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.
Issue Number: FR 1159
Matrix Number: FR 1159 B