“Wow”, said Faith, “I seriously didn’t know we had this kind of music in Malawi. I was thinking it was only in Mali and Senegal and there that you would find such things”. We were sitting in a semi-circle, listening to recordings that no one had been able to hear for the last couple of decades. So little of Malawis musical heritage has been available for new generations. It took a long time until a recording industry was operative in Malawi, like in several other African countries. So little music has been released.
But the music was there! Tens of thousands of tracks. The national radio, MBC, had recorded all kinds of music, from traditional chants to modern pop. The first efforts at making Malawian jazz, rock, reggae. It was all there. The only problem was that no one could listen to it.
For years, maybe decades, no one had a proper reel tape player so that the music on these tapes could be heard. New generations of musicians could not listen to what earlier generations had been recording in MBC studios, at a time when hardly any other recording facilities were available. Imagine what this would be like if it were your musical past. Imagine if a new generation of Liverpool musicians had never had the chance to listen to The Beatles.
Suddenly we were able listen to the archive tracks, and creativity came like a tidal wave. Old songs got new life, new songs were constructed on old foundations, samples merged with instruments, singing, rapping and programming. Beautiful music emerged.
Peter came up with new songs that were embraced by everyone. Sam and Faith got inspired to make what I – only half-jokingly – called “a new national anthem”. Marlyn found the voice of her grandmother from the village and sang like she had never done before. Georg got lost in explorations of African instruments and rhythm patterns.
Why and how? Because suddenly doors were opened to an important part of Malawi’s national cultural heritage. We were digging for gold in the vast music archive of MBC Radio. In a collaboration between MBC and Nedland Kultur, inspired and sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy to Malawi, music was being digitized.
Equipment was brought together from here and there. Inside a huge TV-studio we organized our little recording studio. All this new inspiration from days past had to be captured, refined and brought to you. Sometimes we had to take a break while a TV sports program was being presented in another corner of the room. Sometimes power went off. But most times ideas flowed, musicians sparkled, and beautiful songs emerged. Five seasoned, individual musicians transformed themselves into a band. It got a name: TAKULA.