And a little child shall lead them, says the scripture in the book of Isaiah. In Malawian music circles, this word of God is true.
Take the three Nkhata Bay-based Gasper Nali, The Moods Malawi and Michael Mountain.
They are little known musicians under the UK-based Spare Dog Records.
But Nali has already perched above the mark with 11 million views on internet for his song Abale Ndikuwuzeni.
How about South Africa’s popular music group Freshlyground recording raw musicians in the far end of the country in Karonga? The group is now mastering over 200 songs from Malawi to be uploaded on iTunes and Amazon.com.
Now, something is happening at Senga Bay in Salima, another shoreline district.
The Umoza Music Project, a brainchild of UK producers John Tobin and Olly McDermot, has recorded an album Let Them Speak at a mud hut recording studio in Salima, with further recording and mastering at Abbey Road Studios in the UK.
The album, with two Malawians as main artists, was on September 4 made available on every major digital music store and streaming service worldwide, as it is being distributed by Sony-owned company The Orchard, thanks to Umoza’s record label Nub Country Records.
Among other download and streaming sites around the world, the album by Max Jere and Chakul Nyambo is available on iTunes, Spotify, google play and Soundcloud.
In Malawi, Umoza has partnered with Malawi-music.com to distribute the album, with Ma GuleWamkulu, Airborn Soldier and Upewe already in store.
“From a mud hut studio on Lake Malawi to Abby Road studios, the Umoza Project’s album is a culmination of a five year collective effort to enrich the lives of Malawi residents through uplifting music,” says McDermot.
Let Them Speak is a nine-track album with a remarkable diversity of styles across the tracks, including jazz, folk, reggae, traditional Malawian music, funk, hiphop, disco, pop and even psychedelia.
Apart from Jere and Nyambo as the main voices, the album also features 18 Hertfordshire and London-based musicians, who gave their time and skills for free.
Sales of the album are expected to go towards the construction of a new Umoza Studio and Music Academy in Senga Bay on the banks of Lake Malawi.
“The building housing the current studio [and Max’s home] is rented and the owner wants to pull it down and rebuild. We’ll be sad to see it go, but a new chapter is starting with the sales.
“For people near St Albans in the UK the CD is available at Empire Records for £10 with 100 percent of that going straight to Malawi. Limited edition CD Package for £11.99 [about K10 000] including postage—£10 [about K8 500) goes direct to Malawi.
“The deluxe CD package can also be bought direct from us at www.umozamusic.com for £11.99 including postage or buy digitally from iTunes and every other site,” says McDermot.
The music in Let Them Speak stands up with the best that world offers.
The title track itself—an acoustic that features a full string section, guitars, ukulele, kalimba, hand drums and layers of female and male voices blending with the strings—speaks of how we should respect those who work hard to survive and make a living, and that they should have a voice.
“This track is fully acoustic—no electric instruments at all—in honour of the power cut that happened when we wrote the song in Senga Bay. The track is built on the sound of stomping feet—people marching to work.
“There are lots of people in society who work really hard for little money, often doing menial jobs. They deserve respect and a voice, but are often looked down on by others. They deserve to be heard, so ‘let them speak’,” says McDermot.
The other song Upewe—supported by a rocking jazz band back in the UK, featuring drums, bass, guitars and saxophone—delivers their ‘know your HIV status’ message with passion.
Listening to Airborn Soldier, one understands the huge talent hidden in Max who, unlike all other songs, was recorded and produced by himself.
The song reveals Max’s stints in the Malawi Peace Corp where he does a number of parachute jumps, and the song is about conquering one’s fears—as jumping out of a plane takes courage.
The other songs in the album include Ndimakukonda, Reggae Banta, Atate and Just Before Midnight.
The album is a testimony of hard-work spanning for five years when John Tobin met Jere in 2010.
In an interview with UK’s Times, Tobin explains about his encounter with Jere: “He claimed to have a studio and he took us. It was the most unlikely studio I have ever seen. I was more impressed by that than any other studio I’ve been in, because it’s against all odds.
“It was made from mud bricks, branches and bin bags. Everything there is really basic.
“It started by accident. I had an instrumental on my phone that I recorded here [UK] and I thought it would be fun to merge the cultures on to the track I had made.
“The ingenuity and the determination just blew me away. Even though his English and my Chichewa was a bit dodgy, in music we had a common language.”