Music of Malawi

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Music of Malawi has historically been influenced through its triple cultural heritage of British, African, and American music.[ citation needed ] 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. [1]

Malawi Country in Africa

Malawi, officially the Republic of Malawi, is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. Malawi spans over 118,484 km2 (45,747 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 18,091,575. Lake Malawi takes up about a third of Malawi's area. Its capital is Lilongwe, which is also Malawi's largest city; the second largest is Blantyre, the third largest is Mzuzu and the fourth largest is its old capital Zomba. The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name of the Nyanja people that inhabit the area. The country is nicknamed "The Warm Heart of Africa" because of the friendliness of the people.

Africa The second largest and second most-populous continent, mostly in the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres

Africa is the world's second largest and second most-populous continent. At about 30.3 million km2 including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.2 billion people as of 2016, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It contains 54 fully recognised sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere.


During the colonial period, Malawi saw rise to very few well-known singers. 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 Afrikaner traditions. His popular style led him to tour with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1980s.

Tony Bird was a folk rock singer-songwriter who was born and grew up in Nyasaland in Southern Africa. He is known for his Dylanesque vocals and for his songs describing life in colonial Nyasaland from a progressive anti-colonial point of view.

Nyasaland former British Protectorate in central Africa

Nyasaland was a British Protectorate located in Africa that was established in 1907 when the former British Central Africa Protectorate changed its name. Between 1953 and 1963, Nyasaland was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After the Federation was dissolved, Nyasaland became independent from Britain on 6 July 1964 and was renamed Malawi.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo South African male a capella ensemble

Ladysmith Black Mambazo are a South African male choral group singing in the local vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube. They became known internationally after singing with Paul Simon on his 1986 album Graceland, and have won multiple awards, including five Grammy Awards, dedicating their fifth Grammy to the late former President Nelson Mandela.

Under President Hastings Banda, the Malawian state censored music that it deemed to be of a sexual or politically subversive nature. This led to few internationally renowned artists entering the international arena from 1964-1994. After the country's first multiparty elections in 1994, however, many artists could now practice their art publicly, and Malawian music began to grow and develop into the music forms that can be heard coming out of Malawi now.

Hastings Banda First president of Malawi

Hastings Kamuzu Banda was the prime minister and later president of Malawi from 1964 to 1994. In 1966, the country became a republic and he became president.

Since 1994, 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. [2]

Many local artists are also making headway internationally. Contemporary well-known international artists from Malawi are Wambali Mkandawire, Erik Paliani, Lucius Banda, Tay Grin, Esau Mwamwaya and Tsar Leo. In 2015 Malawian music was recognized in the 58th Grammy Awards for the first time, with the nomination of Zomba Prison Project I Have No Everything Here for Best World Music Album. [3]

Wambali Mkandawire is a Malawian jazz and Traditional Beat musician.

Erik Paliani is a Malawian guitarist, producer, and songwriter. He is best known for his work with singer Zamajobe Sithole, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and guitarist Lee Ritenour.

Lucius Chicco Banda, better known by his stage name Soldier Lucius Banda, is a Malawian singer-songwriter, music producer and politician from Balaka, Malawi.

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 counterparts, 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. [1] The word, 'Kwela', in Chichewa means 'to climb' which is similar to the South African definition, which means to "get up" or "rise".

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Bantu ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European, Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

Kwela is a pennywhistle-based street music from southern Africa with jazzy underpinnings and a distinctive, skiffle-like beat. It evolved from the marabi sound and brought South African music to international prominence in the 1950s.

Malawian jazz

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.[ check spelling ] 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 hip-hop/rap

Malawian urban music really began with the popular group Real Elements. [4] The group consisted of Marvel (Loius Chikuni), Plan B (Kimba Anderson-Mutaba), Stix (David Kalinani), and Q (Quabaniso Malewezi). [5] 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 as well as unique international stars like Tay Grin, South African based St Bosseratti, and Ireland based/award winning rapper Pop Dogg - Best Artiste Male 2011 and Best Song Collaboration-2011.[ who? ][ citation needed ]

The hip hop scene in Malawi continues to evolve with new school artists attracting a lot of interest locally like Gwamba and Marste. Home Grown African and Tsar Leo are two different hip hop acts that are making waves as part of the new school but with an international appeal to their music. [6] [7]

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. [8]

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 the founder of NyaLimuziK and Gosple(Aubrey Mvula) are now the leaders in this form of gospel rap. [8]

As we[ who? ] 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 ]

Malawian R&B

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, Bucci, and Sonye.

