The Malawian duo Madalitso Band release their second album, “Musakayike”, on the Geneva label Bongo Joe. His European tour passes through Martigny, on June 24 and 25, as part of the Festival des 5 Continents.
In the world of the guitar, there is a separate caste. That of the instruments that have lived it all. They are more streaked with scars than an old legionnaire and yet are still and always faithful to the post, present on stage or in the recording studio.
The guitar of country singer Willie Nelson is part of this paradoxical elite. It is called Trigger and has a large wear hole in the middle of its soundboard, plus the half-erased signatures of the Texas musician’s relatives.
A groove machine
In the Madalitso Band’s instrumentarium, Yosef Kalekeni’s guitar has its place in the pantheon of wonders in peril. Cheap classic model, it has only four strings out of six and missing keys. The neck has lost part of its wood, the spaces between the frets are filled with small portraits or drawings. The soundboard seems to have wiped out all the monsoons, covered in stickers and patched up with tape. This guitar, a flea marketer would sell it to you for a penny. Yosefe Kalekeni wouldn’t part with it for anything in the world.
Next to him, the other half of the Madalitso Band duo is Yobu Maligwa, his angelic voice that touches the clouds and his babatone. The babatone is a Malawian instrument that combines the imposing double bass and the slide guitar of the bluesmen.
That of Yobu Maligwa is homemade. Here’s how it works: grab a nice-sized old wooden crate or build it yourself. Stretch a dried cowhide over it to nail to the sides of the crate. Stick a handle the size of a fence post in it. You will attach a single adjustable rope to it with a large wooden peg. Your right hand plays the string with a thick mediator that you also made yourself, while your left hand will slide an old bottle of cough syrup on the string. The babatone creates low notes or can function as a drone or percussion.
With these two DIY instruments, to which is added an old drum that also serves as a stool for Yosefe Kalekeni, the Madalitso Band is unstoppable. A groove machine that never derails and never goes out of tune. It’s simply amazing to see them raise a crowd by playing seated, invariably wearing their sleeveless sweater in the colors of Malawi: red, green and black.
From Malawi to Geneva
In Malawi, an East African country poor among the poor, Yosef and Yobu started out on the streets of the capital Lilongwe begging for bread. When the bowl wasn’t full enough, the two musicians worked in the fields, made clay bricks or worked on building sites. Until the day when this duo of country people with an inflexible optimistic mood meets a Malawian producer who sends them to Zanzibar in a festival whose stickers decorate the famous guitar today, like a talisman.
From connection to connection, the Madalitso Band has joined the Bongo Joe record company, located on the island, in the heart of Geneva, where the arcade plays host to world music (from blues to techno via malouf and cumbia ) in vinyl format, books that tell you about it, a bar to quench the resulting thirsts and a small stage to welcome visiting artists.
>> To listen: “Musakayike” by Madalitso Band
A first album, “Wasalala”, was released in 2019, followed by a European tour of clubs and other festivals, from the English Womad to the Danish Roskilde. During the pandemic, Madalitso backed down and prepared this second album, just as energetic and raw as the first. “Musakayike” has now earned them a new European tour.
“Musakayike” is a love song addressed to a girl: “Stop doubting,” the chorus goes. It can also be translated as “do not doubt anything”, so much the confidence and the sweet frankness of the Malawian duo seem to sweep away all obstacles. A great adventure for two artists who knew sidewalks or fields better than school benches.
Madalitso Band, “Musakayike” (Bongo Joe Records).
In concert at the Festival des Cinq Continents, Martigny on June 24 and 25, 2022.