The barbed wire covering the big part of Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District can only do much in terms of restricting his physical movements. More so when, as one of the people living in a restricted area, a gate-pass is the only temporary way to the world beyond Dzaleka.
Fortunately, the barbed wire does nothing, if anything at all, to hinder Levi Pro’s wandering mind; a mind so fertile that one would not think he is only 20 years old.
Levi Pro, real name Levis Ndayishimiye, has, in the past three years, been one of young men who have shone during the Tumaini Festival, an annual celebration of culture and creativity that brings people from far and wide to Dzaleka.
“In life, one should have no limits,” says Levi Pro.
It is Friday, March 23, and Weekender is at Dzaleka Refugee camp.
As is the case sometimes— except when there are special occasions or people are having one or two drinks at any of the drinking joints at the camp— the scene is silent and still. Of course, some children, aged between seven and 15 years, create fun by the mere gesture of throwing dust in the air, or at each other.
Unknown to the fist-time visitor is the fact that there is a lot of activity— activities bordering on fun— in the mind of another young man who is, visibly, silent but silently active. In the mind, that is.
It is Levi Pro, the producer who has spent the better part of his life at Dzaleka, having come to the place many call home away from home in 2006. In this home away from home, Levi Pro has, in the past three weeks, been preparing for mock examinations. Before the year ends, in this home away from home, Levi Pro will sit examinations; not as Levi Pro, for that is a name associated with his trade as an artist, but as Levis Ndayishimiye.
I find him in the course of studies, which he combines with business because his guardians run a small grocery, saving other residents of the camp from the trouble of travelling a distance of between 300 and 400 metres to buy groceries, maize flour, rice, tomatoes, onions, fresh and dry fish and whatever tickles their fancy at the bustling market in the camp.
“I call it multi-tasking; studying, selling merchandise, producing music for choirs and individual artists, praising God, in my capacity as a Catholic, and helping children who show interest in the arts with the necessary knowledge,” says Levi Pro, who is fluent in Chichewa, English, French, among other languages.
He says this as we sit in his make-shift studio. It is dark inside. Blackouts have hit again.
“You see, as a producer, I get interrupted by power outages because, sometimes, they come just when you were about to save the work or when a brilliant idea has struck you and you are about to execute it. Sometimes, especially when you are working on deadlines, power outages can make you appear unreliable to people who seek your services. The thing is, I have no backup power,” Levi Pro says.
Well, I first heard of the name Levi Pro during the Tumaini Festival last year, although the soft-spoken artist has performed there three times— meaning, three years.
The artist has over 20 songs to his credit, including ‘Atakamapenzi’, ‘I am Born Again’, ‘Life ndi Yovuta’, ‘You Are The Reason Why’, ‘Anything I do’, ‘Ndinu Nokha God’, I Believe in Christ’, ‘Natakatuwe Pamoja [Ndikufuna Tikhale Pamodzi]’, among others.
He is a hip hop artist, which is not surprising because Levi Pro is a fan of American artist Eminem. But, to serve the interests of R&B lovers, the artist also delves into the same, making him a master of both.
“Since I started taking music seriously in 2014, I have been into hip hop. I have a brother, JB Extra, who is into reggae and dance hall. For the most part, I sing about God because I regard myself as born again, in the sense that I shed off my past and embraced Jesus Christ,” says Levi Pro, who feels at home when playing with instruments or none at all, when performing free style or as programmed by those responsible for organising an event.
He fits in all worlds, or so it seems, because, in his world— a world that sets physical limits despite its failure to arrest the mind— flexibility is the name of the game.
“I may say I am secular but I like the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I have said, I am born again,” he says.
He then delves into the issues of staying at Dzaleka, where the body’s freedom is, to some extent, limited but the mind is always free; so free that, even when wars are still ravaging one’s home country, the mind is always free to take the individual person back home, where the individual can revisit places that were, and are, dear to them.
But only in the mind.
“Of course, if you talk of life here [at Dzaleka], it is tough, especially when it comes to getting money; even when it comes to getting singers. But, then, life does not place a ceiling on our heads. One is free to do whatever they like; so long as they have life. So, I am free in as far as life is concerned. I am free to be creative. I am free to help others. And I am free to being helped.
“What do I mean by saying I am free to being helped? I mean, as an individual, I need things that I may not be able to get on my own. For example, I need a professional studio; a room with buffers, a nice computer, monitors, mid-piano, sound card, mixer, among other things,” says the 2018 Malawi School Certificate of Education candidate.
But, as he waits for a day the sun will shine on his life, a day that will transform his hopes to reality, the wheels of life continue to roll. As usual.
Talking of life, what is life, to Levi Pro?
“Life is a season. That is why I divide my time into seasons. I have a season for recording and producing songs for choirs and a season for producing songs for individual artists. When one realises that life is, simply put, a season, it becomes easy for them to divide the activities they spend much time doing into seasons. That is what I do. The only thing that has no season is any action that borders on reaching out to others, helping them. That is why I am always at the service of those around me. When they give me a task, like selling things in the grocery, I do them,” says Levi Pro.
So far, he has produced songs for 30 choirs, some of them have come from as far as Mponela in Dowa District.
MOVING ON: Levi Pro
In terms of individual artists, he had produced songs for JB Extra, Ranking, RED, among others.
From time to time, Levi Pro finds himself engaging those responsible for the camp on the need for a gate-pass, and that happens when artists have asked him to travel to their base to record songs or when exigencies of duty demand that he should venture out to look at life from the angle of a new comer.
“You see, sometimes, when I am producing songs for a group of six or more people, it becomes cheaper for me to travel to their base, because it is cost effective, in terms of transport costs, than for them to come here [at Dzaleka] because that means incurring more in transport costs [on their part],” says Levi Pro.
His hope is that, in his small way, even when surrounded by barbed wire, he can contribute to the economy of Malawi— the country he calls home away from home.
“What I can say is that, once artists are supported financially, technically and otherwise, they can propel the economy. The arts industry is part of the economy, in the sense that there is the possibility of generating income, creating employment, among other things. There is no ceiling as to how much the arts industry can contribute to the economy. All we, artists, need is support,” says Levi Pro.
At that point, one of the residents at Dzaleka knocks at the counter of the grocery— which is connected to houses in the place Levi Pro calls home—from outside.
“I am coming,” says Levi Pro.
That is what it means to be of service to humanity. One has to combine business with service, especially because helping out has no demarcated seasons.