Whosoever said “what you don’t have in height, make it with attitude” must have had one John Chiumia on their mind.
This typical villager from Msaka area in Monkey Bay proved the analogy true during the just ended Sunbird Search for a Star.
The 37-year-old Standard 6 dropout managed to beat four finalists to take the runner-up spot.
That feat saw him pocket a K300 000 cash prize, much to the envy of many. His is not a rags to riches story, but from a villager to a music sensation.
A message from a public service announcement vehicle was the spark Chiumia needed to rise to stardom.
During one of his singing escapades around Mangochi Boma, Chiumia bumped into a van calling on all those with singing talent to audition for Sunbird Search for a Star at Sunbird Nkopola Lodge.
The next day Chiumia, his home-made guitar in hand and high on confidence, walked into the audition room only to be told to wait for his turn.
Dressed in skin tight jeans and a checked shirt, he faced the judges and performed one of his many compositions. Rudo Mkukupa-Chakwera and Marvin Hanke gave him the nod, but Dumisani Mfune thought he had a lot of work to do.
After further auditions in Blantyre, Chiumia was one of the two contestants from Mangochi who made it into the last 16.
And with his dancing antics and performing theatrics, Chiumia was soon a crowd favourite and it was not surprising that his fan base grew by each show.
At times, the judges had to wrestle with the audience who felt their star was judged harshly. But only a few know the Rasta’s story.
“I started singing in 1994. I was playing other people’s songs before I started composing my own. I didn’t have a guitar, so that time the mouth was the only instrument that I had,” he said in an interview soon after the Sunbird Search for a Star finals.
Back then, Chiumia would create a form of music by creating sounds with his voice.
“I was putting everything out with nothing, but the voice box, lips, teeth and tongue to create the music being made. For some, it is magic from a vocal standpoint, especially to beat box, also known as vocal percussion, or mimicking the sounds of drum beats, rhythms and other percussion instruments. But I was and I am still able to do it,” said the artist.
With that he was able to do songs that entertained people wherever he went and slowly earned a living out of that.
While for some, especially his peers, Chiumia was crazy, a man who dropped out of school to pursue a fishing career, music was his life.
“I was making money out of it and I ended up missing classes up to the extent that I completely dropped out of school. I also quit the fishing business because I was making money from the music. I seldom go fishing as I have taken music as my full time job,” he said.
With the money made, Chiumia bought his first guitar in 1999.
“I bought a locally made guitar at K700 even though I didn’t know how to play it. I bought it from a certain man in Ntcheu and I tried playing it from just observing how the he did it. I liked the sound that emanated from my strumming of the instrument and slowly, I fell in love with it so much so that every day, I used to play the instrument. Whether what I was doing was right or wrong, I would not care but what I know is I learnt something from those moments,” he explained.
Back to the just-ended singing contest, Chiumia believes his talent made him attain a new status.
Emotion written all over his face, he stated: “This is despite my being uneducated. While those who went to school boast of their papers as their weapon of survival, I have my talent, it is my weapon and absolutely nobody can take it away from me.”
His major challenge in the competition was the inaudibility of words in his singing, something that obviously can be attributed to his lack of education. That always landed him in trouble with the judges, but every week patrons voted him in.
“I am sure I could have been number one but my lack of education somehow weighed me down. But I am happy because I have achieved something, more than what many of the educated people I was competing against have.”
With his prize money, he plans to drop an album soon as he already has the songs.
“I have my compositions of 600 songs. I have scores of books of my compositions which are normally derived from the Bible. Gift Fumulani is my idol.”