Whoever believed in the adage tsabola wakale sawawa—that which ridiculed and dismissed the older generation for old wives’ tales—surely must have missed the recent live music shows featuring Balaka’s oldest giant—Paul Banda.
If his recent appearances is anything to go by, Paul has proved that the journey for the group is not over yet, as the group brings back the good old musical times.
The loud choruses from Balaka, Malawi’s renowned musical capital are back, with Alleluya Band regrouped.
“Surely, it is Balaka regrouping. We are reclaiming our lost plot,” said Lucius Banda, the man, who undoubtedly kept the Balaka tunes, echoing when his brother and mentor Paul, bowed down from active music before his recent reappearance.
Paul’s decision to “rest” from his long hours of standing on stage behind the microphone doing the gospel tunes that, to date, still mean almost all about real life in the village and town alike, does not seem to have erased people’s memory cards.
But ‘Sir’ Paul himself knows it was a long holiday that should now be cut short to help make the dream of reclaiming their lost glory alive. After all, he used to head the ship.
“I know people missed me; I missed them too. But I am back in full swing now because I believe we had a vision when we started music in Balaka and that vision we must continue,” says Banda.
At their recent shows in Lilongwe—at Mungo Park and Tay Taz Safaris—one could not imagine the kind of patrons who, surely, seldom attend live shows. They just could not afford to sit out but to watch, listen and dance at shows featuring familiar tunes.
Making the patronage were government principal secretaries, company executives and it was clear they were actually mesmerised by the Imbirani Yahweh-baked tunes that used to dominate the entertainment of their youths.
The Tay Taz and Mungo Park shows also brought those who wished some of us “all the best” as we went to shows in between the “Balaka holiday” and the “Balaka regrouping” stages.
Corporate journalist Lewis Msasa enjoys Malawi music that is far from mediocrity and noted Alleluya Band is serious, musically.
“We are now inspired to start patronising live shows again. These are serious musicians. They deliver what they promise,” he said, while dancing to Paul’s Zonse Nzabwino piece, at Mungo Park.
“You see,” he continues, “this music reminds us of the days when we listened to the real stuff in music. The problem is that today music is too artificial.”
Paul, founding leader of Alleluya Band that gave birth to almost all giants of Balaka, thinks that while the band continued in his absence, the old blood needed to come back to carry the vision further.
“We are a gospel outfit with a slightly different approach. Some gospel musicians will choose where they can play but we will play anywhere because we believe Gospel is universal, and that we don’t have to choose where it’s preached,” says Paul.
Paul, in between his break and resurrection, has so far played with other gospel musicians with different bands backing him, but it was clear something kept telling him: “you have missed it.”
“God has been saying go back and maintain what you started,” he adds.
His comeback was registered when he released a new album Wakwera ya Yani last year but he does not hope to release another one, not too soon. Typical of his calibre as his whole career has all along been punctuated by rare releases.
“It’s because I am now busy trying to bring back those forgotten numbers. I am currently working on the best of Paul Banda because I realised that songs like Nthawi Imafika are not yet on CD. I am reworking that because those days the kind of recording was not so good,” he said.
From the 1990s to 2004, Balaka was a hit name in Malawi music but slowly things soured and the market was now a shared cake with every jim and jack of town music.
Zembani Music Company, an off-spring of Allelluya Band founded by Paul’s younger brother ‘Soldier’ Lucius Banda, came in with high hopes of producing more musicians on the market while maintaining the Balaka rhythm.
It was not so much a dream Lucius enjoys recalling of what the vision ended up being.