Matafale’s music genius

Evison Matafale was regarded by many people as a musician who revolutionised reggae music genre in Malawi.

His emergence from obscurity to stardom shook the firmly established ‘hegemony’ of Balaka artists in the country. Matafale instantly became a force to reckon with at the turn of the millennium. Then for a long time Balaka had been unrivalled in music for many years.

Malawi reggae king: Matafale

However, these music icons of Balaka saw their supremacy take a knock after a man from Chileka entered the music industry. This time, the Balaka guys had met their match in Malawi’s acclaimed reggae legend.

“The people of Malawi were then used to Balaka-style of reggae before Matafale came to the music scene. He came with a new style that quickly won over the hearts of many music lovers in the country. His style was new. It was a combination of international and local reggae beats that set him apart,” says Jai Banda, a music promoter.

This observation of Matafale’s power to create a unique reggae style that drew a lot of attention from people is shared by Wendyham Chechamba, a Blantyre-based music teacher who adds that Matafale’s music genius lies in many aspects of which one was his ability to fuse the traditional Chileka type of reggae of his ancestors like Robert Fumulani with contemporary genre of reggae.

“Chileka is a home of musicians who also were singing their own unique reggae style. Matafale himself comes from the line of Chileka great musicians. Music was in his blood but what made him surpass the heights of his ancestors is that he added a touch to their traditional kind of reggae with modern style and the result was an instant hit,” says Chechamba.

Listening to Matafale’s early songs like Watsetseleka and Yang’ana Nkhope one sees a clear departure from the long held reggae traditions Malawians were used to listening at the time. His musical instrumentation bore the hue of music maestros from Jamaica—the very abode of music greats like Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Peter Tosh, just to mention a few.

A music composition is one thing that marks out a musician from the rest. In this regard, Matafale was in a league of his own. The Chileka boy is widely acclaimed for composing mature, relevant and soothing songs.

In a tribute after his demise in 2001, legendary radio presenter Patrick Kankwatira, then working for Power 101 FM radio, described Matafale as a reggae artist extraordinaire whose lyrics were excellent.

These sentiments were shared by Gospel Kazako, a longtime broadcaster who said during the same programme that Matafale was a good music composer whose pieces like ‘Timba’ and ‘Wolenga dzuwa’ were mature.

Kazako said Timba is just one example of a good composition. This is a good poem, he said. “Timba/ Timba mbalame yochenjera/ imamanga chisa chake/ Mvula isanayambe kugwa…..” This, according to Kazako, a well crafted poem both in its rich use of extended metaphors and rhythm. A song work its name ought to be like this composition.

It is not only Kazako who regards Timba as a good composition. Chechamba observes that this song teaches people that they should be ready for the weather of the rainy season.

“Music should have a meaning in people’s lives. It should be appreciated for its power to change people or impart inspiration and hope to people. Matafale’s song therefore is a song of inspiration to all that when they see the signs of the rainy season, they should start preparing their field,” observes Chechamba.

The artist’s song, Timba, draws further analysis from Banda who says: “The main message in this song is that there are good times and bad times in life. During good times (summer), we need to prepare for the bad times (winter) like the timba bird which is clever to know the time.

So as human beings, we should learn from this man to save our best for bad times that may likely befall on us. It is this ability by Matafale to create a song by using a simple allegory of a bird to draw lessons of life that makes the Chileka boy a genius.

Thus Matafale’s lyrics are such that people can learn a lesson or two from them. Despite his fame, Matafale remained godly, according to Banda.

In a song titled ‘Chauta wamphamvu’ the artist sings praise to God Almighty for His power that sustains the universe. Life as it is does not happen by chance but it is sustained by some power beyond man—that  power is Chauta and this is manifested every time the sun rises in the east heralding a new day.

Further, music commentators say that Matafale’s greatness also lies in the fact that he could sing about issues that were pertinent during his time. The musician sang a song titled Time up New York which according to Banda, came up just three days after the September 11 attacks on The Twin towers in New York in 2001.

 “Matafale saw a need to sing about this terrorist event that affected world relations. This illustrated that he did not just a narrow perspective of the world but a larger one. And his ability to sing in English, another language, is another indication of his ability to communicate to people of diverse backgrounds,” Banda comments.

There is no denying that Matafale’s music creativity was many years ahead of his time. This is evidenced in many songs that he did. In a song titled Zaka zonsezi, as he sings “zaka zonsezi, ine ndimangoti mzanga ndiwe…..” the guitarist and other musical instrument sing along with him in a beautiful symmetry and even if 16 have elapsed since his demise, society still enjoys his pieces. 

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