Malawi’s music greats such as the late reggae icon Evison Matafale, Lucius Banda, Wambali Mkandawire and Billy Kaunda shot to stardom, some little kids in Ndirande Township in Blantyre were there.
And their music, as far back as 1987, dominated the airwaves of the only radio station then, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). It was not an everyday feat.
Only aged six and nine, and armed with their locally made box guitar and a drum, the two brothers, Konzani and Joseph Chikwata, cut their teeth in the music industry through their Kasambwe Brothers Band when they came up with their singles, not produced in today’s professional and modern studios, but recorded by MBC.
Easily recognised by their tiny voices in songs such as Inu Amayi Thandizeni Ndakwera Mtengo Waminga, Kundiseka Poyenda Anthu Aziti Ndiyawoyawo and Imfa Ikamabwera Ilibe Odi, the duo moved on to create their fan base in early 1990s, with their music enjoying airplay on MBC.
Today, 32 years later, and the six-year-old Konzani now aged 38 and the nine-year-old Joseph now 41, they continue to work hard to claim their space in the music industry although with nothing to show for it, advancement-wise, in the industry.
The men are struggling to breathe life into Kasambwe Brothers Band, carrying their guitar and a drum, walking around some townships in Blantyre, especially drinking joints, to entertain people, charging K300 per song.
On a rather lazy afternoon last Sunday, the duo showed up at Silver Grey, a somewhat popular drinking joint situated at Kamba Market where imbibers from different professional backgrounds, including retirees, form a circle under a tent just outside the joint discussing wide-range of issues, while sipping a glass or two.
You would easily tell the band was no stranger to the place as immediately it arrived, patrons around started dangling 300 kwachas for songs of their choice without the band introducing itself.
Imfa Ikamabwera Ilibe Odi was probably the toast of the day, it was repeatedly played and other songs played included Amayi Thandizeni, Ndakwera Mtengo Waminga, Mtedza Subala Nzama and Kundinyansa Poyenda Anthu Aziti Ndi Awo Awo.
The duo, despite coming of age now, maintain some of the songs, such as Amayi Thandizeni Ndakwera Mtengo Waminga, in their signature tiny voices.
Konzani said in an interview after the Silver Grey show that some of their hits include A Widzi Abwera, Nambewe Tinapangana, Achule Muli Bwanji and Ahedi Ndanyanyala.
Joseph, who confessed they live a hand-to-mouth kind of life, disclosed that on good days they make K15 000 to K20 000 to support their families.
He said although they have shared the stage with some of Malawi’s popular music outfits such as Lucius Banda’s Zembani Band, Chileka-based Black Missionaries, Edgar ndi Davis, and at times hired by Eric Mabedi’s Kwathu Drama Group, to which they are grateful, they have nothing to show for their talent.
“It is our appeal to institutions to support our music by hiring us for their events. Even individuals can also support us. We have new songs which we want to record. People of good will can pay any studio for the recording of the songs,” Joseph said.
While music celebrities such as Lucius Banda, Black Missionaries’ Anjiru Fumulani and Billy Kaunda can easily be identified when they take a drive or a walk in town, these unsung heroes from Matope Village in Ndirande can hardly be noticed even when they have their guitar and drum with them.
“Are you the real Kasambwe Brothers we have known for years?” one man asked them at Silver Grey before the duo moved to another drinking joint.
Another man at the club, Chikalipo Chibwana, congratulated the Kasambwe Brothers Band for maintaining their local jazz touch, which he said is unique and entertaining.
“They may be little known, not that famous as other musicians in the country or their music may not have brought them that fortune, but they stand out as a band that has entertained many for years. They need our support,” Chibwana said.
Although the two are children of Mr and Mrs Chikwata, Joseph opted to be known as Joseph Banda while Konzani is known as Konzani Chikwata.
They have spent all their life in Blantyre, but their home village is Chizunga, Traditional Authority Mphuka in Thyolo. n
Across Malawi, 124 012 children are attending 1 671 reading camps established by World Vision. Lilongwe alone has 66 reading camps that are attached to 22 supplied with porridge by the World Food Programme (WFP), who have also funded World Vision for the ‘Unlock Literacy Project’. n