'The Black Missionaries' glory is premised on the dead.
Their story, too, is one built around the dead.
The Late Evison Matafale: To Be Always Remembered by Malawians
It (the story) is not about all the dead, though; not about all the people who went towards the way of all the earth.
Theirs is a sad story- one about a man who came back to Malawi after a short stint in Zimbabwe, and, then, died before his journey was through.
At 32, the trumpet that his time was nigh blew a bit earlier. That is why, every November 27 of whichever year, Matafale will always die.
His actual death came in 2001. After that, because of the Black Missionaries' zeal, Matafale has died 10 times more. The sort of death that leaves people miring in a pool of 'what-ifs'.
What, for example, if Matafale survived the three days of police custody and sang his way through 2002 to 2011?
What, another example, if Matafale survived the push of colourless breath and lived a little longer for us- our Lake Malawi, Lake Chilwa, Lake Chiuta, Shire and Linthipe Rivers to appreciate?
What if he married in 2006, and left us, at least, two Evison Matafale juniors?
It will never be.
Because the story is sad.
A life story that ends on November 27. 2001. Actually, this (November 27, 2001) is where the story starts; the long tale of Matafale's vision and prophetic mission.
A prophetic mission that has turned Matafale into an endless story. People can choose where to start, or end- but Matafale's story is endless. Just the mention of 'Oh, Matafale, oh' is enough to spur lovers of talent and freedom into some tell-tale mode.
A mode that, always, ends in misery. For the more reason that Matafale's end was sad.
And that, though November 27, 2001 marks the beginning of another story- a story of courage and vision and talent and foresight- this story, too, ends in sadness.
Oh, Matafale, oh!
Of course, Evison Matafale- the man who died, and for whom the living pay homage every year, was a Malawian per excellence, starting from the time he stayed in Lilongwe, and played seek and hide with the likes of Madalitso Kateta and friends.
Matafale is a man who died before his time. A man who was, and is not! To live with us no more.
Kateta will tell you that Matafale was a jolly, good-fella in youth, well before he started teaching at a Secondary School in Lilongwe.
But, with Matafale's life, there simply is no single 'well'. For the more reason that his story is riddled with admiration and awe. All those who hear his story go home in awe, beating their heads was what was meant to be, but, really, never come to be.
Well (this is the other 'well', the second one, because, with Matafale, there is never one 'well'. Just many), Matafale first brushed whisks with that animal called youth in Lilongwe. And, as a nasty, good-fella, Matafale was outgoing in youth, as he stumped his small feet on Lilongwe's unsuspecting dry bushes, killing birds with his mahogany-strong catapult.
Matafale would always tell the likes of Kateta to go in the bush first, and check if it offered any hope for catches.
Any catch. Mouse, Birds.
Oh,fruits were a catch too.
They all, to Matafale, counted.
But Matafale would always tell others to go first. In a way, at that tender age, he was still a 'King'. The sort of jolly-good king he would later become.
There- in the shadows of Mango, paw-paw, pitch, blue-gum, mahogany, and ebony giant trees- passed a tiny king. A would-be-king of Malawi Reggae.
Unfortunately for the trees and the people who saw this young, noisy man walk to towards the next bush with a gang of fellow youths, they could not see this greatness in him.
This greatness was hidden; hidden in that little, childish, bassless voice of his- a voice that was him in youth, but could not be remembered in adulthood.
Instead, the 'lucky' human beings- including his parents and relatives- saw him alongside the other 'little' human beings, human beings whose future they did not know, little kids whose purpose in life they could not fathom, small citizens whose death they could not predict.
That was then- a time that really existed- when Matafale was, put simply, a human being.
What they knew- these people we don't know, these people whose faces we will never know, these people who Matafale knew, but never really knew- was that they would never see him again one day.That is the day of timely death, when, all troubles forgotten, the great and the small, the ruled and the judges above the blueless skies fly.
That, exactly, is what happens in life. You see some people and know you will never plant your eyes on them again. That, where they go, you will never know.
'That is life', so said the people who realized this, and on the strength of the conviction that it was no use giving a damn about this, already already cut the task short for us.
But Matafale would be demanding at times. He would tell the Kateta's to go far afield whenever the fallen Reggae King wanted to bathe in the open. Matafale has swam in Lilongwe's biggest and touted rivers and dams. Because he was a simple man, a man who never assumed to be what he was not. Or, put simply, a man who never wanted to be where he had not arrived.
