There were moments in his career when the self doubt was so poignant that he deeply contemplated retiring from the music scene.
But art, like priesthood or teaching, is a calling, a vocation from which one cannot rationally detach themselves even if they desired to.
Hence, his hesitation to release new music and the resultant gap it took before he gathered enough courage to go back into the studio.
And Theo Thomson confesses that the journey back has not been an easy one.
“The hesitation on starting up a new project really stemmed from seeing where the industry was going and after feeling overlooked at various awards and shows. I felt I needed to find my feet in this industry,” he told Chill midweek.
When he came to the music scene a decade ago, Theo was seen as the one realistic chance of taking Malawian music beyond the border.
Coupled with his smooth grooves, his sultry voice and his good looks, Theo would have gone places. If he had chosen to. But somehow, he stuttered and choked just when success seemed to be a grasp away.
And Theo is short of words in ascribing an explanation to the malaise.
“It’s hard to say. If the local media and supporters pushed our artists hard, then when the international scene ask about artists in Malawi, we’re not looked at as inferior and rather that we have a scene that needs to be counted.
“I heard a company was asked by a big Southern African country to provide names of its biggest artists so that they could stand shoulder to shoulder with African heavy weights in a project… the company said we don’t have any…an opportunity lost,” he pondered.
But Theo says he has searched his conscience and pulled himself out of the abyss of self doubt. And the results are quite pleasing to the ear.
Maybe Tomorrow, the lead single off his highly anticipated album White Elephant, sets a high bar for the rest of the tracks.
The track finds the artist leaning on a heavy traditional beat. Yet he loses neither his smoothness nor slickness, overly stamping the Theo Thomson stamp all over this number.
“I had a lot going on and just went in the studio and vibe with Mvuumvuu [music producer Jaber Nkwazi], and what we came up with was unique and different and it really built curiosity in us to see where this sound could go. Five songs in we knew we had to make an album,” Theo explained, and accepts that his music is undergoing some renovation.
“My music is as multi-faceted as I am. The album is no exception to that, it is me. The transition in my sound is well underway.”
The musician says White Elephant is musically mature, lyrically clever and thought provoking; high energy partnered with smooth and soulful sounds.
In explaining the White Elephant concept, Theo said it is a metaphor in Thai folklore.
“The story is that of an elephant being presented as a grand gift to a more dominant village, the elephant subsequently would eat all the villages stores and create havoc knocking down building because of its size and destroy the village from within, this metaphor is ‘a gift that is a curse’ and this metaphor fits with my relationship with music at times,” he explained.
The album will be released and launched on June 5 at Robin’s Park in Blantyre.
Theo, whose family owns FM 101 in Blantyre, lived in the UK, where he began to gain an interest in music a performing and moved back to Malawi to expand his music career.
He is also the grandson of former Minister of Trade and Industry, Harry Thomson, who is the incumbent Chikwawa North member of Parliament.
After years of collaborations on various tracks, Theo released his debut album Gypsy in 2010.
His track So Amazing received overwhelming requests and airplay on Malawi’s state and private owned radios.
It was at number one for a few weeks on the Malawian charts.
The song has been popular in Zimbabwe, and Theo also performed the song as an opening act on MTV’s Big Brother Africa.
His songs Kuthentha (On Fire) and Stutter have been featured on popular music stations Channel O and MTV. n