In 2000, Chancellor College (Chanco) in Zomba welcomed into its corridors two boys from DedzaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s St Kizito Seminary who were never satisfied with lectures alone.
Computer scientist Prince Martin and his arts contemporary Marcus Joel Suzi later teamed up with music trainee Montfort Manyozo from St Paul the Apostle Seminary in Mangochi to form Soul Raiders just to quench their burning passion for reggae.
With MartinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s So Sad as their theme song, the group established themselves as the future of reggae music along with the late Evison MatafaleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Black Missionaries. Like Aphofomoka, Masavage and Agwede and other gradsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ groups, the Chanco crew disbanded soon after graduation due to the pressure exerted by their varying careers.
Today, the original Soul Raiders have regrouped and co-opted bassist Wangu Chinyozi, keyboardist Blessings Mdala and lead guitarist Chicco Yotamu to release their first album, Angels (In Disguise), which is set to redefine the face of reggae music on the scene littered by sound-alikes of the Chileka-based Blacks.
In an interview, Martin said the reunion came after the awakening he got after his solo performances at Umoja Club in Nottingham, England, in 2010Ã¢â‚¬â€the year he released African Skies which, like ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s So Sad, had no vernacular song.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After graduation, I used to sing just to pass hours away, but the UK tour taught me that music is serious business. That is when we started negotiating a comeback,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Martin, who insisted on English songs because music was Ã¢â‚¬Å“not the mainstay of his lifeÃ¢â‚¬Â.
In a U-turn, the new 12-track album contains four Chichewa songs, including Sunaone, Kutali, Usakaike and Sindibwera. Like their collegemates of Fostered Legacy, The Soul Raiders original members say the shift was conceived to reach out to a majority of music lovers who do notÃ‚Â understand the hard-to-sell QueenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s language.
The English songs are purely compositions of Suzi, a drama graduate who takes to the drums when Martin is on the mic. They include Jah Works, African Fire and Frustration.
And equally diverse are the themes and their styles.
For instance, in Sunanene, Martin consistently alternates between Chichewa and English to tell off a comeback lover who rebuffed the main character due to his poor financial standing, not his heart.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Waona kuti zikuyenda/ That is why you are coming back/ It has been too long since youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re gone/ That day you left me broken-hearted/ Sunaone mtima wanga/ Unaona Umphawi wanga/ The other day I was driving a Merc/ You couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe it/ You thought I was a loser,Ã¢â‚¬Â raps the song, where code-switching affords the singers to tell their story to both Chichewa and English audiences without tripping from their typical Bob Marley touch.
And on the fast-paced spiritual anthem, Usakaike, Martin is the mimic of the fallen Jamaican reggae pioneer. Rhyming to make the message digestible and memorable, the band persuades mortals to pursue justice for their freedom on earth and salvation in the afterlife.
Martin meets Marcus in Sindibwelera, where a woman is determined to walk away from an abusive husband. The ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s So Sad star brings a smooth breeze of reggae while his co-vocalist radiates with the gruff voice synonymous with Gramps of Morgan Heritage and Peter Tosh.
The two are also on the mic on the title, imploring even the poor to give a little help to the angels in disguise Ã¢â‚¬â€œthe hungry, homeless, jobless and penniless. However, they detest begging in Patse, built on the adage patse patse nkulanda, to urge people to work hard.
But the husky Marcus is truly the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Peter ToshÃ¢â‚¬â€a title hitherto held by Limbani Banda who had a stint with Soul Raiders last yearÃ¢â‚¬â€on Kutali in which the voice wishes he were a citizen of a faraway country while begging God to free his motherland from the chains of fear, oppression and corruption. Many are sweating hard but few are happy, he sings.
This culminates in Frustration, which they categorically chant as Ã¢â‚¬Å“a song for my nation in desperation and lacking directionÃ¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Has government got any solution? I doubt. Life is in devaluation. We have lost our vision and canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see the way,Ã¢â‚¬Â they sing, asking: Who is going to bring this to my nation since there is no way out of the situation?Ã¢â‚¬Â
In the song, the Soul Raiders are a voice of the poor, including Malawians suffering shortage of basic needs.
Just when most Malawians think a song is an endless interlude of messages, the resuscitated band keep theirs simple and short. Usakaike, the longest on the promo CD, clocks four minutes and 23 seconds.
Expected to be released on March 23, Angels is a testimony that a reggae group can venture into Ralph ChingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ambaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ralph Records and not only come out with a production that is different from the Black MissionariesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ touch. The Lilongwe-based crew does it in a promising style.