But he knew where he was going. Because he was a visionary creature. And, kinda, he knew how to get there.
That's how he arrived in our hearts. And conquered our hearts with his sweet music. Before death, brutally, took his frame and soul away. A Malawian no more!
Before Matafale outgrew the bushes and the rivers and the dams and the trees, he was an unheralded young man; a man, perhaps, who had nothing to do with Reggae.
That time, between the 1980s and 2000, Charles Akuline Sinetre was the 'Reggae Ambassador'. He still is.
Charles Akuline Sinetre has always been a man of the people. His music and cham-tale beats have shaken the nation's apprehensive hearts.
Sinetre could give you 'Rock with Me', 'The Sleeping Cat', 'Never throw a stone', and sing about how the sky was blue and the winds forever blowing, and how that (blowing winds and blue skies) made his world (and our world, too) go around.
Sinetre, always high-spirited, would also ask God to bless this world in 'Dalitsani Dziko', telling the nation that time was nigh, time to implore the Lord that on this world his blessings should pour.
The sort of blessings that touch people's heads in form of rain, and sun's sweet rays, and the flavourless less of oxygen that turns our hearts into valleys and mountains in life's little journey called 'being'.
Nisphore Gervasio- now gone, long gone towards the way of all the earth- was a music critic from Kauye Village, Traditional Authority Kamenyagwaza in Dedza between 1990 and 2004. He specialised in Reggae.
Of Sinetre in 1994 he said: "He knows how to experiment with his voice; and knows how to manipulate the bass guitar, to come up with his own kind of raggae- the kind of reggae that cries above the Balaka Reggae beat".
Nisphore Gervasio was right. Charles Sinetre has always been ahead of his game. No wonder, he just returned, a couple of years back, from his music studies in the United Kingdom.
There are no music schools in Malawi. And no infrastructure for music performances.
The French Cultural Centre closed shop in 2010. It's good the Ministry of Sports and Culture bought the place. But it remains closed.
The Ware House Cultural Centre, in down town Blantyre, remains a ramshackle of a building. Fire its warmth destroyed some rains back, and the winds now blow willy-nilly against what used to be the Mighty Ware House. It can no longer house people. the way it used to be.
Performances, be it drama, music, what have you, are done outside. Against the winds, the sun and the skies. Against the wishes of art lovers.
Owners of the place say they can not renovate it without the prior permission of the owners of the place- Central and East African Railways!
Now there is a place in town called Robin's Park. Strategically located near Kwacha International Conference Centre (now MBC TV Headquarters), Robin's Park -owned by Azam Tigers Football Club manager, Robin Alufandika) is already fighting for a place in the books of shame.
Munyaradzi Chidzonga, the Zimbabwean Big Brother Africa representative of yester-years, can attest to this. Two weeks ago, when he came to premier his 'The Gentleman' alongside Malawian beauty queen- the strangely-bodied Faith Chibale- he was welcomed by the sun in the day, and a black-out at night!
Munya later mourned, like a cow deprived of its newly-born: "Owners of this place (Robin's Park) are poor planners. They knew Escom (The Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi- the body that distributes more black outs than power) is unreliable. Yet, they did not prepare a stand-by generator".
It is against this background that Charles Sinetre has shown to be a man ahead of his time; a man who plans before the black out attacks its 'suspecting victims'. He has studied music now, when Malawi has no music schools of repute.
He was the 'Reggae Ambassador' then (and now), well before Malawi could guess that Reggae music would later make Matafale the country's legend.
Charles Sinetre blew the Regae trumpet before Matafale, and stayed faithful to that calling.
No wonder, Sinetre was there in Chileka- when people converged to celebrate Matafale's life- and sang his reggae beats in honour of the fallen Matafale. A man who was, and went before his time.
Apart from Sinetre, we have had this Man-of-all-Time Paul Banda. Paul is, to Malawi, the winds and the sun and the skies. He is everything in music, everything we ever wanted.
His voice makes the strong-hearted wait and listen. His well-composed songs will never be 'eaten' by the memories for a long time to come.
One of the best acts to have come from the legendary-while-alive Paul Banda is that song 'Tonthola'.
The beat start on a mellow note, then, the drums, beaten carefully- as if they were a newly-born son, whose back can be hurt at the slightest exertion of pressure- before the 'go' drum, certifying that the instruments have reached the mouth of an invisible bridge, draws Paul Banda to planned attention.
