When I first listened to Blk Sonshine at Satta Art Gallery over a decade ago, I knew in my soul that I had been in the presence of angels. I cried. From the first melodic note, my heart opened and a heavenly essence came upon me.
That was about ten years ago. Since then, Blk Sonshine (Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga), have released another album while maintaining a level of consistent excellence with a uniquely original sound. Masauko, who was born in the United States to politically exiled Malawian parents, presently resides in Brooklyn, New York. I was fortunate to capture a few moments with him to learn more about his life and passion for music exclusively for Afro-Futures Magazine. – Tantra Zawadi
Back in the Nineties, Blk Sonshine bucked the trend of kwaito, with its mostly repetitive beats and fickle lyrics. They gave listeners a bit of heaven with their self-titled debut album in 1998 and waited more than 10 years to release Good Life.
Surely there must be something else other than music that they have been working on. Why does it take them so long to release these much loved albums?
“Blk Sonshine has never been about quick album releases,” says the ever serious Neo Muyanga.
“The first album was made up of songs we began writing when we were teenagers. It only came out ten years or so after that.”
via Inspiring sonshine.
via Inspiring sonshine.
|By Ewetse Khama & Blk Sonshine
|Neo Muyanga and Masauko Chipembere are two of Southern Africa’s greatest living musical artists in a humble yet significant way. The duo is an unassuming pair who has been known to use their voices and stringed instruments to stir it up. Kojo Baffoe, long time friend, and admirer of Blk Sonshine perhaps put it best when he said of their performance, “There are moments in time when there are no words that can adequately capture the emotion, the experience.” With an almost magical quality to their art these two Librans left an indelible mark on the South African music conscience with just one album. AfricaBe caught up with Neo in Cape Town and Masauko in Brooklyn, New York to get at the method to the magic.
AfricaBe: To set the record straight once and for all. Where were you born?
AB: What do your names mean?
AB: Why did you leave Africa?
AB: What brought you back home to Africa?
AB: Is there anything you feel you missed out on in Africa spending so much time abroad?
AB: Where did Neo and Masauko first meet, and how was that first meeting?
AB: How did it transpire that Yeoville in Johannesburg ended up being the birthplace of Blk Sonshine?
AB: How did California then become where the first Blk Sonshine album was ultimately recorded?
AB: How do you manage to give a diverse range of global citizens access to your music?
AB: What were some of the influences that were similar at home and abroad about Blk Sonshine the debut album?
AB: What do you do individually when you are apart?
AB: What sort of performances do you stage as individuals?
MC: The first CD came about because we had been playing live a lot and people wanted to take the music home. Our audience sort of demanded the ability to hear the music in their own spaces at home.
AB: How did you manage to make such an impact off of one album, Blk Sonshine?
AB: How did you structure a deal which allows you generous freedoms in terms of producing albums?
AB: Is this a good business method?
AB: Is a message in the music also good business?
AB: Has it always been that way?
AB: What is it that artists need to think about when they want to sign on with a record company?
AB: New Album, Good Life… what doest it say about Blk Sonshine’s growth over the last 10 years since the first album?
|Written by Jack McBrams|
|Thursday, 05 August 2010|
|American born Malawian musician Masauko Chipembere is back in the country to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday at Chancellor College Thursday evening from 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm at Little Theatre, Chancellor College. In the interview below, he talks to Jack McBrams about his music and the significance of the event and how these two merge together.
What brings you here on this particular journey?
Two powerful women, my wife and my mother. My wife is teaching a course in literature at Chancellor College. I’ve also come to
Why is this birthday important?
Without his life I would not have mine. But, my father dedicated his life to Malawi. So in celebrating his life, we celebrate the history of Malawi.
You are a musician, how does that relate to the legacy?
I am a child of my mother and my father. My mother is a singer and a political person. My father was a political person who loved the lyrics to songs. I am the synthesis of these two people.
Born outside, how do these journeys help you discover yourself and your people?
Marcus Garvey famously said a tree without roots cannot grow. So, these family roots give me my wings. I am learning my place in the story. I am finding my purpose in life. I am learning about umunthu and sadaka.
What have you learned from Malawian music and musicians?
One of my first encounters here was with Wambali. We met on my first journey and he encouraged me to learn about all the music here. In Malawi, we are masters of the drum and the guitar. I am a fan of the Kachambas and Namoko. We have world class music here. I could spend a lifetime just studying all the musical styles of Malawi. Music is also a great way for me to learn the languages.
What current music are you into?
I love Peter Mawanga because I enjoy it, my mother enjoys it and my children enjoy it and the whole Black Missionaries posse too. But, I can also dig Third Eye and Tay Grin. I see no boundaries in music. MaNyasa are some of the best musicians in the world whether Malawians buy them or not.
What is going wrong with Malawian music?
Technically, we are using out-dated keyboards. We are also forgetting that producing and engineering records require learned skills. Spiritually, the fact that those who play traditional music are separated from those who do hip-hop and reggae is foolish. We all need each other in order to create a larger market and survive as artists.
At what stage are you with your music?
This has been a good year for me. My group Blk Sonshine was nominated for a South African Music Award for our new release called Good Life. I recorded a song with Tekitha and RZA from the Wu Tang Clan called ‘Ghetto Serenade’ and it was released in 2010. I recorded some South African jazz with Mongezi Chris Kandoje, the Malawian who played guitar for Lucky Dube. We supported Lorraine Klaasen on that CD. It is called Africa Calling and was nominated for a Canadian folk music award. In 2010, I’ve found my direction. I have learned that I can make whatever music that I want. I can bring Allan Namoko, Daniel
What are the Malawian musicians saying to you and what are your thoughts?
There are saying the people are moving away from their own Malawian music and running to the Western sound. I think this is a shame because the Western music has no respect for women and children. Malawians are dignified people. We must respect ourselves and our history.
How does it feel to be Chipembere’s son in this place at this time?
It feels great. I believe that my father’s vision is slowly coming to fruition. My father believed in fighting for the dignity of all
Where do we go from here?
I think we need to start educating ourselves. I am not just talking about school. I am speaking about this in the William Kamkwamba sense. This means that all learning doesn’t happen in school. If you don’t know about Chipembere and Chilembwe go find a book. If you can’t find a book go ask as many elders as you can and be able to speak intelligently about your own history. Because I know there are plenty who can tell me every character on Generations but how many can name
Your last words to Malawi?
“Lead us not into Materialism but deliver us from imperialism.” Bambo Chipembere!
Blk Sonshine will be featured on ETV’s Unplugged Joy of Jazz programme on Wednesday 4th August at 9.30pm
We recently spoke with the legendary Soweto Gospel Choir and Masauko Chipembere of the South Africa-founded musical duo Blk Sonshine, both featured on our new South Africa CD, to get a better sense of how the eclectic blend of cultures, styles and influences in South African music has impacted the contemporary sound emerging from this historical country. – Putumayo World Music
‘Good Life’ nominated for a SAMA in Best Adult Contemporary Album: English
These two are individuals and you can hear it in their different approach to music, but when they come together their synergy makes them one. Perhaps that’s what makes Blk Sonshine one in a million.
“When we play, that’s as happy as I’m gonna be,” Chipembere says gleefully.