It seems rather incredulous, and keenly absurd, to label a group of mid-30s musicians as legends. That honour is customarily reserved for sagaciously paranoid, professor-like octogenarians who have been there and done that.
But there are exceptions to every rule. This is the one exception.
Long before it became fashionable to be a hip hop musician, way back then when music was an occupation and not the pastime that it is today, a mixture of fate and good fortune in equal measure brought together a group of four young men barely out of their teens to alter the Malawian music scene.
Qabaniso ‘Q’ Malewezi was the super producer and the glue that held them together, Lewis ‘Marvel’ Chikuni, the lyrist that led the attack, Kimba ‘Plan B’ Anderson, the general that worked behind the scenes and Jerome ‘Stix’ Kalilani, the young admiral that found his place under the watch of the vibrant trio. Music was the bond that brought them together, a passion that saw them transcend mere existence to greatness.
“In early 2000, I was in London whilst studying there briefly and spoke to a friend who then suggested I speak to a guy in Liverpool named Q. After we spoke, Q started sending me beats on CDs in the mail as there were no mp3s back then! I felt like a kid on Christmas day every time I received one,” Marvel explained the genesis.
From the ensuing exchange, the duo produced their first song I Came which blew as soon as it was played on local radio stations.
“That was a major spark that set us on the path to try to complete an album and release it back home. Upon our return I called up Kimba, my buddy from high school who was also an emcee, and he came on board and then after hearing about this kid named Stix, who was real nice on the mic, we met up and started doing stuff together and the rest, as they say, is history,” says Marvel.
Q and Plan B contend they did not think they were onto something big.
“For me, I had no idea that we were ground breaking…there were so many names before us that deserve to be called such. When people give us that accolade I am just happy for my contribution to hip hop music and music in general in Malawi,” says Q, who has since ventured into poetry.
Plan B adds: “In the moment we were doing what we were with passion, and the aim of doing it the best way we could. It was about representing Malawi and Africa as a whole, being proud of who we were and knowing we could achieve all we set our mind to. I don’t think we knew it was ‘something big’…but we were aware it came with a big responsibility.”
But Marvel insists he felt some nuance of magic from the onset.
“We knew that we had something special. We honestly felt that we would go all the way and one day get a record deal that would propel us on to the international stage in a major way,” says Marvel, now a gospel musician who is about to release his debut solo album.
Marvel notes that the collective talent was undeniable but the group lacked a well-thought out plan on how to achieve their dreams.
It is a known fact that the group’s major strength lay in the production and the variety that each of the three MCs brought to the table.
“Q is an amazing producer and to this day in my books he is still in my top five producers in the whole world. His production gave us an edge that many didn’t have within Malawi and globally too. His work speaks for itself, it could stand anywhere in te world. Plan B has a way of networking with people and a perspective on things that many don’t have so he had a way of adding to the group a way of thinking outside the box. His skills of also being a DJ and a rapper combined gave us a unique stage presence. Ultimately, we had great chemistry as friends and as a group and it showed on stage and in the studio,” Marvel explains.
For Stix, who is now also a gospel musician trading under the name David, being part of Real Elements was an honour.
“It was my preparation ground by God for me to be doing what I am doing now through gospel music. We were doing things that hadn’t really been done before it taught me how to pioneer. How to make a path where there is no path,” he explains.
Real Elements’ album African Star was the stuff of legend, a fusion of some gritty hip hop with production that sounded as authentic as it was rare.
The group’s unique sound soon gained recognition which led Real Elements to perform in places where no Malawian musician had ever been.
In 2002, they performed at the UK Hip Hop Awards. They also performed on Krafty Kuts’ album Trickatechnology and went on the subsequent UK tour. A live performance on BBC One prime time radio was also part of the tour promo.
The group also opened for UK hip hop legend Black Twang followed by performances in Tunisia, Ireland and South Africa.
They also appeared on the Channel O show Hola after the release of These Elements, the first Malawian video ever to appear on the continental music channel.
On why this perfect union fell apart, Q puts on his wordsmith hat and muses:
“My philosophical answer would be that it’s hard to consolidate individual visions under a collective vision. That’s the answer I have been giving but it’s not entirely true. We grew apart as people, relationships were strained…basically we had many issues amongst ourselves…some personal, some professional but they all got muddled up in a big mess that couldn’t be sorted.”
And on the prospects of a reunion, each of the four gives a different response:
Q says: “I don’t think so… but hey, you never know. First the geographical challenges need to be overcome and then…” while Stix is gives a resigned “I don’t know.”
Plan B is hopeful, suggesting that time will allow the group to be in the same place at the same time one day to share some moments as the friends they still are. “That’s what the ‘Real’ in the name has always been about. Being true to that in each of us that connects us as people, before you get into what you do, or who you are.”
Marvel suggests that with God all things are possible but what is more likely is that the members will continue to help one another in different ways as people that just love making music.
“Me and David have some stuff in the pipelines as we have the same mission and Q is still a production and audio engineering genius who is always available to help. Kimba is still travelling the globe doing gigs but we all look forward to getting together to just have a laugh sometime soon.”