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Remembering Uhuru Band When It Was ‘…Calling Us.

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Jai Banda, popularly known in the entertainment circles as ‘Mr. Entertainer’, has been a dominant figure on the Malawi music scene for over two decades now. He is an example of a passionate music lover. Despite being an established lawyer, he has never departed from music, and till this day, he continues to be an important presence. He was involved in the promotion of musicians like Billy Kaunda, Lucius Banda and Bright Nkhata, just to mention a few. These grew under his wings and he is an important figure in their careers. Most of the people who made their names as musicians between mid-1990s and early 2000, in some way, had a feel of how important Jai was to the music industry.

One of the groups he promoted and a band he was influential in its formation was Uhuru Band. The short lived group came with a noticeable presence on the music scene before it went into oblivion just a few years later. Its 1998 album, ‘… Uhuru Is Calling You’ was a masterpiece that went highly unappreciated by several people. It was an album which had a combination of fused traditional beats with the then trending heavy beat of Malawi and a product of unknown young men who had dared to make a move on the Malawi music scene.

The reasons why it did not get popular could be many, but as a speculation; with the Balaka reggae beat dominating music in Malawi, it was not easy for this Blantyre based band to make it. In 1998, for example, Billy Kaunda released his blockbusting ‘Alibe Mawu’ album, Mlaka Maliro came with ‘Dzanja Lalemba’ and Enort Mbandambanda came with his debut album that launched his short music career, ‘Kuchimwa Kulibe Mwini’. All these albums, plus many more from artists like Lucius Banda, Charles Nsaku, Coss Chiwalo and Isaac Liwotcha, dominated the airwaves and sales. By then, all the love for music tilted towards Balaka and there was no way Blantyre could have made it higher.

But still, the Uhuru album needs to be celebrated. It was made up of traditionally ten songs. Careb Munthali, the lead vocalist of the band, contributed half of them, with the others coming from Andrew Kamangwa, the band’s keyboardist, Billy Maliseni, Khozgya Mwale, an adaptation from Andy Brown and the late Jonathan Selemani, the band’s vocalist, to whom the album was dedicated to. He died before the work was completed. These were the people ‘Mr. Entertainer’ had assembled to form one of the most successful but forgotten bands in Malawi. Perhaps the involvement of the late Chuma Soko as the engineer of the album with Jai himself being the executive producer should also be another reason why the album made rounds on the scene. And it was also an early presence in music of Peter Amidu, who would later on become a band member of one of Malawi’s most successful reggae groups, the Black Missionaries. The young Amidu, just as he later on came to be known, was on the bass guitar in all the songs.

Later on, the band was joined and led by Saul Chembezi. Most people may not recall who Saul was because of his elusive kind of appearance on the scene. He curved a reputation of being someone who was always walking about and never had a complete definition of himself as an artist; a solo performer or a band member? It was while he was under the wings of the band that in 2000 he produced the song ‘Azisiya’, a song for the support of the Malawi national football team, the Flames.

Before Saul had thought of taking it to the studio, it was an already favorite song among football lovers, especially when their rivals lost the game. The instrumentation and the voices he added onto the song further propelled people into loving it. HE made the song even more popular. After that he parted ways with the band as itself disbanded later on, with Saul making an attempt five years later with the song ‘Angakongole Bwanji’. This was the last visible attempt of him on the scene, leaving people asking where he now is with his enormous talent.

But when you start talking of bands that once graced our music scene, after praising Zembani Band, the Black Missionaries or Kalimba Band, do not overlook Uhuru. They called us with their album in 1998.

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