Malawian reggae

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. There are also various growing roots rock reggae bands playing their own international standard music such as Fostered Legacy, Soul Raiders,and Wailing Brothers whom their contributions to music has been outstanding. The Malawian reggae music 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.

Malawian traditional music and dances

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 and banda, like Alan Namoko, Micheal Yekha, Ndingo brothers, Millenium Sound Checks and Waliko Makhala. In Malawi traditional dances include Manganje, Mganda,Tchopa,Beni,Malipenga,Ngoma,Chitelera,Likwata,Chiwoda,Masewe,Chimtali,Visekese, khunju,Gule wa Mkulu and Chisamba.

Malawian pop/fusion

Malawian artists have been known 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.

Music production

In the past Malawian music was only recorded and produced by the Malawi Broadcasting corporation(MBC).Later on Producers such as Paul Banda, Patrick Khoza, late Chuma Soko and Joseph Tembo emerged.

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, Jim Reeves, Shaggy, Judy Boucher and South Africans Lucky Dube and Brenda Fassie.

Music festivals

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. [9]

Notable Malawian musicians

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This page list topics related to Malawi.

Nkhata Bay is a district in the Northern Region of Malawi. The capital is Nkhata Bay. The district covers an area of 4,071 km.² and has a population of 164,761.

Limbani Kalilani is a Malawian hip hop artist better known by his stage name Tay Grin. In 2009 Tay Grin founded an Entertainment & Event Promotion company, which helps to promote events across Malawi. The company is known as Black Rhyno Entertainment. In 2014, Grin won a Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) award for Best International African Act. In 2016, he won the BEFFTA Star Award in the music category. He has performed at the annual Lake of Stars Music Festival. He also won the 2016 WatsUp TV Africa Music Video Awards Best Traditional Video award, with the Video Chipapapa featuring 2baba. He has also won numerous local awards like the Nyasa Music awards and the Urban Music People (UMP) in categories such as best live act, best video and best Male artist. In 2018, he won the UMP Fashion awards for Most Fashionable Celebrity.

The Real Elements is a Malawian hip-hop band that gained notoriety in the 1990s and 2000s in Malawi. The group consisted of Marvel, Plan B, Stix, and Q. The group holds a special place in the Malawian music industry because it propagated Malawian hip-hop and paved the way for the Malawian hip-hop genre at a time when they were a few hip-hop artists in Malawi. There music was considered the cutting edge in the Malawi music scene. Critics argue that is the best urban group that has come out of Malawi. They performed in Malawi and their music was also featured on Channel O beaming Malawian hip-hop for the first time to a Pan African audience. In their UK tours they opened for UK hip-hop artists like Blak Twang and Terri Walker. It was just as their international career was taking off that the group separated. Stix decided to leave the music industry and follow religious pursuits. The group currently is pursuing personal interests.

Tapiwa "Tapps" Bandawe is a Malawian record producer. He lived in South Africa for two years before returning to Malawi. He is credited for producing the music of popular Malawian singers. His studio is called Audio Vision Studio.

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John Lloyd Chipembere Lwanda is a Malawian medical doctor, writer, poet, researcher, publisher and music producer. He is a published author and also a publisher of books and music. He was an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow Department of Primary Care until 2005. Lwanda did his history and social science PhD at the University of Edinburgh's Centre of African Studies.

Francis Kaphuka or Young Kay is a popular Malawian hip-hop artist that is known for fusing local Malawian folk songs with international genres. He is also nicknamed "Broken Knowledge" or "Hyphen". He is known for his vibrant sound and ability to mix Chichewa and English lyrics eloquently in his rhymes. This has earned him recognition as one of Malawi's best lyricists. He has been voted as Malawi’s best rapper twice Joy FM fans. He was introduced to Malawian audiences under Rush records with the single “I’m Home” and his popularity grew to solidify his place as one of Malawi's greatest hip-hop artists. He has had subsequent hits since then. His song “zipepese” number 2 on FM 101 Power’s urban music chart. In 2010 he collaborated with Malawian born rising act Onesimus Muzik on a track titled "Beautiful" He also collaborated with Lucius Banda, Tigris, and Maskal on track "Malawi Goodlife" in 2011.

Donald Kachamba (1953–2001) was a Malawian musician, composer and bandleader.

Tsar Leo

Leo Siwale, known professionally by his stage name Tsar Leo, is a Malawian rapper, singer and songwriter. He was nominated as Malawi's Best New Artist of the Year for 2015. He is currently competing for the Independent Music Awards, adding to contemporary musicians from Malawi that are making international headway.


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  4. Archived February 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
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