Paul Banda, mellow as usual, but touched to the bottom of his heart by the plight of our anonymous orphaned child, takes to his self-drawn journey of drawing people's attention to human suffering.
It is not Paul Banda who speaks. Paul Banda is the people's representative, the like of a Member of Parliament. Now, the child-in-the-good-old Paul Banda says, pleadingly:
'Ndikhumbira inu anzanga/Mwana wamasiye ine/ Amayi anandisiya ndikali woyamwa ine/Nawo bambo kumwalira ndikali wam'ng'ono ine/Palibe chondikondwetsa m'dziko laweni lino...'
Paul Banda, touched by the little voice, thunders in the chorus:
'Iwe tonthola kondwa/Chikondi chambuye chilipo/Anakupatsa kholo lachikondi lokoma mtima/ Taonanso abwenzi/ Okongola ulinawo/ Ukakumana ndivuto/Usayese wakutaya/Usuzumire mwanzako/Akuzunzika koposa/Apo iwe m'bale/Umvetse chikondi chambuye..."
That is Paul Banda, the loving man. Always blowing the trumpet of hope. Always reassuring.
'Tonthola', like most of Paul Banda's songs, is a mature piece. In his songs, heavens and earth meet.
Sinetre. Paul. Lucius Banda. MBC Band. Kalimba. Makasu. The late Bright Nkhata. Paul Chaphuka. Paul Chimkwakwa. Robert Fumulani. The Ndikakwera paphiri la Mulanje and Tsoka Liyenda geniuses. Ben Mankhamba. Paul Subiri and Rodrick Valamanja. Vic 'Marley' Kunje, Annie Matumbi (now Maliseni), Young Kay, Diktator, JB, Tay Green. Mirella Nkhoma. Lucius Banda. Mlaka Maliro. Billy Kaunda, Joseph Nkasa. Gift Fumulani. And more.
These have been, to Malawi, what sand is to the ocean. Anchors of our music.
On the list of these 'anchors' Matafale came, to sing with his heart, sharing a message of both warning and hope to Malawi, and the world at large. This message came through a golden message, a voice weighed down by long-suffering.
Let's face it. When Matafale talked of suffering, he had a race in mind- the Black race.
He felt, strongly, that the black skin has been the subject of a man-hunt for centuries, starting, as it were, from the time innocent human beings- sitting on the verandah of their grass-thatched houses, as cattle, goats, and mice grazed together in the green underground- heard the sound of a gun.
They, being naive to this sound, did follow the sound. It is this animal called curiosity that, sometimes, sends the African to his early grave. 'His' because it is men who follow the danger, the sound, as women prepare Nsima, or sweet beer at home. Of course, after a long day in the field, cultivating the plants of life.
The men, innocent as they were, were caught in their innocence, and ferried across the seas.
The conditions were poor. Ventilation non-existent.
Others arrived, weak and lonely and down-trodden, in Europe and the Americas. There, they toiled for no pay.
They were beaten. For no reason at all- except that they were taken from Africa, their mother continent, a continent their planned not to leave, to this very far away land.
So, Matafale- being full of memory, sang in one of his songs:
I stand here/In a black skin/The oppressed skin...
There is pain in this song. But Matafale ends by saying he will still a song of freedom. He called his song about oppression i>'Freedom' /i>.
This is what Matafale did sometimes. His mesages were, at times, ironical. He could say what he did not mean, and mean what he wanted to say!
That is what Matafale also preached in songs such as 'Timba', 'Watsetseleka', Sing a song', and more.
Before Matafale 'went for never' (never to come back), he left Malawi and the world with a song so strong. That beat 'Time Mark', in which he said (and not only likened himself to Daniel) he was 'Prophet Daniel', telling the world as it were- and not as it (the world) wanted things to be.
Of course, music plaudits have lauded that song, and called it all names reserved for master-pieces.
The truth is that 'Time Mark' was done in a hurry, and the instruments override Matafale's voice. The coordination between the drums and key-boards is, to say the least, poor to the bottom of the mud.
It is a song done in a hurry.
So, the 'hit' 'Time Mark' is- contrary to the reasons most people applaud it for- a warning. The poor instruments-and-voice mixing is a warning almost hinging on foresight.
Matafale was delivering a message that his days were nigh.
