This is a story of friends and how they look out for us. In this case it’s a story of how the very talented and indispensable Mr. Sonyezo Kandoje came to the rescue of me and Patience Namadingo when his music career was at a crucial cross road.
“You know sometimes you just have to be honest. There are things some of us wished we could have done, but maybe we just didn’t have the talent to do them. For the longest time I had wanted to find a way to fuse typical Malawian music and make it sound modern and I failed. Then I heard this guy Sonye put out this new song of his “Tsika” and I realized he had managed to do what some of us wished we could have. He had seamlessly fused the old with the new. He had surpassed us and it’s too late for some of us now. We are old, hahaha.”
Lucious Banda, Conversation at Total Blantyre 2015.
Our Story begins with a freestyle session at Patience Namadingo’s house in Sunnyside. From time to time I would go with Home Grown African (HGA) to Mibawa Café to jam with poets and musicians and work on Classick and Hayze Engola’s stage performance. On this particular day we all ended up at Patience Namadingo’s house. We had brought with us Desire, the guitarist if I recall correctly and Olmecs, the drummer. Desire would play some tunes and Olmecs would beat percussions on a small bongo drum and utilize a shaker for tempo and vibe. We sat in a circle and took turns spitting or singing rhymes off the top of our heads and making up random songs about random things for fun. It was an awesome and memorable time, with both Patience and the HGA guys laying down hilarious improvisations. A moment that would build our relationship with Patience and affect the careers of both HGA members in such unexpected ways (but that’s a story for another time).
After the session was done I took Patience aside by the kitchen and asked him what his musical plans were, since he was signed to Nde’feyo Entertainment at the time. He hinted he was planning on leaving the record label and going solo very soon. I told him, “Well if you are going to try and do your own thing and no longer be associated with what you were previously doing, you will have to change your image and your sound. So that people let go of your old music and so that it seems like you have gotten bigger and better now that you have moved on.”
He seemed interested in what I had to say. He moved in closer with his hands folded, one hand holding his chin and asked me to explain further. I explained to take his career to the next level he would have to change the style of his music. Sonyezo had suggested something similar after I showed him a clip of Patience at Mibawa Cafe performing a funny song that had a line that went “pe-pe-pee” in it . His mature sound would need a mature dress code. He would also have to distinguish himself as a performer either by dancing or being able to play an instrument. Singing can only take you so far before your performances are boring and predictable. I suggested he borrow a keyboard or guitar and start learning how to play at home from YouTube videos for free. His eyes lit up and he proceeded to shake my hand as he begun to brood over the convo. I started making my way to the door as everyone else was now by the car port.
Then I turned and said, “Oh yah, one more thing.” He raised his head momentarily interrupting his thoughts. “When I see you next year make sure you are driving a car. I don’t care how you get it, ask anthu akutchalitchi akuthandize (ask the people at your church to assist you) or whatever. But get one, in order for your new image to be believable and for corporates to pay good money for you, anthu asamakuduste dutse ku ma bus stands ukuyenda wapansi.” He broke out in a nervous laugh, as I retorted, “I am being serious. I know it sounds classist, but people are shallow and give opportunities to those they believe look the part. So you will have to protect your image. Look the part and you will see what happens.”
The following year, I get a call on my cell. It was Patience downstairs from my office building asking me to come down. He had something he wanted to show me. I quickly rushed down, looked around and saw him waving at me from the inside of a new white saloon vehicle. I hollered, “oh get out of here! You got a new car for real. Well done sir, well done!” I proceeded to examine the interior as he sat me down and inserted a CD, he wanted me to hear something. Sure enough it was the Pe-pe-pee song, except now it had a name he was calling it “Msati Mseke”, a good track title I felt. The song had evolved, I loved it, but something didn’t feel right. For starters it was over five minutes long, too long for radio. It would have to be trimmed down, the fourth verse which had a khu-khu-khuu sequence had to go. He was adamant that he wanted to take it to radio stations asap, but I cautioned against it. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression so best do it right first time. It was going to be his first song as an independent artist since he had now officially left Nde’feyo Entertainment. It needed to be perfect. I recommended he measured the rope as many times as he had to before he cut it because, this was an important release. It was audacious, the instruments sounded like they were performed live. He had poured money into it, he was serious about where he wanted to go with his brand. I suggested he take a leap of faith and hand me the CD so Sonyezo could have a listen. I promised I would bring it back the next day and I insisted that if anyone would be able to analyze what was wrong with the track it would be Sonye. He reluctantly agreed.
