From SA to Nyasaland
How SA music cross- pollinated the Federation
While Congolese music was making inroads into east and further down south in the then Rhodesia, South African music was also finding its way up north to the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).
This invasion of the musical scene by South African genres was made easy because of the federation that existed among the then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia.
During the federation known as the Central African Federation, which lasted 10 years from 1953, peoples of the three countries moved freely.
This free movement contributed greatly to the cross-pollination of music in the federated areas.
Unlike other territories in east and central Africa which warmly received Congolese rumba, Malawi did not because the late president Kamuzu Banda closed his borders off to political exiles from troubled Congo while he kept them open for South Africans.
South African music found its way to Malawi via immigrants who had gone to work on the mines in Johannesburg or those who were staying in and working on Northern Rhodesian farms.
In essence, South African music, which hit the Malawian scene, was a modified form of American music. South Africans were very good at adapting American music to come up with a local brand.
One interesting story is that of two Malawian brothers – Donald and Daniel Kachamba whose family stayed in the then Salisbury (now Harare).
The brothers were both born in Limbe, Blantyre. Daniel was born in 1947 while Donald came in 1955. Between 1957 and 1961, the brother spent time in Salisbury when kwela music from South Africa was big in the then Rhodesia.
The boys’ father, James, a former World War II Burma veteran, was a musician in the 40s while their mother Etina Gwede played the mouth bow known in Malawi as nkangala.
While in the then Salisbury, Daniel, apart from being exposed to kwela, fell in love with rumba music. His guitar-playing skills borrowed heavily from Malawian music – saba saba, jive, and sinjonjo – and from South Africa’s kwela music.
He was already playing commercial when his young brother Donald started playing the kwela flute when he was six years old and by 1971, he had mastered the art of playing the guitar, the flute and the banjo.
When the two went back to Malawi, they took along kwela music in their blood. There is a twist of irony here. Some researchers say that Malawian immigrants to South Africa took along kwela music which was then adopted and adapted by South Africans before it was taken back to Malawi.
They say this because the word kwela means the same in Nyanja as it does in Zulu. Kwela means climb.
Once back on home style, the brothers played in Blantyre nightclubs and the streets.
Apart from performing on the streets as the Kachamba Brothers, the two had separate bands. Daniel had Kwela Band while Donald had his with a friend named Josefe Bulahamu.
It was during the time when they performed in nightclubs and streets that an Austrian ethnomusicologist, Gerhard Kubik discovered them while they were playing at a market place.
Kubik introduced Daniel and Donald to the United States Cultural Centre in Blantyre where he recorded their four songs for the Voice of America in 1968. At the time, Daniel was 20 while Donald was 14.
In 1970, with the help of the exposure given by Kudik’s recordings, Donald left Malawi to pursue a solo career. He embarked on a tour of east Africa and Europe, especially Austria.
Apart from kwela, the Kachamba brothers also took along simanjemanje music, which they picked up from Zimbabwe after its invasion of the country.