To many, Nicholas Mbonela and Aubrey Kusakala could just be radio personalities for Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) Radio and Blantyre CCAP Synod Radio, respectively.
But the two are more than radio personalities. Both have extended their creativity to churn satirical radio cartoons that have become household names Why do that?
Today, they say, there are several underlying issues that affect people in society, but are hardly tackled through the orthodox direct approach.
Imagine a pastor in the church preaching about young women who wear seductive mini-skirts or dressing as though they are heading to a beauty contest.
What about those affluent men fond of flirting with other men’s wives in church? Can a pastor risk their monetary contributions to the church by condemning them publicly?
Who can openly challenge the Head of State at public a rally he is addressing for certain mismanagement or indiscipline by his or her ministers?
“Today, some pastors cannot speak publicly against certain forms of dressing in the church for fear of losing the congregation. But Pastor Junior [Kusakala’s radio cartoon] can because the radio cartoon looks at things without fear or favour,” says Kusakala.
On the other hand, Mbonela says Malawi’s entertainment industry needs new stuff to fill gaps created by ageing sources of entertainment.
“Malawi needs innovative ways that can diversify and add value to its entertainment industry. At the same time, we are looking at tackling issues that affect people in our society,” he says.
Mbonela is behind the Che Nkope vs Nancy cartoon.
Music-wise, Mbonela became popular as a member of Atumwi which he co-founded with his colleague Evans Zangazanga, popular with the name Piksy.
Formerly known as Ntumwi Nicodemo, with Piksy the two took the country’s entertainment industry by storm with their debut album Machitidwe Atumwi Sendeza Analysis 1 in 2010.
However, after a year of their fame, the duo disbanded with Piksy taking a solo music journey. Unlike Piksy, Mbonela became inactive music-wise.
But as people began to write him off the entertainment face, Mbonela resurfaced with peculiar innovation, the Che Nkope vs Nancy radio cartoon.
This time trading as Che Nkope, Mbonela cultivated an audience for the popular radio cartoon which was being aired on MIJ FM.
He says in Che Nkope vs Nancy, he zeroes in on current affairs, political, social and cultural issues that affect people.
“I believe in innovation. When Piksy and I created Sendeza music, we received overwhelming response to our style. And when we parted ways, musically, I quickly thought of doing something else in order to compensate for my idleness in music. That is when I came up with the Che Nkope vs Nancy radio cartoon on MIJ FM,” says Mbonela.
On the other hand, apart from being a practising journalist and master of ceremonies (MC), Kusakala is the musician behind the hit Ukamapita which features Lee Chapata and ruled the airwaves sometime after its release.
In 2012, he released a gospel album that featured some popular tracks such as Hosanna.
But music and journalism is not all Kusakala would use to tackle social issues. The radio cartoon was another.
He says Pastor Junior seeks to entertain and rebuke some of the common mistakes in churches and society in general.
“Among others, Pastor Junior tackles issues such as dress code, etiquette, and language used in churches, among others,” said Kusakala.
His current compilation has pieces such as Pemphero La Wachinyamata, Maina a Mipingo, Flames Part 1 and Nancy in Church which features Che Nkope.
Kusakala says he delved in radio cartoons as a way of responding to social issues in an educative and entertaining manner.
Both Kusakala and Mbonela say they are working on different strategies to market their satirical cartoons.
“I am currently targeting live performances and the social media including WhatsApp,” said Kusakala.
Che Nkope vs Nancy particularly became popular because most of its episodes centred on the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill, unmasked in 2013 which came to be known as Cashgate.
His debut compilation featured episodes such as Oponyo, Prophet Nancy, Tamanda, Andale, Chakwera, Circumcision and Ma Shadow.
However, the cartoon was dealt a blow when Mbonela got sick early 2015, suffering from a heart disease that saw him being referred to South Africa for treatment.
“I thank God that I am normal again. Had it not been for His mercies, I would have been dead by now. But I know that He spared my life, just like everybody’s, for a purpose. We just need to pray hard for Him to continue safeguarding us,” he says.
The cartoon returned late in 2015 with a series that, among others, took a swipe at Blantyre Water Board (BWB) for the persistent water problem that hit the city.
He diversified presentation of the cartoon and he says he did it because demand from his fans varied. For example, he embarked on live performances staged at last year’s Pre-Mothers’ Day gospel party.
Mbonela impressed when he invaded the stage in boxer pants, arousing curiosity from patrons who shoved each other to capture video clips of the episode.
He says he is getting the cartoon on compact discs.