Category: Malawi

Manyoso and Hassani Kachre – Banana

After eight years, why not return to Malawi for an example of the driving banjo and guitar music that was flourishing in the country after World War II.

During what was essentially the entire 78 rpm era, Malawi had not yet achieved independence – that would happen in 1964 – and the region was a British colony known as the Nyasaland Protectorate. Something happened after the War, where European banjos were suddenly being played by local troubadours, usually with a second guitar player. The theory is that these banjos were brought back by local soldiers who were fighting for the British in the East African campaign, many as members of the King’s African Rifles colonial regiment. Of all countries in southern and eastern Africa, the Western-style banjo seemed to take off in Malawi above anywhere else.

In my prior write-up on the Paseli Brothers, I’d found one source that listed the brothers as the very first Malawians to commercially record local music. This turned out to be incorrect. Not only was there a disc on Gallotone by a guitarist known as the “Nyasaland Singer” that predated the Paselis work by some time, but there were two tracks in the local Malawian Yao language recorded in Zanzibar in 1930 for Columbia, and performed by a member of the local police. It’s difficult to gauge the relative importance of those 1930 recordings, as no copies have surfaced that I know of.

Once Hugh Tracey had recorded Black Paseli and the Paseli Brothers for Gallotone, the floodgates opened. The local branches of HMV, Columbia, and Johannesburg’s Troubadour Records began recording Malawian popular music at a faster clip, and many of these examples featured banjo and guitar duets. These were usually influenced by a South African style of repetitive vamping that could go on forever, but with some expert picking along the way.

East Africa and southern Africa were rife with local independent 78 rpm labels. Malawi, however, was not, for some reason. This disc is an example from an obscure local label from the little town of Limbe, situated near the industrial and business-center known as Blantyre, in southern Malawi. I could find no trace of the artists (though the proper spelling of their surname should be “Kachere”). There is virtually nothing I could find about the Famous label other than that they were distributed by the Nyasaland Record Co, Ltd, based in Limbe, and pressed at least 60 discs, which look to have been pressed by Decca in England. Judging by the appearance of the crescent on the label, Famous might have been owned and run by Muslims. Many South Asians were in the region and ran small 78 labels, so that’s also a possibility.

A peculiar bit of provenance: this copy and another rare disc on Famous were once the property of a French Catholic missionary priest named Bernard Burel. Burel was born in 1924 and became a member of the Company of Mary, or the Montfort Missionaries. He was active in Madagascar from 1951 to 1960, after which he returned to the offices of the Company in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, acting as “Procure de Missions.” Why he owned this and other African secular 78s is unknown, but he was compelled to keep them, stamped with his name, for over 50 years.

Manyoso and Hassani Kachre – Banana

Label: Famous
Issue Number: FR 1159
Matrix Number: FR 1159 B

Paseli Brothers – Kare Ndinari Wabwino

There’s a stunning lack of early popular music from Malawi available on CD, which is a shame, as it’s wonderfully engaging and strewn with lively gems. It seems as if all the record labels active in southern Africa after World War II – from conglomerates like HMV to local, shop-based labels owned by Indian immigrants – were making records of the pop music from what was then the British protectorate known as Nyasaland.

Hugh Tracey, ethnographer extraordinaire, was right there as usual. In 1948, he recorded tracks by Black Paseli, his brother Barry (or Bari), and sometimes his brother Airini (or Irene) – the Paseli Brothers. These songs were recorded in Harare, Zimbabwe, where apparently the brothers had located themselves at that time, and they were popular enough to have them remembered today. Tracey felt that although the Paseli Brothers played in the “common Southern Guitar style,” they were particularly talented. According to several sources, the guitar and banjo were brought back to Malawi by Malawian soldiers who were serving alongside the British during World War II.

This was not exactly the case with Black Paseli, the leader of the Paseli Brothers. Black Paseli was born in 1921 in the city of Zomba, and during his teenage years was employed by a Mr. Mackay as a handyman and mechanic. During those years, in the mid-1930s, Black Paseli taught himself how to play Mackay’s guitar, eventually becoming adept enough to teach his older brother Barry the instrument. Until 1938, when Black Paseli was recruited to fight for the British, the duo played in then Rhodesia and Nyasaland as part-time entertainers at tea parties and bottle stores. After the war, they became full-time musicians.

The Paseli Brothers were, according to at least one source, the very first Malawian artists to record, and this would be one of their earliest efforts. Their first records were made in Zomba in 1947, recorded on equipment owned by an Indian shop-owner. They became extremely well-known in the region. When scholar and musician K. Mongani Katundu interviewed Black Paseli in 1986, he asked if his records made him famous, Paseli’s reply was: “Yes! So much so that other people’s wives ran away from their husbands to me.”

Tracey translated the title of this piece as “I Shall Never Drink Again” – which you can hear the Paselis repeat during the song. However, on a cassette of Malawian music produced by ethnomusicologist Mitchel Strumpf from the late 1980s, the true translated title was used: “I Once Was A Good Man.” There are also a couple of errors on the label. It states Nyanja as the language, but after I sent it to a speaker of that language (known more commonly as Chewa or Chichewa), he stated it was not, in fact, in that language. Listener John Iwanda wrote in and let us know that the title and first verse are in Nyanja/Chewa, the second verse is in Yao, third verse is in English, and the remainder in Nyanja. Also, despite the label, the piece is a guitar duet, and there is no banjo present.

One of the unfortunate, ubiquitous phrases one hears in the record collecting world is “No one’s ever heard of this stuff!” Well, that’s just simply not true in most, if not all cases. While Black Paseli is unknown in the West, there’s many people in an entire country that remember him, and the performances he made with his brothers.

Paseli Brothers – Kare Ndinari Wabwino

Technical Notes
Label: Gallotone
Issue Number: GE.968
Matrix Number: ABC.3101

Biographical information gleaned from:
Katundu, K. Wongani. (1993). Black Paseli: His Place in Early Popular Malawian Music. In Mitchel Strumpf and Kondwani Phwandaphwanda (Eds.), Readings in Malawian Music: A Collection of Previously Published Articles on Malawian Music (pp. 53-54), Zomba: Zomba Music Society.