Since time immemorial, string instruments have been associated with classical music.
As a centuries old Western art form, the genre boasts of names such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, who are recognised regularly as among the most influential people of the past millennium. Of late, a new generation of classical musicians is emerging, performing it with zing and dynamism.
In Malawi, 23 year-old Lucent Shaba is living proof of that. As an up-and-coming violinist, he continues to perform mostly at corporate and black tie events. The performances are eclectic as they incorporate a myriad of musical styles, from pop to hip hop, fused with distinctive violin melodies and tunes that leave his live shows with nothing more than immense appeal.
For many, watching the young violinist performing live for the first time is always a beauty. Once his quality grabs you, one gets glued to the sensational electric violinist.
His has the sense of flair and polish. The pizzazz, the way he effortlessly manoeuvres as if he is caressing the violin, there is no question that in that slender frame, rests no ordinary artist. The energy he possesses makes it obvious that he enjoys being the centre stage and just watching him perform is quite an intriguing experience.
“I started music when I was nine. I used to sing in the church choir and then got interested in learning music theory and playing a recorder (flute). I first saw a violin at a church in Mzuzu and I was amazed at how it works. I was swayed by the sound the small instrument produces,” said Shaba.
After years of self-teaching, he went to South Africa to study music theory. In 2012, he enrolled with the Shine School of Music in Randburg, Johannesburg before joining the University of South Africa through the distance learning programme.
“I struggled with tuition fees and only attended few lessons per month. I remember having only four practical violin lessons. The rest of the violin lessons were done through videos on YouTube.
“I had to do piece work (washing and ironing clothes) at Jun Harven old aged home to accomplish the dream,” he explained.
Shaba’s next opportunity to perfect his violin playing skills came after meeting a Congolese girl at a church.
“She had a violin, but couldn’t play it and so she used to borrow me. I used to play vit after the church service and she was amazed with my skill. So, she let me took it home for practice to play during the next Sunday service.
However, the nature of his job deprived him time to practice.
“My employer, Debbie Weissenberg, noticed my skills and told me to concentrate on the career and asked me to teach her daughter. Later, I advertised my lessons online via platforms such Gumtree and OLX and within a month, I enrolled 14 students and used the money to pay for more lessons at Shine School of Music,” explained Shaba.
His class population grew with time and had 19 students. Of these, five sat for the Grade Three ABRSM, an international music examination and they all got distinctions. His fall was just behind the corner. Some people reported him to authorities for operating an unregistered school.
“Authorities came and closed the school in 2016. This was the time I decided to concentrate on performing. I use to entertain fans at restaurants in Johannesburg, Randburg and Cosmo cities. I also held a big concert with Aston Mumba, a Zambian violinist,” he says.
Shaba returned home in 2017 and since then he has been trying hard to make a name on the music scene. Upon arriving, he had two introductory concerts at Malawi Post Corporations (MPC) Hall in Blantyre and Dreamland in Lilongwe.
“It has been hard to break through. I started by performing at Acres Bar and Grill and the performance created opportunities for me. People started to invite me to perform in clubs and weddings,” he says.
Shaba has also performed at a number of events such as at Vusi Thembekwayo’s talk show, Doll Mable lipstick launch, Airtel 4G launch, NBS Bank cocktail event and Nico Holdings Limited among others.
“Last month, Mumba invited me to Zambia to play with Lusaka String Ensemble. We had a concert at University of Zambia and another one at Mizo Arts Centre,” he said.
Shaba has big dreams for his future.
“I have managed to secure musical instruments that will be used to establish my own music school very shortly. Currently, I only do private lessons and that for me is an achievement,” he affirmed.
Most often, local artists play same instruments, a guitar and keyboard among others. Shaba’s journey of treading in a career so much deserted has been lauded by many.
Head of music department at Chancellor College Andrew Faria says music instruments are categorised into four families, namely strings, percussion, wood and brass wind. He says availability of some of the instruments like violin, viola and oboe, among others, have affected their popularity in Malawi.
“That is why most artists have been learning instruments that are readily available. But with technology, the price of most instruments is now affordable and the people, mainly the young generation, are able to learn any type of instrument,” said Faria.
To motivate youngsters, the music department at the college is running initiatives to groom a future generation of musicians who can play different instruments.
“We have a programme that is encouraging youth to learn how to play some of the rare instruments and the progress is promising,” said Faria. n