They are probably the biggest musical group in the country at the moment. They manage to hold sell-out shows in many places they go to. Their songs are a familiar tune to many, and they enjoy massive airplay on the country’s radio stations.
Besides, they manage to sell their music through CDs while the majority of Malawian artists complain about the disorganised music market. This is the story of The Great Angels Choir of Lilongwe.
The choir’s music director Ephraim Zonda told Chill that their success is a culmination of hard work and a brilliant marketing strategy.
But with such level of success how does the group manage to stay together?
Handling the fame, the success and maintaining the group
The group, which has 20 members, is run like a business.
Said Zonda: “The Great Angels Choir is managed like a proper business. We have an accountant who handles money. There is myself and William who handle the music and we have another one who handles our dressing and general welfare.”
Members of the choir do have renewable contracts with the choir and they get monthly stipends according to the conditions of their contracts.
On how the group sells its music in a country where music sales lack a proper distribution system, Zonda said they use themselves as vendors.
“We aggressively promote our new music and sell it on the streets ourselves. We know Malawi has a huge market for music and the fact that there is no proper music market should not stop us. So, we go to our fans and offer them our music. They buy and thereby boosting the choir,” he said.
Zonda explained that when it is time to sell their music, all members are involved. He said they divide themselves into groups of five and sell the music in places where people frequent. They include shopping malls, flea markets and roadsides.
“When it’s time to sell, we leave pride aside,” he declared.
Apart from aggressive marketing, the group is also dedicated when it comes to stage performances. Zonda said they practice for at least a month before a show.
Added Zonda:“For example, for our website launch show we have been practising for the past four weeks. When we are on stage we give out the best. We know that God helps those who help themselves.”
“The major pillar of the group is God. And we also value transparency and accountability,” he added.
According to Zonda, The Great Angels Choir was founded in the 1980s by the late Ben Mzumara. By then it was known as the Kawale Church of African Presbyterian [CAP] Choir. It had two lead singers Ben and Rebecca Mzumara. Then a while later Frank Katola Banda joined the choir. In 1984, they decided to change the name to The Great Angels Choir.
Said Zonda: “During this time the choir grew. It used to perform at big events as well as church events. It even performed before late president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. But with time, the members aged and they invited us, the younger ones to join and take over the leadership.”
It was in 1997 when the Zonda siblings in the names of Jessie, Ephraim, William and Eliam joined the choir. It is with the guidance of Ben Mzumara that the Zonda brothers revamped the choir and turned it into a serious grouping, adding the element of business.
“Ben eventually left. He was committed to other things, but that was after he had imparted in us the technical know-how of the music industry, especially the creative part of it. He studied music at Chancellor College,” added Zonda.
In 2005, the choir reorganised itself under the leadership of Esther Phiri as its director who advised the members to drop an album.
Ephraim and William Zonda got down to work and wrote all songs on the album titled Mutifungatire.
“It did not do very well on the market. We sold less than 2 000 copies. Actually, during the launch of the album at Sheaffer Marquee we had less than 30 patrons beating the membership of the choir which had 40 members during that time. It was hard for us,” he disclosed.
Soon after the flopped show, some of the members left. But the choir soldiered on and two years later in 2007 they released their second album Gwireni Dzanja which was the game changer for the group.
“The album was well received by our fans. Even though we did not sell enough copies, we were encouraged by the turn up of fans during the launch at Sheaffer Marquee as they filled every seat, every space of the hall,” recalls Zonda.
The choir continued with the journey of holding regular shows, and promoting its music.
In 2010, the choir released yet another album, Ndiyende bwanji? This time, the response from the fans was more emphatically heartening.
“It was after the launch of this album that we established our financial muscle. We bought ourselves a bus to ferry us to respective places whenever we were touring,” said Zonda adding;
“We also started helping orphans, those in the choir as well as those who are not members as long as they fulfil our requirements.
“Within a year we sold over 176 000 copies. We had sold out shows throughout and we had bookings back to back.”
This is the album which has signature songs for the group such as Sindipita, Hamba and Ndisiyeni Ndiyende.
Then again in 2014 the group went back into the studio and recorded its hit album titled Mwasankha Ine. The album proved even better than the previous ones such that during its launch on January 1, 2015 it had a sold out audience at Sheaffer Marquee. During the launch of the same album in Blantyre at Robins Park the hall was filled to capacity by noon, one hour before show time.
Zonda says to date they estimate to have sold over 200 000 copies of the album.
As the choir takes the next step of launching its website today, we can only imagine what the future holds for the choir. n