On the list of famous legendary choir groups in the country, Katawa Singers cannot miss. Named after a township in Mzuzu, Katawa Singers designed and delivered the electronic gospel sound that dominated the country’s airwaves. Tracing the grouping birth in Katawa, it all started by accident.
It was hatched as a fundraising initiative for the construction of the new Presbyterian church in Katawa area in 1990 under the leadership of Allen Mtambo, Reverend Peter Mushanga, and the late Pickford Jungu. They received a Yamaha keyboard from a foreign donor and what followed next is the result of the musicality, inventiveness and artistic sense of artists who quickly gained acclaim.
Since then, Katawa Singers have recorded a dozen releases, toured around Malawi, playing at festivals and prayer gatherings.
The Mzuzu-based gospel singers have played a big role in Malawi’s gospel music revolution. It won’t be wrong to crown them ‘gospel music pioneers’.
The group made Malawi realise how gospel music should be shaped. No wonder they won several awards, including the Malawi Broadcasting Station (MBC) 50 years of broadcasting legendary gospel band award.
It was in 1992, that the choir made its first recording. It recorded four songs at MBC Chichiri Studios with Auden Nthala, Thomas Lupeska, Eliza Kachali, Grey Mwanza, Andrea Kamanga, Mirriam Mhango, Eliot Msiska, Telita Moyo and the late Perfect Shawa, Ruth Kachali, Alice Luwinga and Yohane Njunga as its key members.
Songs such as Ambuye ndi bwera, Welawelako, Yesu Wali Kwiza, Uyimilire Nga Nga Nga came out and dominated airplay at the only radio station MBC by then.
“After recording our songs with MBC, the demand for our songs grew. We received pressure asking us to come up with an album. We, therefore, released our first album at Baptist Media Centre in Blantyre in early 1992,” said the band chairperson Nthala in an interview with The Weekend Nation.
The Ambuye ndibwera album made grand sales amounting to 20 000 tapes.
In 1993, Katawa released another album titled Chikondi Ndi Chanu, which has songs such as Ayehova Tawonani, Kolesykani, I have Wandered and Hlanat.
The band later recorded its third album in 1994, which has songs such as Nyumba Yawadada, Likunozga Dzuwa and Nthawi Inatha.
It was in 1995 that Katawa Gospel Singers came up with Ku Eden album, which has songs such as Mtundu Wantha and Mwazi Wona.
However, their sixth album released in 1996 is the one that band members say was more successful.
The album Tiyimbire Yesu comprised songs such as Kunja Kwayipa, Ndimvereni, Onani Dziko La Pansi and Kuli Mpingo Tikaoneko.
“The sixth album was marvelous, we made huge sales compared to other nine albums we produced. Demand for its songs is still there,” said Nthala.
In 2008, the band aligned itself to the new technology, and released a DVD which was recorded at BM Studio in Mzuzu.
The DVD also made strides having realised more sells. It composed of tracks collected from their old songs from various albums they produced.
Meanwhile, the band has an office and a studio just within Mzuzu City.
To date as they celebrate their 33 years anniversary, Katawa has recorded a total of 11 albums and won several awards.
In 1998, the band scooped position number three in the Malawi Gin Music competition. It also emerged position two in the Millennium Music Trophy in 2000 and later earned the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Music Competition Championship in 2011 which was held at the French Cultural Centre now Blantyre Cultural Centre.
Katawa Singers is not only popular in Malawi; it also performed in a number of international festivals.
In 1998, the band performed at a crusade in Lusaka Zambia, where they pulled a crowd and won a video recording deal at the University of Zambia where they recorded their first music video at Lundazi studio.
Having lost some of its members, the band has incorporated young talents, who are expected to sustain the band.
The band is working on another album after years of break scheduled to be released soon.
“As we celebrate 33 years of existence, we can comfortably say that the band is still intact. As explained, we have our own studio and the new album we intend to release shortly has been recorded at our studio,” said Nthala.
Asked the secret that has made the choir to remain intact to date, senior member Lupeska said members do not rely on the band for their living.
“We put serving God as priority. We don’t rely on the band for our living. This has made us to be together this long,” he said.