Malawi music has historically been influenced through its triple cultural heritage (British, African, American). Malawians have long been travelers and migrant workers, and as a result, their music has spread across the African continent and blended with other music forms. One of the prime historical causes of the Malawian musical melting pot was World War II, when soldiers both brought music to distant lands and also brought them back. By the end of the war, guitar and banjo duos were the most popular type of dance bands. Both instruments were imported. Malawians working in the mines in South Africa and Mozambique also led to fusion and blending in music styles, giving rise to music styles like Kwela.
During the colonial period, Malawi saw rise to very few well-known singers due to the oppressive colonial regime of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. One such singer was Tony Bird a folk rock singer-songwriter who was born in Nyasaland and performed anti-colonial music about life for regular Malawians during the colonial period. His music is described as a fusion of Malawian and Dutch, and Afrikaner traditions. His popular style led him to tour with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1980s.
During the Banda years (post colonialism), a lot of Malawian musicians could not express their artwork, due to repression of the arts in Malawi. The repression and censorship in music was largely due to lyrics of a political, controversial, or sexual nature in a largely conservative country. This led to few internationally renowned artists entering the international arena from 1964-1994. Music during this period was restricted to praising Kamuzu Banda and non-political, non-controversial messages. After multiparty elections, however, many artists could now practice their art publicly, and Malawian music began to grow and develop in to the music forms that can be heard coming out of Malawi now.
Since the fall of Banda regime, from 1994 onwards, the country has seen a steady growth in its music industries and in its local celebrities. Due to the period of music suppression, many of Malawi's new and up-and-coming artists are young. Artists like Young Kay are being supported by the veterans in the industry and are working together to give Malawian music a distinct new identity.
Many local artists are also making headway internationally. Contemporary well-known international artists from Malawi are Wambali Mkandawire, Lucius Banda, Tay Grin and Esau Mwamwaya.
Music of Malawi
In the late 1960s, South African kwela music was popular in Malawi. The country produced its own kwela stars that were not as popular as the South African counter parts, but contemporary Kwela artists like Daniel Kachamba & His Kwela Band have enjoyed popularity. It is a little known fact that South African Kwela music though had its roots in Malawi from the Malawian immigrants that went to work in South Africa and fused their music with the local sounds, creating Kwela. The word, 'Kwela', in chichewa means 'to climb' which is similar to the South African definition, which means to "get up" or "rise".
Malawian jazz bands also became popular. In spite of the name, Malawian jazz has little in common with its American namesake. Rural musicians played acoustic instruments, often in very traditional ways. These performers include Jazz Giants, Linengwe River Band, Mulanje Mountain Band and Chimvu Jazz. By the beginning of the 1970s, electric guitars had become common and American rock and roll, soul and funk influences the music scene, resulting in a fusion called afroma. New Scene, led by Morson Phuka, was the most well-known exponent of afroma.
Contemporary Malawian Jazz artists include, Wambali Mkandawire, South African based Ray Phiri and US based Masauko Chipembere Jr.
Jazz concerts can be seen throughout Malawi. Many Malawian Jazz band perform regularly at local hotels and clubs. Sunday Jazz is a popular event in many lodges and hotels in Malawi, where it is a social event for people in the suburban areas to meet and listen to Jazz music on Sundays.
Malawian kwasa kwasa
Influenced by the 1980s music from the Congo, Malawi's own kwasa kwasa music grew. The 1980s saw soukous from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) become popular, and result in a Malawian variety called kwasa kwasa.
Malawian urban music really began with the popular group Real Elements. The group consisted of Marvel (loius Chikuni), Plan B (Kimba Anderson-Mutaba), Stix (Jerome Kalinani), and Q (Quabaniso Malewezi). They brought to Malawi the urban American sound with chichewa lyrics. They were featured on channel O and performed in Malawi and opened in the UK for hip hop artists like blak twang. They inspired a new genre of Malawian music in the form of the urban hip-hop and rap music styles that was uniquely Malawian.
Since the days of the Real Elements, the Malawian hip-hop genre has grown. This includes Young Kay,Third Eye a.k.a. Mandela Mwanza, Phyzix, Dominant 1, Incyt, Cyclone, A.B, The Basement,Pittie boyz, The Daredevilz, Lomwe, the Legendary Barryone, Nthumwi Pixy, Biriwiri, Renegade & Pilgrim, Jay-T Pius Parsley & Unique squard international stars like Tay GrinSouth African based St Bosseratti, and Ireland based/award winning rapper Pop Dogg. Best Artiste Male 2011 and Best Song Collaboration-2011.
Malawian gospel music
Gospel music is one of Malawi's most popular music forms. It became popular in the 1990s. The Pope's 1989 visit did much to inspire the rise in gospel music, which was also fueled by the country's economic conditions and poverty. Popular Malawian gospel artists include Ndirande Anglican Voices, Ethel Kamwendo-Banda, Grace Chinga, Lloyd Phiri, George Mkandawire and the Chitheka Family.
As some secular artists become 'born again', Malawi has seen a rise in the diversification of gospel music, particularly in the urban genre. Early hip hop rappers include Chart Rock and The Strategy. Currently,when? David (formerly Stix from Real Elements, KBG and Gospel(Aubrey Mvula) are now the leaders in this form of gospel rap.
As wewho? continue analysing the impact and growth of gospel hip hop or urban music, we cannot just go without mentioning two other up-coming members in this section; based in Lilongwe, the popularly known area 18 youthful crew, the Brothers In Christ (BIC) and the King of Malawi Gospel House beatz DJ Kali have taken the spreading of the gospel to greater heights.citation needed
Malawi's genre R& B is growing and has been made popular with artists like Maskal, and Dan Lu. There has also been other new upcoming Artists like Young Luv, Theo Thomson, Kumbu and Sonye.
Reggae has always been popular in Malawi. Malawian reggae has become immensely popular in recent years, especially amongst the Malawian Rastafarians and along the tourist-filled lakefront. Music groups such as the Black Missionaries have become one of the most popular reggae bands in Malawi. Individual artists like Lucius Banda, and Evison Matafale helped to bring the Malawian music scene on the national and international scene. The reggae music of Malawian reggae artists has been music of resistance and of struggle. Many of the themes in the music center around injustice, corruption and equality for all people of Malawi.
Traditional Malawian music
Traditional Malawian music has also found some commercial success, like the folk fusionists Pamtondo, whose music uses rhythms from the Lomwe, Makuwa and Mang'anja peoples. There have also been more traditionalist performers, like Alan Namoko.
Malawian artists have been know to creatively mix rock, r&b, and the American urban sound to create vibrant fusion music. One such artist is Esau Mwamwaya whose music fuses traditional Malawian, and pop and urban sounds.
International music scene
There is a Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, and frequent listeners to "Radio One" will know that Malawian's favorite foreign artists are Don Williams, Shaggy, and South Africans Lucky Dube and Brenda Fassie.
In 2004, Englishman Will Jameson started Lake of Stars Music Festival which has international artists and Malawians performing together. It currently has been voted by the British newspapers The Independent and the Times as one of the top 20 Music festivals in the world.
Notable Malawian musicians
- Black Missionaries
- Lucius Banda
- tony Bird
- Masauko Chipembere Jr
- Tay Grin (Limbani Kalinani)
- Evison Matafale
- Esau Mwamwaya
- Real Elements
- Wambali Mkandawire
- Ray Phiri
- Pius Parsley