Zambian Kalindula and Traditional Music: My Top 15 Songs
By Elias Munshya
I will highlight these top 15 songs in descending order beginning with song number 15, and then make my way down to the top Zambian traditional song.
The number 15 song is Kashambala by Serenje Kalindula Band. Combining Lala folklore and popular themes, this band’s versatility is seen in various instruments, from traditional ones to the modern guitar. The storytelling in Kashamabala imitates the Luapula style of combining several themes in one song. It is also a number you can dance to.
Joyce Nyirongo’s Mate is my number 14! It is a song about a Mr Mate. Mrs Mate complains about the husband and her husband’s family who interfere in the marriage. Mrs Mate is losing faith in her marriage and blaming it all on the bad habits of Mr Mate and her family.
My Number 13 would be Kazembe’s, Bashi Maggie. A woman fed up with her husband’s bad habits tries to address the issue with him. The theme is way too familiar with married men. When a woman is fed up, they have a way of saying, “ilyashi lya pa ng’anda ikaleniko panshi”. Great storytelling, too, by Dr Nashil Pitchen Kazembe!
At 12 is umuti wa bufyashi. Emmanuel Mulemena was a traditional music firebrand who died too soon. After his passing, his band rebranded and called themselves the Mulemena Boys. The tribute album they released became an instant hit. Umuti wa Bufyashi recounts the story of a childless young couple who consult various witchdoctors in both Chiwempala and Mikomfwa so that they can conceive. The witchdoctors come up with ridiculous “ifishimba”. A year passes without a child, and as a last resort – the couple decides to visit the hospital. After the doctors do their examinations, they find that the problem was with the man – besa naba kolwa.
For number 11 – I would take Kapele by Lima Jazz Band. This song is a Luapula staple. The accent of the singers plays between the Ng’umbo, Ushi, Unga and Ushi distinguishable only by a trained listener. Typical of this music – several themes are playing. It is a mourning song and a song singing about the joys and challenges of marriages. The difference between Lima Jazz Band and the other Luapulans such as PK Chishala or Nashil Pitchen Kazembe lay with the bridge of the music to the broader audience. Chishala and Kazembe bridged their music to a broader audience. Still, Lima Jazz Band requires some level of cultural interpretation to those unfamiliar with what they are talking about. However, Lima Jazz Band uses the traditional drums very skillfully in this song. This is why I would put this one as number 11.
Umwaume Wa Bufuba has a ferocious guitar and a fantastic drum job. Masasu really outdid itself. This song stands out because Masasu appears to have abandoned its slower manchancha beat to do a fast-paced heavy on the music of the drum. In this song, Masasu tells the story of a very jealous man who cannot take care of his wife and children because he is too jealous. He is so insecure that he would not give money to his wife, fearing that she would look too good for other suitors to try and make advances. This is song number 10!
Ichipasho by Oliya Band is a kalindula song you can dance to anytime. I have seen that this music has been employed and imitated by some newer artists. What really stands out with Ichipasho are shoutouts and self-praises for the group. I would put this song at number 9!
Elsewhere, I have painted a relationship between PK Chishala’s Na Musonda and Muka Muchona, looking at themes employed in both songs. For number 8, I would choose Muka Muchona. Peter Juma puts words in the muka muchona, a woman whose husband had left the village to work in the mines. With her husband away, several village men try to sweep muka muchona off her feet. One, in particular, asks muka muchona for a hand in marriage since her muchona husband will not return to her as he is married in town. Her answer forms part of the extraordinary story of love, faithfulness and strength. She tells the proposing village man to mind his own business as she would not give in to his advances. Perhaps, in style employed among Luapulans – Juma (who is actually not from Luapula) goes for the jugular by putting the following words in the village man – “njise njikate kuli chisasa”! And she still says “no”—what a strong married woman.
For number 7 – I would choose Kwacha Ngwee. Green Labels was in those days one of the most essential government-sponsored cultural groups delving into traditional Zambian music. The group was versatile in their music selection, bringing us songs in nearly all the broadcast language. The only song they seem to have butchered is the “Kawalye” song, which I will feature in the Second List of most incredible traditional folk music. But since we are dealing with Kwacha Ngwee, this song is done in Lozi and is about a young lady who is “taken” by a teacher called Mr Kalaluka. It is a danceable fast-paced song and fits to be number 7!
Unusually, I would pick Isambo Lya Mfwa to be number 6 on this list. I should have probably featured it on the second list. But this song is essential for several reasons. First, it is a link from the old kalindula musicians to the new ones. Chibesa’s Glorious Band tried to recreate the glorious old days of kalindula music. Isambo Lya Mfwa was the song that did it for them. When there seemed to have seen a waning interest in Kalindula, Glorious Band managed to surprise everyone to show the resurgence of a dying genre. The storytelling in the song is remarkable and appears to take after PK Chishala’s poetic prowess.
For number 5, I would choose PK Chishala’s Na Musonda. For all the reasons you all know. Na Musonda is Kalindula at its best, and it is PK Chishala’s storytelling skills at his best. Several players are identified in the song – but the most comical is Mr Tembo, the butcher.
For number 4 – I have picked Smokey Haangala’s Bbala Ng’ombe. No other of Haangala’s songs received wide acceptance than this song. The music combines traditional Tonga instruments with some synthetic sounds. A Chitenge in all of the Zambian cultures is an essential piece of clothing, and a girl child is taught to wear it from childhood. A secondary school-going child is asking parents to help her purchase this citenge to wear Ku Secondary. This is a danceable tune.
Masasu Band’s style is similar to Kalindula, even if they called it manchancha music. The significant differences between Kalindula and manchancha are with the pace of the music. Manchancha is slower, and reflective inviting the listener to a slower response through dance – a little different from the more “dancy” kalindula drums. Sobongo employs this genre of music. Done in the Kaonde language, Sobongo is based on Kaonde folklore of a hunter who uses dogs in his art. The song praises Mr Sobongo, the hunter who always returns from his hunt with the prey. I would say Sobongo is number 3.
Impumba Mukowa by PK Chishala is number two. No song digs deep into Aushi folklore than this song. In it, PK Chishala bridges the folklore to modern life. There are various themes to it; matrilineal systems of succession. The clan system. The struggles of orphans. It employs typical Ushi storytelling. Chishala also employs poetic tools by linking ng’uni the clan with “cimuni”, an insult. This song has reached across cultural divides, becoming a hit among all Bemba speaking peoples and the urban areas. I would put this song to be number 2.
Why is Mpanga Ya Mambwe topping the list? I think no other song appeals to a cultural group more than Mpanga Ya Mambwe to the Mambwe and Namwanga and Lungu groups. It combines history and folklore. Many Mambwes take this song as some kind of anthem of the culture, and no other song among cultural groups comes this close in appeal. The music is also diverse – combining slow and fast-paced sections. For a cultural grouping that has successfully withstood domination from its powerful Bemba neighbours, this song shows patriotism to the culture and history of a people. The song is also a song of Mourning. As I have mentioned above, Mourning is a part of the Mambwe cultural outlook due to its existential pressures from its powerful neighbours. This song, though, is not just about the Mambwes; it has been widely played and enjoyed by several other cultures. It has been played on the radio, in urban areas as well as rural areas. It is a Zambian song. Long as it is – it is one song you play, leaving no room for no other. I have therefore picked this one to be the most influential hit of the songs. Twaya muleme!
The author, Elias Munshya, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org