When I moved to Ndirande Township 20 years ago, one thing was clear; the people of this populous township are enterprising. From selling sand to using sawdust as a source of energy, Ndirande residents are gifted.
Recently during the Ndirande Ghetto Festival, I met a young man who was responsible for the sound system on the day.
Expectedly, the sound quality was impressive. As the young people at the event enjoyed the music, a little bird whispered to me that the speakers being used were actually built by the very same young man who was manning the sound desk.
His name is Rex Liyaya, a 32-year-old artist whose interests lie in creating speaker boxes from a scratch.
“I was inspired to have an interest in all things associated with sound by my uncle who used to go to South Africa to work. During one of his trips, he bought a box guitar and a microphone,” he said.
This was when Liyaya was 12 years old and in Standard Seven.
The last born in a family of five, he grew up playing with the box guitar and the microphone and soon started studying how the microphone and speakers work together.
He said: “I could connect the microphone to a radio then speakers and play music CDs. My sisters who were older then would invite me to play during their parties. I then slowly became known as the DJ as well as the technical person on all things regarding music and sound.”
Liyaya slowly mastered the art of making sound boxes using local materials that he could find.
When he moved in with his sister in Ndirande, he met Peter Khwiliro who had sound equipment.
“This time I was a student at St Jude Private Secondary School and I became known as the DJ of the school. During variety shows and discos, I was their go-to guy,” said Liyaya.
In 2001, he founded a company called Firehouse which specialised in ‘burning’ music, making speakers and offering DJ services to Ndirande residents during parties and weddings, among other events.
Liyaya says from that time, he has developed the art of making speakers from a scratch for churches, other DJs and bands.
“My speakers are just like the ones imported from other countries. I also get some materials that I use for the building of the speakers, but I assemble them and make the speakers myself,” he said.
He said people have a negative attitude towards things that are made locally without realising that those are the ones built with perfection.
“Malawi has talent. I can assemble a speaker from scrap and produce quality sound. With the coming in of Internet, I go to YouTube where I perfect my skills all the time,” said Liyaya.
He said the only thing that limits him from developing further is funds.
“Funds permitting I would like to expand my business. Currently, I make speakers for local bands, churches and DJs,” he disclosed, adding that the coming in of Pentecostal churches has increased the demand for speakers.
Among other places, Liyaya has worked as a DJ for Club 007, Panorama and Villa de Soul in Blantyre.