Sunday, February 2, 2014

Depicting the Malawian mother through song

When Plato observed that the soul was “corporeal and eternal”, people thought that the soul was the only thing that could be corporeal and eternal. Only for Aristotle, who was inspired by Plato, to come and declare that music was also corporeal and eternal.

And, as if proving Aristotle right, musicians, the world over, have quickly mastered the art of turning music into a cap that fits every head, every situation. It is as if they have taken a cue from Martin Luther (Senior)’s words that, “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary”, or social commentator Henry David Thoreau’s proclamation that, “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

Or even Jennifer Donnelly’s observation, in that international best-selling book, Revolution, that “I'm wishing he could see that music lives. Forever. That it's stronger than death. Stronger than time. And that its strength holds you together when nothing else can.”

Not to be outdone, Malawi’s musicians have composed a number of songs glorifying the genius of the local mother and, no wonder, some of the songs have simply resisted the temptation of being swept away by the wind of changing times.

Eternal sounds, mortal voices

One such song is Achikulire Che Paul Banda’s ‘Amayi’, in which the persona- maybe it’s the musician- waxes lyric about his mother.

The persona observes, among other things, that the road was not always smooth as he travelled on the ‘M1 Road from Childhood to Adulthood’, bracing hunger, sickness, resource-constraints challenges to get to where he is at the material moment.

The mother, in which case, could forgo breakfast, lunch, dinner and life’s pleasures in her quest to seek medicine for the sick baby.

But, sometimes, the trouble had nothing to do with these things: the persona simply decided to play trouble-maker.



Mwachikondi kundisamalira!”

There go some of the lyrics which culminate in the touching, thanks-giving words: ‘Amayi/ Zikomo/ Chikondi chanu chandipatsa moyo/Ndinkadwala/Ndimkavuta aah! /Mwachikondi kundisamalira!’

Annie Matumbi, not to be outdone, also composed ‘Amayi’, in which he declares that “Amayi tikunyadirani/Pantchito munagwira/Potilera ife/Mpakatu tinakula/Potisangalatsadi/Ndinuyo mayi wathu…”

The persona, in Matumbi’s song, credits the mother for raising him up, and for ensuring that the environment which he grew in was simply conducive.

And, although it is a fact of life that, save for those who were born in the same hour that their biological mother died, almost everyone mentioned the name mother- in whatever language- at some time in their life, the persona asks the listener to shout ‘Amayi’!

And, who can resist such a temptation?

Sir Lucius Banda’s ‘Mayi Zembani’ is also a tribute of sorts to the persona’s mother. So emotional are the lyrics that it is outright difficult to separate the persona from the musician.

The sad aspect in the piece is that the persona’s mother died in the wake of the persona’s birth. So, the persona did not have ample time to feel the warmth of the mother, let alone smell her scent.

Mothers have scents, so said South Africa’s visual artist Patrice Bleby; and the persona in ‘Mayi Zembani’ was so ‘brutally’ treated he smelled death where her mother was supposed to me. And, predictably, life was tough.

“…Tinkakolopa m’chimbudzi/ Opanda sapato kuphazi/Kuvutikira sukulu/Abambo mukumwa mowa” (We could mop dirty toilets bare-footed/As you, father, boozed).

What tribute does the mother get, in the end? A song. ‘Mayi Zembani’.

And a farewell message in the song, too. “Chabwino Mayi Zembani/Muwuse mumtendere/Kumwamba muli Amayi/Mukonze malo anga”.

That’s not all. The mother also gets a band- a whole band- named after her. In the end, she also gets remembered. And immortalised. Because Plato said music is “corporeal and eternal”.

Rudo Chakwera adds another dimension to songs glorifying the local mother through her latest English music video ‘I love You Mother’. For everything there is in life, says the persona, there is a woman.

And, bringing the message closer to her home, the persona says for everything that ever happened in her life, there was that unmistakable touch of the mother.

Predictable lines

There are many others who have waxed lyric about the mother. And there are so many things in common among those who have added their voice to the theme of the mother.

The first one is that most of the lyrics are in Chichewa, which is no strange thing because the personas could be attempting to pass on the message to their mothers in a language that the mothers understand. In a country where literacy levels are higher in men than women, this is a strategic decision on part of the musicians.

The second one is that intrinsically linked to the praise messages is the message of challenges encountered while travelling through life’s shrubby path.

The last, but not least, common ground is that the father is conspicuously absent in the lyrics.

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