Gospel songstress Grace Chinga has stood the test of time and yet is going even stronger. In this interview, the Women of Distinction Award recipient shares her story with Paida Mpaso.
You were recently given a Woman of Distinction Award for your work in music and the arts. Did you expect this?
I did not expect to win and did not even think about it. They gave us some groceries and other things we are yet to receive.
Apart from the Women of Distinction Award, what else have you won?
In 2005, I was awarded during the Entertainer of the Year show. In 2010, I was the Malawi Music Awards Gospel Artist of the Year.
As a renowned artist, where do you draw your inspiration to sing from?
First and foremost, I draw my inspiration from God. He alone is the one who guides me into the kinds of songs that I should sing. The messages I use in my music are drawn from personal experiences and the experiences of those close to me. When I sing, I want people to learn something. I want them to understand the love of God. I do not just sing for the sake of singing, I sing to minister to peopleâ€™s hearts so that they change.
What goes through your mind as you are composing music?
I like quiet places when coming up with the songs. As someone who believes that a good song comes from God Himself, I make sure that I draw myself close to Him all the time. As an artist, my life is all about music.
So, I find music in whatever I see, whatever I do, wherever I go. I compose songs when I am praying, singing, or in a group of people. But the most important for me, especially when I am composing a song, is to kind of withdraw from all external noises and just listen to the voice within me.
Did your upbringing lead you to a career in music?
I was born and grew up in Chimwankhunda. I did my primary school at Njamba and later did my secondary education at Soche Hill. I sat for my Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations at Evergreen Secondary School in 1999.
I come from a prayerful family. My father was a Full Gospel Church of God reverend.Â My father sang in church and I think it was from him that I developed my passion for music. Sadly, he passed on in 1996. Sometimes, my siblings and I would sing in church.
When did you realise you could sing?
After singing in different places, like the church choir, I started singing in 1995. At around the same time, I accepted Jesus as my personal saviour. At first, I simply sang for the sake of it. I remember my father telling me that I would be a good singer if I listened to the voice within and so I did.
Most people say your singing is similar to the South African artist Rabecca Malopeâ€¦
I try to run away from this. But itâ€™s good that you have asked me. As I said earlier, I come from a singing family and if you can listen to all these relations of mine, you will see a certain resemblance. I have not copied from Rabecca.
Growing up, what were your dreams?
I did not know what I wanted to become. It all began to click when I started singing, you see not all of us could afford higher education so, we worked to survive.
Tell me about your children?
I have three children, Steve, Israel and Miracle. Steve is doing tertiary education; Israel and Miracle are still in the lower levels of education.
You made newspaper headlines with your divorce a few years ago. How did you feel about this?
I feel sorry for the one who wrote the story because she did not know what she was doing.
But were you not the one saying these things in court?
Yes, in court you are forced to talk. I do not want to even think about it all, I want to forge ahead.Â Â What you should know is that during that time, I had no idea that what so ever I said would be published in the paper. I looked at these things as private. What happened to me could happen to anyone.Â People should realise that I am no different from them; I feel the same things they feel.
Did you remarry?
I donâ€™t want to talk about that, letâ€™s just leave it at that. Those things are personal and I have learnt not to talk about personal issues in a public forum.
What did you learn from the whole thing?
I learnt never to discuss my private life in public. I praise God because that is where I drew my courage from at the time. I wouldnâ€™t have made it through without Him. There is nothing new with what I said, just that people believe in suffering in silence.
How did your children cope?
By the grace of God, we survived. It was very tough, especially for my children as they where ridiculed in school but I told them not to worry.
Some have criticised your dancing as being too suggestive; what would you say to this?
Not everyone will be happy with the way I preach the gospel through song.Â I do not think there is anything wrong with my dancing. I have watched DVDs released by fellow gospel artists and can point out that some of them dance out of context when on stage. But they are never blamed for that and I am surprised. Why me?
Let me tell you something; whatever I do, people will always talk but what you should know is that whatever I do, I do it to please God. I sing for God. I am here to preach the gospel and people should not even be bothered with the way I do things.
Apart from singing, what else do you do?
I own a shop in Limbe where I sell clothes and DVDs. Due to piracy, I am involved in the actual selling of my DVDs.
How has piracy affected your music career?
Piracy is everywhere around the world but here in Malawi, it is worse. I have come to the conclusion that some people like to see others suffer, otherwise, why would someone buy a pirated DVD at K1 000, when the original one is being sold at K700?Â I have even confiscated some of my pirated DVDs.
How much does it take to produce a DVD?
From production to the market, it costs about K1.5 million.
How much did you collect when piracy was at its worst?
I just retained my money, no profit no loss. And you can imagine how painful that is after putting in a lot of hard work.
What is the worst thing people have said?
I do not like people ridiculing my children because of me. If people want to criticise me, let them come to me and not through my children. Also, some people call me at night to ask my sales, which I do not like. You see through this ministry, I counsel women, girls, but people look down on single mothers and I feel this is not right.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I cannot reveal that yet because it is still a vision. I think itâ€™s not good to say what has not yet matured, but I hope to do some great things.
What is your advice to women?
Fear God and do according to His will. Women must learn to work. I believe God has put us in the various positions for a reason and we must utilise each opportunity to the maximum. As women, we should also respect our spouses, who are the heads of our households.