Peter Mawanga is undoubtedly one of the country’s most talented musicians. The artist is celebrated for fusing rock outfit of drums-bass-guitar with the traditional sounds of Malawi’s mangolongondo (marimba), sansi (thumb piano), and percussion.
He calls such music Afro-vibes, a modern African sound that is intrinsically Malawian, which has put his name on the world map.
Last month alone, he staged 11music performances in the United States of America’s South Dakota, North Carolina, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia.
Last year, Mawanga and his Amaravi Movement performed in five different States which also included four gigs around the State of California.
The tour began with a concert at Summer Sound in Pennsylvanian followed by a Mega Fireworks Celebration at Lorton Virginia and a post street parade at North Carolina.
The band then hit the road for a three-day trip to California for performances at Ashkenaz in Berkeley, Culver City at the town hall, hosted by the mayor, a concert at the Mendocino Festival which was broadcast live on the local radio stations in Mendocino and finally sharing the stage with the Jamaican reggae legends Third World at the California World Fest which was attended by 10 000 people.
In previous years, Mawanga has also performed live at venues such as Cargo, UNC Memorial Hall, The Touhill Performing Arts Centre, St Louis Missouri in USA and other festivals such as LEAF Festival in Ashville (USA) and Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland.
Surprisingly, back home, Mawanga is rarely on the road week in, week out as is the case with other local musicians. His music, too, save for the 2002 hit Amakhala ku Blantyre, is rarely popular nor does it get frequent airplay on radio or television stations.
What is the problem?
Music promoter Jai Banda says Mawanga has marketed himself more on the international stage than he has done locally.
He adds that much as he is talented, Mawanga has not been involved much in local music shows to market himself as a talented performer.
Above all, Banda says traditional music which defines Malawi as a country is easier to market internationally unlike popular genres like hip hop which some local artists copy from abroad.
“Original music appeals more to people outside the country than that which is copied from elsewhere,” he says.
Mawanga, then known as Peter Pine, came into the limelight in 2002 with the album City Life which had a controversial hit Amakhala Ku Blantyre. The sensational song discussed the realities of urban versus rural living.
The song inspired several remixes which opposed Mawanga’s attempt at shattering the myth that city streets are paved with gold.
With the success of the album and lack of funds for his college tuition, Mawanga abandoned his studies for a professional music career. He began his new journey by shedding the persona Peter Pine and reverting to his real name.
In 2005, he recorded Zanga ZoZama, produced by renowned poet and music producer Q Malewezi.
The critically acclaimed album was a fusion of traditional African rhythms, composition and vocal arrangements with modern instrumentation that was cross-cutting in themes.
The album’s Tsoka, Londa, Mwana Wamasiye and Bwerera were inspirational, spiritual and socially conscious songs that marked Mawanga as a voice for the voiceless.
The same year, Mawanga received support from Unicef and Plan International to train and mentor orphaned and vulnerable children. Out of this project, Mawanga released Ana a Saso (2005), Vingoma na Visekese (2006), Sounds of Lilongwe (2008) and Paphiri Ndi Padambo (2009).
In 2007, he formed the Amaravi Movement, a team of musicians that has an understanding of Nyanja music (traditional music influences from the shores of Lake Malawi) which incorporates Malawian traditional rhythms performed at rituals and traditional ceremonies and local instrumentation such as nylon jazz guitar, marimba and thumb piano.
Throughout 2010 and 2011, he worked alongside Andrew Finn Magill, a traditional Irish and American fiddler, to raise awareness of stigma attached to HIV and Aids.
Together they produced an album Mau a Malawi which channels the hurt and pain the disease causes in music.
And two years ago, he embarked on the digitisation of analog tapes of the national broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) as a co-producer of the old hits and folksongs that were recorded and stored in the national radio’s archives.
Meanwhile, Mawanga is in the US to mix and master his new album Nyimbo Za Mulungu. n