That is why he was in a hurry. That is why that song has all the hallmarks of an individual about to leave his land for the land commonly hoped for- a land where the grass is green and the sun burns no more.
That is the message Matafale delivered in 'Time Mark'. A good-bye message. The message is not about the September 11, 2001 events in the United States of America, or about terrorism, or prophecy.
It is about Matafale going. Going with a veiled bye. It is a song about a man in a hurry. Just that Matafale did not prepare the journey. That is why his is a sad story.
When he came onto the Malawi music scene, he shook Malawi with 'Watsetsereka'. Then, when the name 'Wailing Brothers' and Evison Matafale meant the same thing: quality music.
Then, just in the nick of time, Matafale jumped ship to form his own 'Black Missionaries' Band. This was not strange. Matafale was always a man on a mission.
I got to know Matafale, at least, some one-and-a-half year before he died.
He could always come to the UDF News (at the United Democratic Front's headquarters in Limbe, Blantyre) and ask for either Richard Chinansi or me.
He always had a message.
He would either say, "'Mr. Richard Chirombo', I have a message. Anthuwa akupanga zopusa kwabasi".
By 'anthuwa', he meant the people in the United Democratic Front regime. 'In fact, 'anthuwa' (these people) included the Late Davis Kapito- former United Democratic Front Governor for the Southern Region. Now gone.
Or he would say: "Chinansi, I want to deliver a message. Someone is not doing his job properly. I will show these people the way". That's how Matafale spoke: he never name-called!
He would say 'people', 'anthuwa', abalewa' alongowa'. Everyone, to him, was a person, human being, brother, sister. Others, in his life, were somebody- never something. He wanted people to do right. He was for the right.
That was Matafale for you. He wanted things to be done well.
In the course of that time, we became friends.
We could meet in Soche East, Blantyre- Matafale always in sandals- and talk about the things Matafale thought were going wrong.
It was through this acquaintance that Richard Chinansi and I came to read that letter Matafale wrote. That latter for which he was to be brutally slain.
Nobody should deny that the Malawi Police Service and former President Bakili Muluzi's government 'killed' Matafale. One day, in a world without handcuffs and power-intoxication, they will answer for their gruesome crime! A crime committed at the time of Malawi's need for talent.
When Matafale died, so many people were angry. One of songs of anger and remorse was played by renowned Disk Jockey, then working for the Mighty 'FM 101 Power', the one-and-only Patrick Kamkwatira.
Kamkwatira, the day after Matafale was murdered by the Bakili Muluzi regime and the non-reformed Malawi Police Service, played Billy Kaunda's song. It is the chorus that captivated the sadness in me:
"...Akhoza kukupha/Mkuyamba kukana/Popeza wakufa sapereka umboni".
It is Billy Kaunda, Member of Parliament in the Ngoni-land of Mzimba- singing. But the anger was Kamkwatira's!
The song, roughly translated, means: 'They will kill you, on the hope that the dead make bad first eye-witnesses'.
You can hummer a man, under the cover of fearsome darkness. If the man dies, he will remain a silent witness who will never speak to jurors and messengers of justice- that is the message Kaunda talks so well about.
Of coarse, the dead will never stand for their own witnesses (in voice). But the conscience of the men involved will always be there, to torment them in times of peace.
Though pathologists and other experts can work on dead bodies to come up with scientific conclusions, the dead humans-no-longer-being will never testify in person, with their own voices. This is so simple to understand. The breath that gives voices having been withdrawn from them- to hope no more, cry no more, pray no more, wish no more, and, the painful end in all this, testify no more!
So, against this barrage of anger Matafale still went, interred in the fertile soils of Chileka.
He lies there, fittingly among the other legends of Robert Fumulani fame.
There, as the people throng Chileka Police Ground once a year, in his honour to dance their sorrows and the sad Matafale memories away. Matafale hears no more, listens no more.
What he does is to testify about the brutality of man. That animal called brutality, an animal that takes away what it never bothered to bring aboard.
Matafale and Matafale and Matafale went. But the people who murdered him did not.
Though they, at times, from pneumonia, high blood pressure and abnormal body-disks' movements suffer- they live on.
Among them are uniform wearers. Among them child bearers.
They eat and dine and wine- on the wings of winds on which Matafale's soul blew away.
Against the green of envy that, out of malice, Matafale's life took.
What remains, after every November 27 show, is a cry: Oh, Matafale, oh!
It means: What, Matafale, did you go!