Bongo Joe Records
Forget the White Stripes and their army of seven countriesand lock in the two-man musical army that is the Madalitso Band from Malawi; you will not be disappointed.
Initially, the duo roamed the streets of Mtandire, a slum in the country’s capital, Lilongwe, between regular jobs as gardener and caretaker and were discovered, by chance, by a local producer. Ten years of hard work followed, during which recognition of their talents grew exponentially, resulting in appearances outside their home country. Fungo La Nyembaan album available for purchase only at their live concerts, was produced, and in 2019 Wasala was released on the Bongo Joe Records label. It is to this increasingly influential Geneva label that the group returns for its latest album, Musakayike.
The eight tracks on the album, whose title translates to “don’t doubt us”, are energetic and infectious in the extreme, although, somewhat paradoxically, the subject often deals with the harshness of daily life in what is one of the world’s poorest countries, alongside reflections on the love, romance and success. The duo includes Yosef Kalekenion a four-string guitar (acting like a Malawian banjo), and a cowhide drum which is struck with the heel, and Yobu Malingwa, Who’s playing babaton, a homemade one-string slide bass. The two artists provide the vocals.
With the guitar hanging to the beat, singer Yobu’s long neck babaton serves as both bottom end and lead. This “Malawi banjo music” derived from South African rhythms and exemplified by other artists such as the imperious Kachamba Brothers in the late 1960s/1970s, and more recently Mouse Boys, Tonga Boys and Gasper Mali, certainly owes a nod to South Africa Kwela and jive music.
Having toured extensively in Europe, at the Roskilde Festival, Womex and Womad, for example, and being featured on the BBC’s Global Beats, this release sees their extended live renditions refined and scaled down while retaining the dynamism and spontaneity which are their trademark. .
The burning rhythm is given from the opening track Ali Nadi Vuto, as the Madalitsos come off their blocks with a somewhat autobiographical track in which Yobu laments the fact that whether you’re rich, possibly involving the international tours, or poor, the street on the street, people will find fault with it. both. With a guitar sound that Buddy Holly would have been proud of and uplifting call-and-response figures filled with delicious harmonies, this song will immediately bring summer into your listening world.
Chikondi Sichiona Nkhope, which means “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, features an infectious groove with its frenetic opening string sounds and steady, relentless, thumping bass drum beat; Yobu here begs his lady to return to her village to meet her parents.
Thanks to the translated lyrics provided in the liner notes, it’s clear that the topics of romance, love, and relationships permeate the album. On the title track, Musakayike, the narrator asks the girl not to doubt him, that this might be her lucky day, and in answer to her question, yes, he is poor, however
“Marriage is not about wealth
It’s about love,”
while on Diyaonce again an invocation of love between two beings admired by others, the voices of Yobu and Yesefe complement each other perfectly on a sound that has, at the risk of lazy comparisons, a distinctive soweto air.
A similar sound is evoked on Wandiputa Dala, the only track on which Yesefe is credited with lead vocals. Above the vibrant playing, with mesmerizing slide effects, the lyrics, which refer to the provocation of the bees in their nest and their resulting actions, could be interpreted as a metaphor for larger issues.
The fact that the duo are not afraid to express social concerns in their work is also illustrated by Mwandikumbutsa. A truly wonderful track with incredibly deep bass vocals and a big catchy, perhaps inexplicable chorus to these ears, Ronnie Lane Kuschty Rye comes to mind; the sensation generated is somewhat incongruous with the subject. The lyrics lament the past time when people lived in harmony compared to today when
“Children learn bad things
Forgetting that justice is the way,
with people who rebel and kill each other for no reason.
The couple return to the theme of love in the penultimate track Mwaza, a song of epic proportions. The call and response sections are, once again, jaw-dropping and the track’s tempo defies speed limits. Orchestral in scope, the sounds of syncopated rhythms generated from such a limited range of instruments are simply amazing.
There is also no respite on the final offer. Jingo Janga (skipping rope dance), the song, long used as a live encore of the duo, sees the high-speed tempo continue unabated in a joyful final celebration of music at its finest.
Considered the true prophets of music in Malawi, Madalitso Band’s Musakayike makes listening compulsive, guaranteed to brighten up the most boring moments. Surely only those with a happiness bypass might not appreciate such intoxicating and compelling music? With sounds as happy as these, there’s certainly no reason to doubt it.
Musakayike is out June 17, 2022 via Bongo Joe
Pre-order via Bandcamp: https://madalitsoband.bandcamp.com/album/musakayike