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Wednesday 10 April 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 31 - Malawi

I am taking two journeys today, one real and one virtual. In a couple of hours I'm off to Vilnius for a few days work, although I'll hopefully have time for some sightseeing and hunting for prog-flute LPs by Lithuanians with unpronounceable names.  

But first, the African Odyssey resumes. From Madagascar we catapulted ourselves 1000 miles west and landed slap bang in the middle of Lake Malawi. After a refreshing dip we are now dried off and ready to explore the local music scene.  

Before we start, I should mention a couple of acts that do not feature. I have excluded mainly on the grounds of over-familiarity The Very Best, whose "Warm Heart of Africa" swept the nation back in 2009 and whose singer Esau Mwamwaya is from Malawi.

More controversially, Enort Spear Mbandambanda and his magnificently titled "Sausage Yanga" did not quite make the final cut. Maybe Rol can use it in a future Top 10 Sausage Songs post.

With that out of the way let's get going. And we start with a band that I was lucky enough to see live last year. Madalitso Band are a duo who play the guitar, foot drum and an enormous babatoni (a one-string bass) while perched precariously on a table and create the sound of sunshine while doing so. Today's track comes from their 2022 album "Musakayike" and was a highlight of their set.  

Faith Mussa would consider the idea of a live duo excessive, performing as he does as a one-man band and playing traditional instruments like the badza, manjerenjeza and mbalule as well as his homemade guitar (and before you ask I have no idea what any of those are, apart from the guitar obviously). In the studio he rounds his sound out, as you can here on the opening track from his 2019 album "Kalilima".

Next up we have Katawa Singers who, according to the sleeve notes on the compilation album "Ufulu 1991​-​1997", "designed and delivered the electronic gospel sound that dominates the country ever since". I am told they listen to nothing else in the lounge bars of Lilongwe, and who can blame them.

Also keen on the groovy electronic sounds is DJ Kainga, who hails from the former capital of Zomba. He is from the Lomwe ethnic group and updates their traditional rhythms and melodies in a style he calls Lomwe Beat. The DJ is one of several Malawian musicians whose work is being promoted by the local Digital Indigenous label. The others are worth checking out as well. 

The oldest record by a Malawian musician in my collection in terms of both release and purchase date is "Feeling Good" by cool Afro-jazz dude Mr Sydney Banda. The album was released in 1987 and I picked up a cassette copy not that long afterwards, which accounts for the slightly ropey sound quality on this tune with a self-explanatory title.  

We end, as all things must, with some MAR. Isaac Liwotcha is a former accounts clerk who has been making sweet reggae music since back in the 1990s. Last year he reissued some of his old albums via Bandcamp. Today's selection comes from "Ungopalira" which I think may have been his debut album. 

"Jingo Janga" - Madalitso Band

"Ali Dere" - Faith Mussa

"Wela-Welako" - Katawa Singers

"Kainga Moyo Wanga" - DJ Kainga

"The Pennywhistler" - Sydney Banda

"Udzafabe" - Isaac Liwotcha


  1. I don't usually pay much attention to videos, but in the case of Gasper Nali I think the video enhances the song

  2. I bet the Villains of Vilnius are quaking in their boots.

    I now have 5 sausage songs, thank you. Only half way to a Top Ten though...

    1. I've been scouring for some too, but they are bobbins