malawi music: new sounds from lake of stars

October 11, 2019
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Lake of Stars Discovery 2019 festival in Malawi, which took place September 27th-29th, was a more intimate version of the previous year’s Lake of Stars, that had catered to over 6000 arts enthusiasts and featured performers from around Africa and beyond. Thus, it seemed like an obvious place to search for the new and boundary-pushing sounds of Nyasaland. Yet even though it is one of the most respected festivals on the continent, simply leaving leaving Kamuzu International Airport gave me the realization that my goal to excavate Malawi’s freshest contemporary sounds may face a few challenges due to the lack of connectivity. But on the second day of the festival, which takes place on the lakeside of Lake Malawi, I was introduced to one of the event’s managers, Prince-Bongani Chikweba, and to Joy Nathu, host and producer of the largest interactive radio show in Malawi, Made on Monday. Since its MBC (Malawi Broadcasting Corporation) Radio 2 premiere in 2016, Made on Monday has been the platform where the listeners vote on the country’s Top 10 tracks, which Nathu walked me through. It turned out that the festival crew also had music of its own to share, and a few days after I returned to South Africa, I had a firm grasp on what Malawi is listening to. Below are some discoveries that help make Lake of Stars among the best new-music festivals in the region, and Malawi a hotbed of new sounds.

Kim of Diamonds, “Heart Go”

Kimberley Kaunda, going by the moniker Kim of Diamonds, is a great example of a woman who chooses to veer away from society’s expectations of Malawian women to make her voice heard. Careers in music are generally frowned upon for women in this socially conservative nation — especially wearing makeup, showing too much skin (the knees particularly) and calling undue attention to oneself — but Kim does so with grace and a steady gaze. I met her during festival, where she had performed the previous year, and was running this year’s social media accounts as well as freestyling a monologue during the festival’s Chitenje Changa (Malawi’s version of Vagina Monologues.)  It took me a while to realise just how unique this musical ear fitted with a festival walkie was, until heard I “Heart Go,” which is accompanied by a gorgeous music video directed by Ubwino Phikira,  an insanely talented 20-year-old Malawian music video director based in Lilongwe. The pair make for great visuals, and the track shines under their care, as Kim bares heart (and shoulder) in this great piece of work.

“Today, Malawian women do not have to be limited to the standards of old, where showing your body meant that you’re looking for attention or that you somehow you have insecurity issues,” Kim says. “Nowadays we show off our bodies because they are ours…We get to decide exactly what we want to do with them, and how we want to showcase them, because there is power in being a woman. There is power in our curves. There is power in the way that we’re made up. So yeah…we’re really breaking through some glass ceilings and I think for us to do more, we’re going to have to support one another.”

Check out more of Kim’s music on her YouTube channel

Krazie G, Crispy Malawi & O.G. (Mario Bros), “BHO”

This track feels like it’s related to South Africn kwaito, and as of this writing was sitting at number 9 on Joy Nathu’s Made on Monday chart. As someone born to a Malawian family and steeped since childhood in South Africa’s unique sounds, stumbling upon this one in Malawi’s Top 10 is a real thrill. Chifundo Chingaipe AKA Crispy Malawi teams up with Krazie G and OG for a track that blends my two homes quite well. 

Eli with Tsar Leo, Mwanie, “All Night Long”

Eli Njuchi is a promising addition to the future of Malawian music — he’s young, confident and versatile… A popular choice with the locals, reminiscent of the dancehall charm and zest exhibited by Jamaica’s Koffee. Also backed by Joy Nathu, Eli has had track after track make it onto the chart, superseding many bigger-name artists in his rise. If Prince and Joy are correct, this young man will go far. (He was also featured on Toast’s excellent “Hakuna Matata.”

Piksy feat. Hyphen, “Uatchauya”

Piksy (from Blantyre) premiered his latest track with Hyphen on Joy Nathu’s Made on Mondays in September, and it is still going strong on the top 10 chart since, at number 7 this week. This young man had his moment at Lake of Stars this year on the Beach Stage and proved to be as versatile a live musician as he is a recording artist. The meaning of “Uatchauya” is still a mystery, but this track is a gem, produced by Famous and Foxxy.