Previews of upcoming album for Malawi’s popular reggae outfit, Black Missionaries, have opened a floodgate of questions on their standings.
Is the presence of an R&B song in Kuimba 9 a sign that they have departed from the mission set by their fallen founder Evison Matafale? Could tackling more social issues make the band more relevant? Could allowing keyboardist Chizondi Fumulani lead some of the songs end the apparent monotony?
These are just some of the questions that greeted the arrival of the promotional singles on Tuesday: I am Not a Failure—which came in two versions—Bwenzi Langa, Akungochimwirabe and Okondedwa.
Every album is another chance for the Black Missionaries to prove their mettle, salvage their pride and offset worries about their shift from Matafale’s firebrand reggae.
But here is a snap look at the contents of the new release. Replicating the group’s mournful ways, Okondeka is a tribute to the late Enoch Fumulani, grandfather to several band members. Although the deceased might not click in the fans’ minds as did Matafale and his successor Musamude, he was eulogised as the silent force behind Blacks’ music.
For lovebirds, Bwenzi Langa brims with lovers’ resolve to stick by each other despite adverse comments from onlookers. Bringing to mind Matafale’s perception of current affairs, Angochimwirabe comments on an array of issues, including false prophets and money-seeking religious leaders protected by mortal bodyguards.
But in what is their biggest departure from the tradition, both acoustic and electric versions of I am Not a Failure contain tough talk about their passage from boys to a phenomena that is ruling physically, spiritually and musically, the song typifies the elusiveness of the transformation they profess, the single is not reggae—it is the blues you get from the likes of Enrique Iglesias and West Life.
Of course, it would be foolhardy to expect the reggae band to continue singing like Matafale, who died 12 years ago. However, improvement was not an option, for the Kuimba series represents the very best of local reggae.
Amid reactions that have overshadowed Kuimba 9’s introductory tracks, one Chileka music follower, Dave Namusanya, observed that the album is no far from Kuimba 8, which he says was not one of the group’s great works.
He reckons the strongest point of the Blacks now is lead vocalist Anjiru Fumulani’s voice which he bills “incomparable on love songs” such as Bwenzi Langa.
“Even though Anjiru has the best voice, I think they should also use Chizondi in some of the songs,” says Namusanya in his preliminary review, fearing that the reggae band might struggle to beat their history and the standards set by Makondetsa.
In his song by song review, Namusanya observes: “Angochimwirabe sounds like Bambo Nowa from the previous album and owes some of its lines from an Adventist Acapella song. The stories are more contemporary. Not philosophical.”
On Okondedwa, a tribute to Enoch Fumulani, the band’s source of inspiration who died last year, Namusanya said like most of the tributes, the song was deep and serious.
He observed the band’s other strength is instrumentation. “People will dance again,” he says.
However, Blacks’ band leader Anjiru Fumulani said the band has not departed from its mission. He said the group is not shying away from giving an artistic eye to current issues.
“It is not true that with the existence of the R&B song I am Not a Failure does not mean we have departed from the mission. This has always been the case since Kuimba 1. You will find that Nkhawa Bi in that album is not reggae. So is Zaka Zonsezi in Kuimba 2. You can even look at international acts like Morgan Heritage. They play reggae, but you can find R&B works,” said Anjiru.
He said the band has not decided against tackling current social, political and economic conditions, saying the album has incorporated some songs on the Malawi situation though they are absent on the promotional lineup.
“For those who frequent our live performances, they will reckon we have been doing freestyles of Kwawo, which talks of events leading to the demise of Bingu wa Mutharika. We also have Zonse N’chabe on the album, which brings to light the hard economic times Malawians are facing,” said Anjiru.