Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Lulu’s iconoclastic music portrait
A boy, aged seven, decided to abandon the traditional music fashion of the time and strike out into the dark night of Malawi music.
“I remember that, that time, my father was a member of a quartet that used to rehearse at our house. Those encounters kindled my interest in music,” says Lulu, alias Lawrence Khwisa. I, then, found myself singing at Church after becoming a member of the Praise Team at Kawale Assemblies of God Harvest Temple,” says Lulu.
And, so, begun a music journey that has become characterized by the fusion of R & B and Pop music.
His acquaintance with music equipment can be traced to the moments other band leaders failed to turn up at church. When the drummer failed to turn up one day, Lulu found himself beating the drum. Later, when other instrument players failed to turn up, could play the piano, the guitar, until he could have a go at all the equipment.
That Lulu comes from a musical family- replete with a father who could join the quartet after knocking off from his work as head mechanic at Whole Garage- is not an issue; the issue is his choice of music. While walking in the predictable footsteps of traditional music icons such as Dr. Daniel Kachamba, Allan Namoko, Robert Fumulani, Michael Yekha, Stonard Lungu was supposed to be a natural choice for an upcoming musician, Lulu chose to be iconoclastic by condensing the traditional patterns of singing into a few quatrains, thereby satirising all forms of memorial in so doing.
Emptying his mind of its old beliefs, he programmed his mind to lapse into a mood of quiet disillusionment where, with a fresh eye and senses uncorrupted by familiarity, it gazed upon life’s little lessons “as they were”.
“I decided to be different. I decided to fuse R & B and Pop, and compliment the instruments with mature Chichewa messages so I could relate very well with Malawians. So far, it seems that I have made inroads as both the youth and adults like my music. Most youths are into American music, and can relate to my music. As for adults, they like the serious tough in my songs because Sindiyimba zachibwana, zogemula ena (I’m not into beef music),” says Lulu.
That is how his journey, starting from the slow match and muffled drum at church, has become recognised in its own right. It was a new world from the first drum beat to the last shout; and he is committed to maintaining the status quo.
A new world despite the repetition of the old themes that continue to offer a quick release from mental turmoil.
Curving a niche
Lulu’s music, as a meditational exercise, reflects the goings-on in Lulu’s world. And, like many forms of meditational exercise, his themes of God’s love and divinity, human affection, equality, love’s infallibility, blind loyalty, among others, is a search for a world commensurate with his desire for three-tier harmony between people, God, and natural resources.
This is reflected in his three albums namely Mbambande, released in 2004, Kumalembe, and Sindilola- released on his return from the United Kingdom, where he went to play with Lucius Banda’s Zembani Band.
At his best, as in ‘Sindilola’ and ‘Kumalembe’, he shelves and dissolves life’s experiences in hybrid lyrics and vocals while his mature message, like wraths, settle in the melted ears and melted hearts of his audience.
His voice, like a finger that touches every wound, reshapes life’s general motifs of burning desire, sheer grace, endurance, vigilance. In these transitional songs, Lulu goes a long way beyond traditional romantic notions of order. In short, he becomes a modest, a man of the future living in the present and, in a way, a man against the crowd.
A song titled ‘Kumalembe’, with its reference to the persona’s dead, but beloved, mum, describes how life has evolved into a mound of hard experience- a form of a concentration camp- and how the persona’s last vestiges of hope have all but vanished.
“I decided to be different from the onset, one of the steps involved turning myself into a Jazz guitarist. My background has played into it as well. I used to be an R&B fanatic who used to like R. Kelly, Steven Wonder and grew up listening to American Gospel music.
“In fact, I was taught by people from the United States, and that’s why you find American elements in my songs. I just add African themes to my fused music,” says Lulu, Born 7 May 1985.
He credits daily rehearsals for the consistency in his music.
“And that, I think, is the reason Kumalembe and Sindilola sold more copies on the local market. I sold more through CDs and DVDs, as opposed to Compact Disks, because the Malawian music market is in three levels: That of tapes; with CDs only, and; thirdly, the level where both CD and DVD sell like hot cakes.”
Defining Lulu’s music
Is Lulu a Gospel or secular musician?
“Well, the truth is that I feel more comfortable composing Gospel songs because I don’t need to write. Having been in the church for some time, I have gotten used to scriptures, and they just come to you. I find it easier to compose Gospel songs than love.
“It is a bit taxing to compose a love song because I have to ask myself so many questions like: How do people in love feel? What is it they think about, or do, often? I need to work at a concept, piece together letters, and see what I have to write down,” says Lulu.
Lulu tears into perceptions that one can only be a God-fearing artist if they call themselves Gospel musicians.
”I don’t understand that argument because, for someone to sing the way I do, it is because of the power of God. God loves people who love him, and He knows I love Him. Singing secular does not mean one worships the devil, ” says Lulu.
Getting off age
Lulu seems to be growing with the times, if his decision to form Mathumela Band in 2010 is anything to go by.
“People have been asking me: Why form a band when you, sometimes, perform with Zembani Band? Well, the two (bands) are different. Mathumela was formed to cater for my kind of music, and is a band for the future. We are not into live music performances every week.
“Mathumela is there to prepare Malawians for the kind of music they will like in years to come. At the moment, I feel like some Malawians don’t appreciate a strong message. That is why Mathumela is for the future- songs that people should think hard to get to the root of the meaning,” says Lulu.
But things have started well for Mathumela, which is in partnership with the Reserve Bank of Malawi, and is invited to perform at the Central Bank’s events.
However, the band is far from producing its maiden album, though Lulu maintains that the band mebers are concentrating on jelling.
The forth turn
Lulu is in the studios, cooking his forth album.
“I am doing the mastering at the moment. In fact, some of the songs will be on air by February. I want to produce a 10-truck album but I haven’t come up with the title yet. I want to call people who understand music, the likes of Lucius Banda, and ask them to help me choose only 10 tracks because I have more songs,” says Lulu.
Facing the future
The musician bemoans that, unlike in South Africa, where House, Kwaito and other genres are unmistakably identified with the Rainbow nation, there is no music that can be identified as purely Malawian.
“It is difficult to create a Malawi music identity because the pioneers chose to play their own type of music. So, those who want to survive on the market have no choice but to sing what people are already used to. The other problem is that, while most local musicians are not blessed with lilime lachizungu (Western tongue), they try to imitate Westerners, and this renders penetration into foreign markets difficult,” says Lulu.
One of the people who have worked closely with Lulu, veteran musician Sir Lucius Banda says Lulu’s music is an indication that Malawi’s music has a bright future.
“Lulu is a fine musician, and his music is of international standard. In fact, you can not compare him with other musicians of his age because of the maturity in his songs, and his mastery of equipment,” says Banda.
Banda says Lulu is one of the success stories from Zembani, adding that the success of most musician who have been associated with Zembani Band at one point in time points to the fact that, given he right resources, Malawian musicians can stand among Africa’s best in music.