/Aids is real and that it hinders personal, family and national development,” said Gwaladi.
He observed that majority of people especially youths were leading careless lifestyles such as womanizing, alcohol and drug abuse that eventually reduce their productivity or cut short their lives. Therefore, he became a musician to contribute to the process of correcting people’s mindset through his advocacy music.
“I began to see chaos when I was a little boy and told myself to be part of the solution to the problems people face. You may not believe if I will tell you that there are some people who have given up on life and they are always drinking like a fish or womanizing. So, this situation needs you and me to be reversed. We need to give these people hope and convincing reasons to protect themselves from risk lifestyles,” said Gwaladi.
Throughout his 15-year period of active music, Gwaladi has released smash hits such as Ndinafa Bulu, Khoswe Chipongwe, Zakanika, Nkhope Ya Chilebwe. Ndinafa Bulu, which catapulted him to fame early 2000, tackles various issues ranging from persistence to hard work. The song booked him his first television interview on MBC’s Face To Face with the host Wellington Kuntaja.
He admitted that he has put up a fierce battle to claim a position in the music industry. Before cutting short the interview to attend to his music customers, Gwaladi said:
“If there is one artist in Malawi who has struggled to make a name or realize money from the music sales then it’s Joe Gwaladi. People have burned my music illegally and used my name to pull the crowd in music shows yet I have remained poorer. But I can’t stop doing music because I was called to serve people.”
Former Musicians Association of Malawi (Mam) President Costen Mapemba once described Gwaladi as a face of Malawi music for his unwavering local touch.
“We cannot talk about Malawi music without mentioning Joe Gwaladi who has been at the helm of local music for many years. He remains one of the popular musicians up to date because of his originality,” said Mapemba.
Gwaladi’s talent has been recognized by many because of his controversy and funny approach. He does things that other artists cannot do such as walking around with a huge speaker and a megaphone mounted on his back or bicycle just to announce and sell his music. Sometimes he even dances just to wow customers. No wonder, whenever he is in town, he is surrounded with scores of admirers. However, Gwaladi defended his music marketing strategy, saying it is one way of beating piracy.
“I resorted to selling music on my own because of piracy. People were burning my music illegally and today my music is even found on internet yet I don’t even know how that works,” said Gwaladi.
Today, many artists have borrowed a leaf from Gwalawi’s style of selling music as they are also spotted using PA systems in strategic places of our cities and Townships.
Gwaladi made a huge impact in 2012 with the release of his Tumbocid from which he earned different titles such as ‘Professor Joe Gwaladi’ and ‘Captain Joe’ for making good music. The album featured such popular tracts such as Tumbocid, Ndikanadziwa (Nzabulangete), Ndaziona aand Zangondipatsa Minyama (Ndinatchuka Ulele).
One of the country’s music vendors Defao Bute rated Tumbocid as one of the fastest-selling albums in 2012, which helped to up Gwalad’s music graph. Gwaladi too, acknowledged to have hit the jackpot with Tumbocid, saying its sales have helped to improve his welfare. He sells CDs and DVDs of his music for as low as K200 and K300 per copy.
However, despite being an advocate for change, Gwaladi was arrested by Phalombe police in 2015 on allegations that he defiled a 14-year-old girl. Asked about the reputation he had set to his fans, he had this to say:
“That’s not true. In fact those are some of the challenges that you meet when you become a popular figure. Some people accuse you of wrong-doing and others associate you with all sorts of bad things. But the truth of the matter will come out,” he said.
From the success story of Tumbocid, Gwaladi anticipates great future as far as making of local music was concerned.
He said: “I am a proud Malawian and I will continue singing local music which cautions people until something happens. Behavioural change is what I want to see.” n