It has been ages since multi-award winning artist Ben Michael Mankhamba performed on stage.
After being away from the stage for a couple of years, Mankhamba made a rare appearance at the Sound and Light Concert in Salima last weekend.
Those that attended the Entertainers Promotions organised concert will attest to the fact that the artist’s appearance was top notch, confirming that Mankhamba has not lost his stage mastery.
Backed by the ZigZaggers Band, alongside the gyrating Jenna Sisters, Mankhamba was in a league of his own.
His performance was a pulsating mix of melodious and intoxicating guitar patterns, harmonious vocals and mesmerising percussion.
It is Mankhamba’s distinctive fusion of indigenous Malawian musical forms and instruments with a wholly new and personal aesthetic sensibility.
His music is a youthful and buoyant rhythmic appeal, with lyrics of noble beauty, infused with elegant and powerful poetic imagery not forgetting ambiguous words the artist is known for.
His number one magic is he never fails to captivate audiences with his seemingly unlimited resources of musical artistry and personal magnetism.
As he walked onto the stage, just a handful of revellers cheered and screamed, perhaps acknowledging Mankhamba’s talent while at the same looking forward to his performance.
With his proud and noble bearing, draped in a navy blue, white dotted shirt with a burgundy pair or trouser, his ensemble of traditional percussion instruments are vivid and dignified symbols of enduring Malawian as well as African values.
His acoustic guitar coupled with polished, meticulous approach to performance adds a personal and distinctly modem touch. Something that is very distinct with acoustic centric artists.
The real wonder begins when Mankhamba puts his sturdy knowing finger to the strings of a guitar and does his magic, bringing together both the past and present within a wonderfully propelling rhythmic framework.
It is called music and in no time, the fun-seeking multitudes on the scene burst into dance, including those that were not initially keen on having him as the next performer.
His extraordinarily appealing guitar work, however, is only one layer of a musical texture that is incredibly multi-layered, while always maintaining a crystalline clarity.
Several indigenous percussion instruments, including xylophone and drums create the impression of infinity of overlapping rhythm with patterns alternately rising and falling below a smooth surface. Floating above these interlacing rhythms and harmonies is Mankhamba’s strong voice, which soars in broad melodies.
Adding more colour to his performance, the songs are complemented by a vivid display of the old, venerable and dynamic polyrhythmic dance and drum music.
Throughout the hour-long performance, Mankhamba joined the Jenna Sister in gyrating, wiggling and foot tapping dance routines. If it were a competition, surely he could have won as though his moves might not have outdone the two women, but being a man, very few know how to wriggle the waist as if it has strings or it is attached to a pendulum.
But of course, he cannot stand R&B crooner Lulu, who is in a world of his own with his forbidden dance.
Spontaneously engaging the audience in a dialogue, provoking laughter with his knowing comments on male-female relationships, his sexually suggestive poses or remarks with an underlining coarse connotation as well as his ironic tales of problems of daily living which face common people, Mankhamba gripped both the young and the old.
They remained glued to the stage while others danced and sang along to his music.
“Ever wonder why Malawian men never grow old? It’s all because of fire, fire and more fire Malawian Cassava ndi fire. Try it and have fun,” roared Mankhamba before he dished out his last track of the day and the favourite for many.
Mankhamba has not been actively on stage as well as recordings after his installation as Group Village Head Chingalire in Nsalu, Lilongwe.
In an interview shortly after his performance, Mankhamba affirmed that being out of stage for a while has not taken away his vibe, not a bit.
“You know, the last time I performed at a public event was five years ago. However, it does not mean I don’t perform, I do but only when I am hired mainly by the corporate world. I am always available for all those who need my services,” he said.
The multi-award winning artist said frustrations forced him to stop organising shows.
“Trends have changed in Malawi as the current generation is into more of discos and not live shows. This is coupled by the fact that organising shows in Malawi is expensive, I quit doing that and wait for people to invite me,” he said.
Entertainers Promotions director Jai Banda was visibly impressed with Mankhamba’s come back.
“Ben is an entertainer and you don’t have to be a Malawian to love him. The performance was great. You can see that he rehearses. In fact, he initially was not on the programme and I wanted Malawians to see what he is capable of,” he said.