Grief is the prevailing mood in Nkhata Bay following the death of John Banda, the long-time leader of Park Town Band which made Chintheche the undisputable home of honala dance.
In an interview, band member Lucius Chirwa confirmed that Banda died at Chintheche Health Centre on Monday around 4pm.
“JB is no more,” said Chirwa. “This is a devastating blow and the whole band is deeply saddened by the death of our leader who will be buried on Wednesday afternoon.”
The fallen accordionist had kept the band intact for over 60 years, Chirwa said.
“He was a very peaceful man, not quick to anger. Dialogue was his motto. He always insisted on honest discussions and mutual respect to iron out conflicts and that is why our ground is still in existence today,” said Chirwa in his eulogy.
The band has reportedly been on song since 1933, but their dance moves and songs shot into the limelight around 1955 when the country was in the heart of its emancipation battle against British Colonial Rule.
The band might have been named Honala due to the long-serving instrument, but they became a symbol of the struggle when the late Banda and Vein Nkhata composed and performed Wamzenga ku Mapiri in support of rising calls for self-rule.
The song was originally a warning to chase supporters of the British minority rule and federations of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to the dry hills of the lakeshore district.
However, it met the wrath of censorship in the 1970s when the ruling elite adjudged it as a swipe at how the founding father Kamuzu Banda expelled Chintheche residents from the shoreline district to the hills to pave the way for a paper factory that failed.
“MBC and JZU (John Zenus Ungapake Tembo) queried and the band stopped singing the song out of fear for reprisals,” writes Michael Dewett, the co-author of Popular Music and Censorship in Africa.
According to the book, equally misconstrued by the dictatorial regime’s machinery was Watelemuka Ngwazi ku Chisazga, a tribute to how Kamuzu had outwitted the colonial system for the country to attain independence in 1964.
However, the song was reportedly misunderstood as an irony of how Kamuzu had slipped out of the promises he made during the struggle.
Following Nkhata’s death, JB formed a formidable combination with Lotani Kaligogo Manda who was on the left in the front line and his right-hand man Bomba Longwe.
Chirwa paid tribute to how Banda and company seamlessly merged Honala styles and songs to produce crowd-pulling choreography.
“We have lost a creative person and fearless leader who showed people that Honala is not just a traditional dance, but serious business,” Chirwa said.
Musician Union of Malawi vice-president Lazzie Nkhata was almost speechless when asked about his encounters with Banda.
“What a loss. The old man was a vibrant performer who gave Paka Town a unique identity. Is that why I’ve not seen him performing lately?” mourned the MUM official.
Paka Town’s men in suits, termed majuli, have a long legacy of performing before high profile audiences, taking their seemingly dust-allergic steps to Kamuzu and Sanjika Palace on invitation of every president that has ruled this country.
Banda was not on the line up on June 10 when Paka Town performed live at Kamuzu Palace during a dinner organised by President Mutharika. The legendary band leader was actually substituted with Wondes Longwe as he was battling diabetes and high blood pressure.
“Lately, he has been on-and-off, frequenting the hospital due to the sugar disease [diabetes] which took him away. We suspect old age partly contributed to his deteriorating health,” said Chirwa.
He promised to carry on the legacy of the great who modernised a folk dance from a wedding dance into a tourist attraction in Chintheche and nearby towns on the northern shores of Lake Malawi