Madalitso Band, from the streets of Malawi to global success

The Malawian duo Madalitso Band releases its second album “Musakayike” on the Geneva label Bongo Joe. His European tour will take him through Martigny on June 24th and 25th as part of the Festival des 5 Continents.

In the world of guitar there is a separate caste. That of the instruments that have experienced everything. You are more scarred than an old legionnaire and yet always and always faithful to the post, present on stage or in the recording studio.

Country singer Willie Nelson’s guitar is part of this paradoxical elite. Called Trigger, it has a large wear hole in the center of its soundboard, as well as the semi-erased signatures of the Texas musician’s relatives.

A groove machine

In the Madalitso Band’s toolkit, Yosef Kalekeni’s guitar has its place in the pantheon of wonders in jeopardy. Cheap classic model, it has only four strings out of six and missing keys. The neck has lost part of its wood, the spaces between the frets are filled with small portraits or drawings. The soundboard seems to have wiped out all monsoons, covered in stickers and patched with duct tape. This guitar would sell you at a flea market for a penny. Yosefe Kalekeni wouldn’t part with it for anything in the world.

Beside him is the other half of the duo Madalitso Band Yobu Maligwa, his angelic voice touching the clouds and his babaton. The babatone is a Malawian instrument that combines the imposing double bass and slide guitar of blues musicians.

Yobu Maligwa’s is homemade. Here’s how: Grab a nice old wooden crate or build one yourself. Stretch a piece of dried cowhide over it to nail to the sides of the crate. Insert a handle the size of a fence post. You will attach a single adjustable rope to it with a large wooden stake. Your right hand plays the string with a thick mediator, which you also made yourself, while your left hand slides an old bottle of cough syrup onto the string. The babatone produces low tones or can function as drone or percussion.

With these two DIY instruments, along with an old drum that also serves as a stool for Yosefe Kalekeni, the Madalitso Band is unstoppable. A groove machine that never derails and is never out of tune. It’s simply amazing to see them playing while seated and invariably wearing their sleeveless sweaters in Malawi’s colors: red, green and black.

From Malawi to Geneva

In Malawi, an East African country poor among the poor, Yosefe and Yobu began begging for bread on the streets of the capital, Lilongwe. When the bowl wasn’t full enough, the two musicians worked in the fields, made bricks out of the earth, or worked on construction sites. Until the day when this duo of compatriots with an indomitable spirit of optimism met a Malawian producer who sent them to a festival in Zanzibar, whose stickers today adorn the famous guitar like a talisman.

From connection to connection, the Madalitso Band has joined the Bongo Joe record company, located on the island in the heart of Geneva, where the arcade hosts world music (from blues to techno via malouf and cumbia) in vinyl format and books that tell about it, a Bar to quench the resulting thirst and a small stage to welcome guest artists.

>> To listen: “Musakayike” by the Madalitso Band

A first album, Wasalala, was released in 2019, followed by a European tour of clubs and other festivals, from England’s Womad to Denmark’s Roskilde. During the pandemic, Madalitso has backed down and prepared this second album, just as energetic and raw as the first. “Musakayike” has now earned them a new European tour.

“Musakayike” is a love song addressed to a girl: “Stop doubting,” says the chorus. It can also be translated as “don’t doubt anything”, so much so does the Malawian duo’s confidence and sweet openness seem to get rid of all obstacles. A great adventure for two artists who knew sidewalks or fields better than school desks.

Thierry Sartoretti/aq

Madalitso Band, “Musakayike” (Bongo Joe Records).

Concert at the Festival des Cinq Continents, Martigny on June 24th and 25th, 2022.

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