Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From 'Son of a Poor Man' to 'Time: The Tale of Lucius Banda

With his back to the sea, Lucius Banda seems to have welcomed, faced, and shrugged off competition as one who faces the concourse while holding on to the strand of hope that money is not the real issue but, rather, the satisfaction that comes with the right to express oneself through the only medium he has ever known and loved: Music.

The veteran musician also hastens to say that the influence he has imposed on the local music scene lies both in his origins- as one born in a music-loving family that counts the likes of Sir Paul Banda among its fold- and his temerity to adapt to changing national moods.

“It’s these things that have motivated me and helped me remain relevant. It’s not the money at all; it’s my love for music, and my commitment to music,” Banda says.

“I have never looked at music as, merely, a source of income. Rather, it is something I love to do, and shall continue to do even if I were to become the Head of State and Government. You may wish to remember that, during the time I was Member of Parliament, I continued to compose songs and hold live performances,” Banda adds.

Lucius says, apart from embracing the impulse to identify with the voiceless and marginalised, the fact that music is a global language has helped him compose songs that cater for the emotional needs of members of a diversified audience, thereby giving life experiences the autonomous meaning of value irrespective of context. No wonder that, as expected, people of various backgrounds and age groups have nodded assent to his compositions.

In deed, for over two decades, Malawians have laughed as his levity spreads, and moaned with his voice whenever he has, through his 16 albums, exercised his mind’s capacity to alter human moods. Music lovers have, many a time, turned their heads towards the stage and appreciated, at the sight of Lucius performing live, whence the merriment springs.

The musician says, since day one, he has had no time to relax on middle ground, and maintains that artists still have a lot on their plate to change many facet of life, and bring real development to the less privileged.

When Lucius set out on a music journey that has become his life-long pursuit, he was known for his hard-biting compositions in which, as a lone soldier, he took on the powers-that-be for the sake of the voiceless. Hits like ‘Mabala’, ‘Mizimu’, ‘Ali ndi Njira Zawo’ bear testimony of the militancy that characterized his music.

“Those songs were composed to remind Malawians about where we are coming from, how to live harmoniously with fellow human beings, how to keep in touch with the governed- on part of rulers-, and about God’s love towards human kind,” Banda says.

He says his pioneering songs concentrated on condemning the old excesses of power because, in his view, it becomes a tragedy of enormous proportions when people lose their sense of history and belonging. In order to control the present, he enthuses, one needs to be steeped in the past, and compares failure to learn from the past to losing some vital dimension of one’s intelligence.

Today, while politics still dominates the theme, his songs have also stretched to the themes of love, religion, culture, among others.

The emergence of a new generation of urban musicians- the likes of Lulu, Mafunyeta, Young K, JB, Atumwi, Dan Lu, Issu- has also forced the best out of the Balaka-based musician. In those early years, Lucius, along with artists such as Paul Banda, Charles Sinetre, Cos Chiwalo, Charles Nsaku, gave prominence to the so-called Balaka Reggae.

Today, however, the musician has adapted to changing music tastes by sailing with the wind, but without losing his original touch of maturity, surprise, and constructive criticism.

“I am into every genre now. I compose Jazz songs, Rhumba, Ragga, fusion of traditional music, and almost every type of music because an artist has to remain relevant,” Lucius says.

But, if love and transitional sounds have become the twin roots of his music now, his knack to take on society’s privileged, although a little withered, has not died completely.

The hand of time

Lucius, having been perfected by the hand of time, now takes time to think over the many opportunities and challenges presented to him by time.

The musician reveals that he is doing the final touches on his 17th album aptly titled ‘Time’.

“Everything occurs according to time- the set time, to be specific. That is why we say there is time for everything. It is for this reason that I have been in the studios, recording my next album whose title track is ‘Time’. We started recording it a long time ago, in February last year, and have been working on the final touches,” Lucius says.

He says Malawians should expect the best out of him, disclosing that his latest work is a mixed bag of genres. Urban youths have, also, not been left behind, as the album has its fare share of their favourite music.

“Let me say, however, that the title track doesn’t imply that I have been thinking that it’s time I called it quits on music. I will not quit music because music is like food, and cannot be abandoned. If anything, it’s a question of growing with time,” Lucius says.

The album, replete with 15 tracks, also features international musicians such as South Africa’s Hugh Masekera in a move Lucius described as a step towards consolidating inroads made on the international scene.

He says making it big internationally has remained his life-long goal, adding that this is why he is featuring international acts.

“It’s not only Hugh I have featured. We also have Tutukani Xcele. We want to bring new things,” he says.

New things aside, what remains predictable about the new album is that Lucius has maintained his cogent communication ally of all time: The use of Chichewa as a dominant mode of relating to his audience, with English songs making just five tracks.

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