Gospel music pioneers
The history of gospel music without ‘singers’ is incomplete. Gospel groups such as Namasalima Singers, Mhango Salvation Singers and Katawa Singers are part of the groups that built of Malawi gospel music.
Although several of the groups have since disbanded, their music still stands out.
If this can be used to describe professionalism in music, among the few well known groups of the time, Mhango Salvation Singers stand out.
Founded around 1978, Mhango Salvation Singers is a product of New Jerusalem Choir, one of the first choirs of the times and memories are still fresh of how it made its name with hits such as Dziko Langa and Mtundu Wanga.
Jane Mhango, now Mrs Msosa, who is third born in the Mhango family was the one who opened the doors for the family to music.
In 1978, the soft-voiced artist joined the New Jerusalem Choir and was the key player on the lead vocals in the choir.
At that time, Chimwemwe Mhango was in Blantyre and had just learnt how to play the banjo. A few months later, he transferred to Lilongwe together with the family.
Jane liked the way Chimwemwe played the banjo and asked him to play it for her to complement her songs.
This was the beginning of the journey as they formed a duet.
Later, Jane introduced Chimwemwe and her other brother Patrick Mhango to the group.
However, the days of New Jerusalem Choir were numbered, which forced the Mhango siblings to team up with Killion Mgawi and the late Stoick Katsulukuta to form the quartet in 1983.
Jane played the piano and vocals, Chimwemwe on guitar and Katsulukuta on vocals. Kilion was on bass guitar.
In 1984, the Reverend Mgawi saw the talent in the group, but also observed that there was need for more talent. He recruited two more Mhango brothers, Gift (Mahara) and Tiwonge to help in vocals.
At this stage, the group had five members from the Mhango family; Patrick, Chimwemwe, Jane, Gift and Tiwonge and the Mgawi siblings Grace and Killion hence they named themselves Mhango/Mgawi Salvation Singers.
The same year, the group released their debut album that carried songs such as the memorable Anzeru Akummawa.
At one point the group had a big show at Kudya Entertainment Centre in Blantyre organised by a Mr Mlatho.
Unfortunately, this group too did not live long as the Mgawi and Mhango families were lived in different cities and the members had problems meeting regularly.
This was the end of that chapter and the beginning of the new chapter for the Mhango family.
The five siblings, with the help of their first born Mercy, founded Mhango Salvation Singers in late 1985.
A year later, the group released their first album Vula Nsapato Zako Moses with which they toured Malawi. They were hungry for more releases. In 1987, they released Welako and later on Tamverani Inu Anthu which had the songs Zovuta Zapadziko Lino and Bwerera.
Around this time, two more Mhango siblings Kate and Wezi joined the fray.
This was the climax of their success. There were few music groups but Mhango Salvation Singers was a crowd favourite and it got several invitations for performances.
Even expatriates working in Malawi then appreciated the success in the group.
In 1990, a Baptist Church missionary Steve Evans volunteered to support the group and sent the outfit to Zimbabwe where they recorded the Timthokoze album at Baptist Studio.
The trip was fruitful as, apart from holding some performances, the group was introduced to some great names of Zimbabwe music such as Oliver Mtukudzi.
But when life opportunities came knocking around 1990, the group started falling apart. Patrick married and Chimwemwe left for studies at Zomba Theological College.
The group reunited in 1993 after Chimwemwe was ordained and briefly continued with performances.
Their last biggest show was during the 1994 festive season after which Gift and Tiwonge relocated to South Africa, and later USA where they are still based and were joined by Kate.
However, the siblings’ passion for gospel music is still with them as they are involved in church hymns in the USA.
Back home, Chimwemwe continued with the career with the support of Benjamin Ng’oma and today remains one of the key gospel artists with 11 albums to his credit.
Meanwhile, Chimwemwe has announced that the family will shortly be meeting to re-record some of the songs from their five albums.
Success did not spare the journey. In 1989, the group won the Bible Society of Malawi best music group award.
In 1993 the group emerged winners during the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Entertainers of the Year awards.
Chimwemwe said the success of the group was anchored by spiritual teachings and promoted unity within the family which helped each of them to excel in life.
He added that their involvement in music was from the heart and they did everything to make their work attractive, a practice that steered them towards success.