The Body, Mind & Soul of Malawi

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This week, Lilongwe played host to the international finals of the Music Crossroads International (MCI) competition, a unique youth empowerment through music program initiated in 1995 by Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) that encompasses five southern African countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Since the program began twelve years ago, Music Crossroads has reached almost 35,000 musicians and 750,000 listeners. MCI is comprised of workshops, festivals and competitions to promote the African traditional and contemporary/ urban music of young African musicians. The project aims at creating sustainable musical structures in the target countries, improving self-awareness and social inclusion of young African individuals. MCI promotes the participation of young women in the program and addresses HIV/AIDS prevention through Relationship workshops.
Music Crossroads International

This week, finalists from each of the four other countries convened in Lilongwe to duke it out with the Malawian champions and see who would be crowned this year’s regional champion. On Thursday we sat down with Stieg Hannsen, MCI’s festival director for Malawi. He talked about the evolution of music throughout the region over the past decade, highlighting Malawi’s success in winning back-to-back MCI titles in 2006 and 2007, with Konga Vibes and Body, Mind & Soul respectively taking top honors.

Body, Mind & Soul playing @ MCI 2008

Body, Mind & Soul playing @ MCI 2008

So, today we arranged to sit down with Body, Mind & Soul, the reigning champions and honorary performers for this weekend’s competition. A six-piece band from Mzuzu (Northern Malawi), BMS is led by Davie Luhanga, commonly known as ‘Street Rat’, whose voice places their sound into a league of its own. The band started out as ‘Souls of the Ghetto’ playing reggae music, like many local bands; they won several local awards such as the Kuche Kuche Music Award and participated in festivals such as the Lake of Stars and Hippy Festival.

In 2005 the band felt a stronger connection pulling them towards their Malawian roots. They reflected on the importance of sharing their ancient culture in a modern time and after much thought and experimentation, created a new musical concept that they are calling ‘voodjaz’. It is a subtle mix of traditional rhythms with a jazz feel, creating a bridge between past and present Malawian cultures.

Their first international recognition came in May 2007, when they won the Music Crossroads Southern Africa InterRegional Festival in Harare (Zimbabwe). Most recently, they returned to Malawi from an eight-week European Tour in June/July. Already, they’re scheduled for a North American tour in 2009.

So, it comes as no surprise that BMS blew us away when they took the stage yesterday. I’m willing to bet that within another two years, Body, Mind & Soul will be an established touring act on the World Music scene, one not to be missed. They’ve just released a new album, Kwacha Malawi, which we hope to have up and available for download soon.

Tonight we’re headed back over to Umunthu Theatre to check out the Black Missionaries and see first-hand the new standard to which Harry has raised sound and lighting for Malawian venues. Take care…

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