Thursday, May 5, 2016
AMBOKIRE SALIMU: MALAWI'S LOST POET
At some point, poetry built up a secure citadel in lawyer-cum musician, Ambokire,’s heart.
Using poetry, he attended to issues pertaining to human beings, human conditions, and anything implied in being human. It can be said that, somehow, he brought a new consciousness among poetry enthusiasts and the hope was that the poetry journey he had embarked on would go on.
And, then, something else took over the citadel in Salimu’s heart: music! And he has never looked back to the poetry he loved and, to good measure, used to elevate and explore human feelings and ideas.
“Of course, it is true that I used to be a poet at Chancellor College [University of Malawi], where I came up with my first poem and even served as chairperson of the Writers Workshop. To cap it all, one of my poems was published in the late Anthony Nazombe’s poetry anthology,” Salimu says.
But, then, his poetry journey— launched full of the ambitious dreams of youth when he was at Chancellor College between 1990 and 1995— foundered on its voyage, though the wreck
of that journey continues to float in Nazombe’s poetry anthology, ‘The Haunting Wind’.
But Salimu is adamant, and dismisses talk that he is out of poetry for good.
“The thing is, I have a lot of poems and my plans are to publish a collection of my poems. I still keep a number of them. Maybe I just need to send the manuscript to a number of publishers. I know that it is not a given that the manuscript will be automatically accepted, but I believe the poems are good enough to sway some publishers,” Salimu says.
At one point, Salimu’s name represented hope— hope that another poet was born and had made himself available on the domestic scene. Starting off as an on-campus poet at Chancellor College, Salimu let the outside world sample his talent by publishing his poem in Michiru Sun.
“It was not easy to get one’s poem published in those days and I was glad that the Michiru Sun published my poem. I felt on top of the world,” Salimu says.
And, surely, that ‘public’ foray into poetry did not go unnoticed.
Former Malawi Writers Union president and renowned poet, Stanley Onjezani Kenani, remembers that Salimu, really, announced his arrival on the poetry scene with one unforgettable piece in Michiru Sun.
“I remember reading Ambokire Salimu’s poem, ‘Daddies and Mommies of Sugar Visited’, back in 1994, in the Michiru Sun, which was a vibrant newspaper at that time. It read:
Mirages brandishing the mint:
Come home, sordid fires,
Furtive abnegation of the ego
Emasculation of your sanctity
Return from your recalcitrant escapade
“Or something like that, I am not sure, because I remember this stanza from memory, and my memory is now overwhelmed as I keep all interesting poems there. I do not remember the piece he published in Anthony Nazombe’s collection, The Haunting Wind,” Kenani says.
It is during this period, also, that Kenani developed interest in other poets who were making their presence felt through their poetry works.
“So, from the mid-1990s I became interested in Ambokire Salimu’s work. Other poets I became interested in at that time were Max Iphani and Shemu Joyah. Unfortunately, I do not recall seeing any of Ambokire’s poetry since then, and the next thing I remember seeing is his music on the local television,” Kenani says.
Kenani says he liked the rhythm in Salimu’s poems “and he gave me an appetite to read more of his work, which did not come. As you know, poetry – or indeed any genre – requires writing and reading daily. If you don’t do that, it slowly says goodbye to you”.
Maybe it is not time to say goodbye to Salimu the poet!
Music after poetry
Salimu had his first encounter with music as a 10-year-old, and regards himself as a musician by birthright.
“My mother, the late Tamara, used to sing in the choir in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She had a beautiful voice. As for myself, I started off in a choir in Mzuzu City, where we were coached by the then famous Malikebu Brothers. The Malikebu Brothers had a quartet. Those were the early days, while I was in Secondary School,” Salimu says.
Intent on putting the lessons acquired from the Malikebu Brothers to good use, Salimu continued to experiment with music when he was selected to Likoma Secondary School in 1986.
He formed a quartet with fellow students, including Lameck Manda and William Kaunda, and the group specialised in performing copyrighted material from the likes of Golden Gates Quartet [United States].
The quartet’s journey was short-lived as, three years later, it had to be disbanded after one of the members— William Kaunda, who was a class ahead of the rest— went to Chancellor College.
Before long, Salimu followed Kaunda to Chancellor College and his romance with music— and not the quartet — continued.
“At Chancellor College, I was into music. In fact, that is where I moved from Gospel to secular music. I remember performing on stage and being backed by the then famous Kandojje – uncle to DJ Sonye, of the ‘Tsika’ fame— who was singing in Chilunga Band. I was not a member of the band, though,” Salimu says.
From that moment, he has never looked back and has produced songs such as ‘Zamchikondi’, which was produced by Ralph Ching’amba,
In fact, he has two albums to his credit. The first one is ‘Sheds of the Real’ and the second one is ‘Zamchikondi’. He is working on ‘Rhythms Unleashed’.
“By the way, what I mean by ‘Sheds of the Real’ [first album] is that the songs composed and released did not represent the real me; and that the best, the very best, was yet to come,” Salimu says.
Salimu adds: “Today, I have over 300 singles. Some of the songs I am releasing were done a long time ago. On Valentine’s Day, for example, Deejay Sley in Lilongwe did one song from my old songs.”
While Salimu admits that his main strength is the vocals, he reveals that he has always been interested in mastering musical instruments.
“In fact, I started learning how to play instruments at the French Cultural Centre and our teacher was Aaron Sangala. When he joined active politics, he stopped teaching us. But I have rekindled my love for music instruments and I am pursuing an online course with Don Foxxy onlinemusic.com. One of the singles I have recorded is ‘Tiziyambira m’chikwati nkumathera mchibwenzi’
“The gist of the song is that, when people are courting, they enjoy a lot but the joy disappears once they marry. I want a reversal of the trend,” he says.
The song features Blasto and Stitch Fray and their verses are very clear. Someone is complaining that he used to enjoy in the past but the happiness has been blown away by the wind of marriage.
Another single, ‘Ndatondeka’ , is enjoying airplay on Times Television, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Television, and radio stations. He says it is part of his next album project, which he hopes will come under the banner of the album ‘Deep/Zozama’.
But, then, as he goes deep into the sea of music, he loses touch with poetry, and the citadel it held in his heart falls. At least for now!