When Lucius Banda decided to address socio-political issues, he was still a member of the mainly gospel group, Alleluya Band. This posed a challenge as he risked dragging the gospel band into politics. It was at this point that he decided to part ways with the Balaka-based Alleluya Band and form his own band.
The birth of Zembani Band
According to Banda, Zembani Music Company was born out of necessity and not just ambition to own a band.
Said Banda: “I just had to be free and express myself more. I felt Malawians needed a soldier to speak for them and address social ills in our society, but I could not do it while in the Alleluya Band.”
Banda, had been a member of Alleluya Band for 12 years, from 1985 to 1997, when he gathered the courage to set up a band.
The Zembani Band set up
Zembani Band, which has been in existence for 20 years now, has no official albums to its name. One wonders why such a famous band has no albums to its name.
“Initially, we tried to release an album with all our artists in 1998. All artists under the band were allowed to lead in atleast one song in the album, but then challenges cropped up when some members left the band,” said Banda.
The artist added that it was hard to decide whether to allow the departing members to perform the songs with their new bands.
Banda said he realised that Zembani’s mission was to help upcoming artists develop and then let them fly away to explore the world on their own.
“That is when we decided that Zembani will only release albums with Lucius Banda, the rest of the artists will only use it to advance their careers on stage. It has worked well this far,” he said.
Zembani Band has had a fair share of controversies and challenges ranging from members leaving the band, accusations of financial abuse to political interference.
Said Banda: “Some members that Zembani identified and developed itself grew wings and left it in controversial circumstances. We exchanged bitter words in the media, which somehow tainted our image.”
He added that he does not blame the artists, but those around them for ill-advising the upcoming artists.
“I can tell you today without fear or favour that almost all of them came back to me to confess that they were ill-advised. When they set up their own bands they realised how complicated and challenging it is to run a band,” claimed Banda.
20 years later, is Zembani Band still relevant?
“We are one of the most sought-after bands in Malawi and this is no mean achievement. We still hold sold-out gigs across the country. Institutions and political parties book us to perform at their functions. So, yes we are still very relevant,” he said.
Banda added that despite the fact that now Zembani is still trending, there is a lot of work to be done.
There are a number of artists who have been introduced to the music industry courtesy of Zembani Band. They include Mlaka Maliro, Billy Kaunda, Dan Lufani and Wendy Harawa.
Billy Kaunda told Chill that he owes his success in the music industry to Zembani Band.
He said: “If it were not for Lucius Banda and Zembani Band, I would not have been the Billy Kaunda that Malawians know today. I am forever indebted to Zembani Band for the exposure.”
Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango applauded Lucius Banda for being a mature and understanding mind holding Zembani Band together.
“Lucius is a father and teacher for many artists. When they grow, he is able to let them go so they can make a name for themselves. He does not rely on individuals,” he said.
Mhango added that Zembani Band is the epitome of hard work and perseverance.
Has the dream been realised?
“I am 47 years-old and I can’t dance and perform the way Diamond does. I have failed to make it. My hope is for Zembani to identify and build an artist who will make it big locally and internationally,” said Banda.
But as it stands now, the journey for Zembani Band continues. n