The Malawian music milieu has been shaped by foreign influences, while the indigenous music is not widely available. The old songs of the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s are almost over and done. This problem is not synonymous with Malawi as, sadly, this is the case in a number of African countries.
Imagine, discovering a goldmine of new repertoire in working with old recordings of Malawian traditional music; some of the pieces, old and almost forgotten.
Well, four Malawi musicians have struck gold locally as they rewrote, reworked, rerecorded and re-produced 10 songs. The aim of the project is to save the rich national cultural archive stored at taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
Under the banner Takula, the band consists of four young Malawian musicians; Airtel Trace Music star Malawi winner Sam Mjura Mkandawire, Marlyn Chakwera, award winning gospel music star Faith Mussa and Afrocentric artist Peter Mawanga who leads the quartet.
They have given Chenasawu Mkukupha’s Ndabwera hit a new face and many others without distorting the original idea.
“Takula Band is part of the current culture collaboration project between MBC, Nedland Kultur and the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi. Under the digitilisation project where the State broadcaster is being helped with digital equipment, producer Sigbjørn Nedland came up with a band that should rework on some old and classical Malawi music MBC has in reel format,” said Mawanga in an interview.
While the project is in post production phase, Takula is on a tour of Norway in relation to the same.
“We are ready with the 10 songs. A few of them have been released for performing in Norway. All the songs are very unique and we gave them a new touch while maintaining the original idea. The project has been there for about two years and the songs were recorded at MBC where the group set up a studio,” explained Mawanga.
The project started with Sigbjørn’s company, Nedland Kultur, providing tape players and digitalisation equipment in collaboration with MBC, Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) and the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi to digitise and make available again music recordings from the huge tape archive of MBC.
“The music in this archive, consisting of old reel to reel tapes, had not been accessible for years because tape players for these tapes are no longer manufactured and available on the market. The contents of this archive constitutes an important part of Malawi’s cultural heritage, and the recordings are unique and not to be found anywhere else.
“I did not want the digitised tracks to end up as museum pieces. I wanted them to come alive again, and to have them inspire and encourage young musicians in Malawi today, who have never had the opportunity to hear this wealth of wonderful music that the archive can offer. Therefore I got together this band of musicians, we did workshops, listening to tracks of many kinds from the archive, making discoveries and getting surprises about what was to be found in the music traditions of the country,” he said.
According to Sigbjørn, a CD is coming out later this year or early next year.
“Now we are taking their new music onto the stage, and the first concert will be in Norway at the Arts Festival of North Norway,” he said.
The festival was established in 1965 and is a main yearly event for music in Norway, which pulls an amazing number of talent with a variety of music styles, from symphonic and classical music to traditional music to jazz and other styles of modern music.
It started last week on Monday and up until the weekend with Malawi’s performance on Thursday night.
“There was no better way to do this than to have the project band perform the music on a festival stage that is watched by the whole country,” Sigbjørn said.
He added: “Takula also has one Norwegian member, Georg Buljo, who is the festival’s profile artist and to have him performing as part of Takula is expected to create a lot of interest in the project and music from Malawi generally.
“Takula is not the only band from Malawi participating at the festival this year, but they are, to my knowledge, the first Malawian group ever in the history of the festival from 1965 up to present to participate.”
Initially, South African legend Ray Phiri was confirmed to perform at the festival as a special guest of Takula. Ray became a fan of the band and their Malawian music after hearing about the project when visiting the country last year.
Said Sigbjørn: “He offered to help promote their music, and told me he was willing to do guest performances with the band if that could help spread the word about their music. With the help, once again, of the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, we have been able to invite him to Harstad, Norway to perform there with Takula.
“I think this will be very important for the group, for the project, and for Malawian music in general, as Ray Phiri is a world famous artist that will make media and audiences curious to find out more about what he is putting his name behind.”
However, Ray has failed to make it for the trip following the death of his wife on Sunday.