There is something eerily self-effacing about Francis Phiri; some enigma hinged between an unassuming demeanour, a self-assurance and a quiet confidence that could easily be mistaken for arrogance.
Renowned for fusing Malawian music with contemporary soulful pop, the Lilongwe-based singer/producer, who is better known as Lawi, earned international acclaim as an intelligent and socially-conscious new talent following the 2012 arrival of his self-titled debut album.
All of which has now paved the way for the release of his new, eagerly-anticipated sophomore album Sunset in the Sky.
The musician carries a heavy burden on his svelte shoulders. He has a thirsty audience who anxiously await his new music following the phenomenal success of his self-titled debut.
“Four years is a long time of many lessons and I have had so many experiences along the way. I have learnt some new things. I have also gotten a chance to learn about some of the things that I could not do well. I have worked on those and I look forward to coming out next time because I just think it’s going to be a great piece that I will be able to put out there. I have been writing and I have been enjoying the process,” he told Chill.
Lawi claims the artists that have listened to the music have been impressed to the point of asking for collaborations.
“So far, I have shared with a few music friends outside Malawi as well who appreciate the sound and expressed their love for it and that they would also love to be a part of the new album in regards to collaborations. We are working on this now and it’s a great stage we are at the moment and I am excited and look forward to finishing the music so that we can share with the rest of the world,” he said.
According to the artist, Sunset in the Sky is influenced by life and the experiences it inspires.
“Life is always different depending on where you come from. I come from Malawi and from a Malawian perspective, life has been full of challenges and also, full of happiness. There is happiness the Malawian way and there are struggles the Malawian way.
“And what has really inspired me are some of the experiences that I went through or some of the things that I learned from other people’s experiences. And I am putting this together in one story,” Lawi said.
The artist, who rode to fame on the instant success of his Amaona Kuchedwa hit, is unspecific on the themes guiding this particular piece of art.
“I think it’s all over the place because I touch so many areas of life depending on the theme at the moment of writing. Some songs will be tackling a particular audience as per the content” he mused.
Lawi notes that although his music is a melting pot and, there will be a general familiarity, the experience of the years will see him altering his sound.
“There is obviously much room for growth and nothing remains the same. In life, things always change. And we have to learn to adapt to life and change with them. And there are so many things that I learned and I would like to experiment on. I would like to put some of those ideas into practice. And I am sure these are going to work for the best.”
Two years ago, Lawi received an All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) nomination for The Whistling Song and he says the platform won him new friends and admirers.
“I think a nomination and winning an award is pretty much the same thing for me. Because it means, if people can group you in a certain category, then you are worth that. So, yes I walked away with a nomination, but for me, that was it.
“Almost each and every country knew that there was this musician contesting for this award. And from knowing who this musician is, it prompts them to want to listen to more of their music so they can understand what Malawian music sounds like,” he explained.