A cappella music dazzles

If success of live music performances were only judged on dancing and cheering and loud noise, then perhaps all a cappella shows would have been scoring the lowest.

In that regard, Sunday’s One Soul Concert at Comesa Hall in Blantyre would not have been an exception.

The concept emanated from We Are One and Joyful Souls, arguably the country’s top two Blantyre-based all-male gospel a cappella ensembles. In fact, One Soul is a creation from the band’s respective names.

But it was never to be.

In fact, it can be argued that prior to this, Comesa Hall had rarely known any meaningful joy dating back to May, though the excitement it exuded back then was altogether different.

Of the few notable events the venue has hosted since playing home to the national tally centre for the ill-fated May 21 Tripartite Elections, the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds was shrouded in uncertainty before a few countries confirmed their attendance.

One Soul: Members of We Are One and Joyful Souls performs together

A few weeks ago, the National Agriculture Fair was also marred by violence when party zealots traded missiles amid the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations that coincided with the official opening of the same.

In short, the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds had been devoid of hosting something peculiar to lift its spirits after having its name dragged in such muddy experiences of late.

Luckily for the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI), owners of the venue, Joyful Souls and We Are One came to the rescue when they brought back their One Soul Concert to the venue.

However, the build up to Sunday’s concept tended to deceive. It was not preceded by the exact amount of hype one would anticipate of such an event, especially taking into consideration that it was returning exactly after 1 256 days since the show first featured in the country.

But there is a reason why it is said that action always proves why words are empty. One had to attend the show to get a glimpse of where the two all-boy- bands were heading to in terms of their glorious performances.

The first sign was clear to even the least of observant enthusiasts who turned up for the show on Sunday. It bordered on something organisers in the country miss on a lot: time management.

Scheduled to start at 13:30 hours, those who walked through the doorways 10 minutes later found We Are One performing their second song in their first 30 minute’ allotment. Such was the zeal the groups demonstrated to give the patrons value for their money.

Adventist Media’s Henry Somanje directed the concert throughout and he did not disappoint.

There was always something in him that kept his audience on the edge of their seats. His acumen in the music genre on offer always gives a valuable lesson to those who might have otherwise felt initially lost. All this he expertly punctuated with jokes that ensured the chuckles kept roaring.

Still, he could not dim the flicker the passionate singing from the two groups demonstrated.

To be fair, the two gospel a cappella ensembles are one of the best in the last.

While the former is a bit apologetic in their performances, Joyful Souls’ strength lies in the ‘wild’ characters it comprises. Rodgers Mpinganjira–one of its founding members—is the prime suspect though he faces  competition from Mark Zakulanda and Lloyd Kaisi.

It is the same traits that have helped the group soar for the 24 years of its existence. On Sunday, their experience proved decisive. Mpinganjira and Zakulanda—the group’s embodiment to creativity—kept engaging the crowd; almost in every song they performed. It was easy to denote their creative prowess was behind the group’s mature compositions.

“We are aware that there are some songs everyone expects us to perform everywhere we go,” at one time, Mpinganjira dared the crowd towards the end of the show.

Unsurprisingly, Tidzauluka roared from the crowd. This was a title track of the group’s maiden album which featured songs that took the Malawi’s music world by storm notably for its departure from the traditional four-part-harmonies to six-part-harmonies.

But while the song words to the playlist were untouched, the crowd rarely kept up to the changes Joyful Souls had adopted in the sing along. The group went for competitively high notes and altered the chords this time around. It left everyone in awe.

Not to feel outdone, We Are One had one up their sleeve.

They took the One Soul Concert as the perfect stage to gauge what their new entrants were made of. From the look of things, fans need not despair by any departures; the group’s DNA remains intact.

Perhaps even Davie Chiwaya, one of the founding members to have personally towed the ministry on his own over the years, needs to rethink about his position in the competition.

Bar the experience accumulated over the years, the debutants in Gullit Dzimau, Chilinga Tembo, Mphatso Luka and Sparrow Saidi brought the much needed vocal blend that We Are One was slowly losing of late. It was like the lads had been there from the very start.

Unfazed by the crowd, the debutants took the leading vocals in some of the songs the group served. They include Mphamvu za Mulungu, I believe, Tili Ankhondo, Jesus is a friend, Three Angels, Ndaima Kaye Zongotsata Chigulu, Mwachisomo and Emmanuel.

In an interview after the show, the group’s Steven Chiwaya said: “On our side, this was a great improvement to a side we have been of late. Even the maiden One Soul Concert could not be said to have been as successful. We are proud of our new members and yes, they have what it takes to be with us.”

According to Zakulanda, one needs to be good at not less than three voice categories in any a cappella music set-up.

It was therefore evident that when it comes to vocal percussion, body percussion, live looping and instrument mimicry—ingredients that makes a cappella a marvel— Joyful Souls and We Are One are in a class of their own.

There was however still time for poet Robert Chiwamba who was invited on stage as the close drew near.

As the group made calls for him to at least dish one poem before leaving the stage, Chiwamba was already on one: “Ichi ndi chifukwa chomwe sipakuyeneranso kukhala chifukwa chakuti pakhale chifukwa chokhalira ndi One Soul Concert chifukwa izizi sizofunikanso kukhala ndi chifukwa popeza chifukwacho chilibenso chifukwa choti chikhalire ndi chifukwa koposa kulambira Yehova mopanda chifukwa…

The reaction needs no guessing. Chiwamba wows crowds!

Just like the show started, the organisers ensured it closes at the stipulated 17:30. Though the time seemed to have clocked early, satisfaction was written on every face leaving the hall as it eventually did.

Argued Zakulanda in an interview: “This show is never about the proceeds. It is about praises unto God. We are, first and foremost, his workmanship when it comes to spreading the gospel to the entire world.

“We feel One Concert has lived to its billing. We are satisfied by the response and we are grateful to God for everything.”

As the show targets Lilongwe in December, Blantyre was left with a common feeling: This was a cappella at its best, served at a ‘cathedral worthy the ‘cleansing’.

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