By 2004, the local music market still had its controls intact. That time, not everyone would be counted as a musician. The wannabes that dared to take that path, soon found themselves out of the picture quicker than they came in.
But around this period, change was creeping in. A number of Malawians were becoming conversant with the use of a computer. They had realised that with proper programmes installed in the machine, one could set up a home studio and produce songs.
So it happened that there was an influx of countless pretenders who attempted to try their luck in the trade. Plenty of them got sieved out and never returned. But some, held on to their dreams and pushed on.
A tall slender boy from Kawale Township in Lilongwe had a dream. He wanted to be a musician. Lulu, real name Lawrence Khwisa, appeared with his single Magwiragwira imitating some Usher-like dancing antics.
It was nothing persuasive. Even the lines in the song and his vocal abilities did not really tell of any story outside the ordinary. But he held on to his dream.
Then his moment came when he released his first album Mbambande. That was the time that local music lovers stopped and listened to what he had to offer. There was clearly a huge shift both in his compositions and delivery.
Since then, five more albums have followed, including his latest release Better In Your Arms, which was officially unveiled a week ago in Lilongwe.
On that day fellow artist Patience Namadingo wrote about him: “Malawi music landscape was changed by this genius. From the days he made Magwiragwira to Mbambande, to Kumalembe and all the way to Tsogolo and the most recent Hanna and all the hits that have followed and many more yet to come.”
This endorsement from a fellow professional was rare. It laid bare the evolution that he has undergone and the development he has achieved as an artist.
“It has been a learning process. Now I think I am good to go,” the artist said in an interview with Chill.
Lulu’s biggest strength has been his dynamism, as has been demonstrated in his new 12-track album. In some songs such as Bayethe, he has relied on his guitar plucking wizardly to project his acoustic side.
While in Chilele, Hanna which featured Zambian B1 and on the title track Better In Your Arms, he has gone laid back, letting his exquisite vocals do the talking. In Undipweteka, which has taken subtle reggae vibe, he has livened things a bit.
Lulu said: “The production of the album has been an on and off work since I also work for other artists in my studio. So when I have a busy schedule, I prefer to give it a break and concentrate on what is on the table.”
For all his good qualities and abilities, he did not want to overburden himself. He had his sights on producing something of high quality. He therefore invited some of the respected names in the game to help him.
Saxophonist Dan Sibale, lead guitarist Takudziwani Chokani, Legend, Dipo Katimba, Temwa, Chisomo Kambwiri, Chinsinsi Kambwiri, Joseph Mwandila and Madalitso Band combined their efforts to make the golden album.
“I have been doing my home work for three years, now it is time to show the world. I want to perfect my live act and then head out to conquer the world,” he said.
While many have appreciated the talent that Lulu is, a certain section has argued that with a bit of organisation and discipline, the artist can go places. Does he feel there is an area he needs to improve as a person and an artist?
“No one is perfect and no one will ever be. I hear a lot about such talk. They say I am a chamba smoker, a drunk and pompous…people will always paint you in colours that suit their benefits. I focus on working hard to make quality music.
“I have learnt to manage my free time, work, family and learning time because in Malawi nobody will ever do it better than yourself,” he said.
The album has other songs such as Machilitso, Sendera, Mwina Ndiwe and Ndani Wina. That boy who had pretended to sing in Magwiragwira is now singing and rocking!