I played the track to Sonyezo and he smiled and laughed happily at the concept. He liked it, but immediately noted, “the thing that is off about this track is that the drum and base are not in sync.” I asked what the solution would have to be and he said to get a hold of the original project and tweak the elements is one way. However, the instruments were live and he said there is no way to do that without the base guitarist having to perform the sections again. I said alright and returned to Patience with feedback the next day.
I repeated what Sonye had told me to Patience and what needed to be done. You could see the disappointment on his face, he thought this take was perfect and he did not want to have to do it again. I said, “Hey, the song has a problem it can’t go out like this. You have to record again, there is no way around it. This is a good thing, let’s just get it done.” He let out a heavy sigh and sank into his car sit. I then suggested because, whoever did the production the first time didn’t get it right, why not just bring Sonye on board for the entire redo. This way he can advise at every step, rather than bringing him on again at the very end only for him to point out something else that needs to be fixed. That would be inefficient and costly. Patience agreed, and I went to have a word with Sonye on the same.
A week passed and Sonye told me they had recorded the song again and were working from Vitu’s studio in Naperi. Sonye did not have his own car at the time so either me or Patience would have to pick him up and drop him off on key days. On this particular day I went to pick him up from the studio and Patience was also there. The track was coming together great, he no longer had the heaviness of having to redo it. He could see how it sounded more perfect now that Sonye was involved and he could see that he definitely had a hit on his hands.
He immediately appreciated the benefits of good council and honest feedback. So much so that, for the next year he passed by my office and played every song he had in mind before it came out. On one occasion I told him a song he had brought was quite frankly rubbish and I knew he could do better from how he did Mozimira, Msati Mseke etc. Fired up from the criticism he went back and a week later played me a song to replace it Tandigwireni I believe. That was the last project he asked me to review for him.
Anyways, on this night as the final touches were being placed me and Patience had our first real disagreement in front of Sonye and Vitu. It was unexpectedly serious with Patience ending by pulling rank, “Well it’s my song and this is how I want it to be. Don’t change a single thing!” Then stormed out and slammed the door behind him. We all just stood quiet with crickets, as his car ignition started and he drove off to another engagement. When the song reached a certain part when moto umalira rhiiii (fire is blown) he wanted that part as loud as possible in order to have a lot of punch. The problem was that since everyone had been listening to it all day except me. They weren’t aware of how loud it really was until I brought it up. As soon as Patience left I showed Sonye the graphic equalizers on the digital audio work station. When the song reached that part they would shoot into the red zone. I jokingly asked, “guys so what do we do, coz mani ndiye anatokotaku (coz the guy really boiled over here).” Everyone laughed. I suggested saving a second version with lower volume for Patience to make a comparison. Sonye said, “nah bra it’s too loud. The main volume meter is showing its too loud, so it’s too loud.” Vitu said, “Screw it, I’ll just change it and tell him ‘Talumba thinks he is all that always trying to run the show, but don’t worry we didn’t change a thing’.” Me and Sonye looked at each other and laughed ironically as Vitu made adjustments on the console and lowered the volume of the section and finished mastering the track.
This day stuck with me. How having a competent team can push you forward even if you disagree with them. And how sometimes good people will conspire behind your back just to help you or to save you from yourself. Till this day Patience doesn’t know that we changed the volume so that the sound wave didn’t clip or give listeners an unpleasant experience. Allowing Msati Mseke to pave the way for his career as one of Malawi’s biggest artists.
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Video for Msati Mseke by Patience Namadingo
Video for Kanda by Tay Grin ft Sonyezo and Orezi (Produced by Sonyezo)