If Lucius Banda, the musician cum politician (or the other way round), were to be releasing two albums every year since embarking on his musical journey then by the end of this year, Malawi could have boasted of a musician with forty albums appended to his name.
If he were to release one each year, as the practice is amongst many local musicians, his name could have been associated with twenty albums.
However, the path of Lucius Banda has been marked with some wide gorges and deformed by some deep gullies that by now, he boasts of seventeen albums to his credit. It is a rare feat still – yet to be beaten by another person in Malawi.
When he first appeared on the scene in 1994, two decades ago, Lucius Banda – before he had gotten the badge of soldier on the lapel of the jacket of his name – he was considered simply as a revolutionary musician. An angry politician, probably, using music to advance his agenda: an anger against the falling Malawi Congress Party.
Little wonder, some of the hits that people remember from the first albums of the veteran are nothing but political tales. Such hits as the ever-relevant Mabala, Mzimu and Ali ndi njira zawo among others are what sticks to memory from the old days.
However, with time, the past Lucius started giving way to let a new form of him emerge. A man who as well could sing of his experiences in such a beautiful manner that they resonate well with the majority’s experiences such that they have fallen in love with him and have decorated him with the title of Soldier.
His themes, and philosophies, have been varying but there are just some that are clear and yet subtle at the same time.
Fathers are human too
The life story of Lucius Banda, like most other life stories, has the traits of a beautiful yet sad fiction: dumped by father, raised by mother and then just as success is near, mother dies. That story is well recorded in that dirge to his mother, Mayi Zembani.
From such a background, one would easily expect Lucius to have a feeling that fathers are less human yet Soldier sails beyond that and, from his own pain, learns to appreciate that not all fathers are failures. Thus, in some of his songs he learns to give fathers a voice.
In the 1998 song, Toto ndakana, he takes the voice of a single father who has raised a girl child alone after her mother succumbs during child birth. The male figure is now busy wading off rich men who are ready to corrupt the young child. Soldier, in the song, understands that there are some men who are as kind as his mother was and – at the same time – there are other men who are ready to ruin the future of young girls. It is the former, however, whom he lives in through the song.
Six years later, he sang of fathers again. This time, a man so fond of his children is separated from them because of divorce. The elder child then writes the father to weep that their step dad is not a kind man – most are usually not except when viewed from the surface. He says that the step dad actually forces himself on the young child. This incenses the father and touches a raw nerve of fatherhood in him that he promises to come for the children regardless of what the courts imposed on him at the ruling on the divorce.
Soldier understands that the world has fathers with a human face as well. Such fathers as those he sings of in the two songs as well as Ulimbe mtima.
We all are our mothers’ children
The love, and influence, of a mother’s love in the art of Lucius cannot be overemphasized. It is clear as day. And the reason being the one he outlined in Mayi Zembani – the song that eventually influenced the name of his band.
However, the shocking thing is that years after her mothers’ death – in 2005 – Lucius comes to sing of his mother again. He recognizes the void and emptiness he feels living a life minus his father. Thus, he sings:
Musamanamizane/ kuti umasiye/ ndi umphawi wokha/ usiwa/ kapena njala/ ukapeza zonse/ banja, chuma, kutchuka/ udzawasowa mayi ako
For all those who traverse the world minus their mothers, Lucius sings, they know that orphan-hood does not have a certain limit nor is it hidden by success. Apparently, he appears to believe, success at times triggers that state of feeling like an orphan once again for when another round of success hits you in the face, there is no mother that you can go to so that you celebrate with; to let her know that her labour had not been in vain.
Blood is thicker than water
It is an open secret that the Balaka based musician, Soldier, attributes his success to his brother, another skilled musician, Paul. From the snippets of some of his songs, it proves that Lucius has learnt that there is no power strong enough to break the strings of love that bind brotherhood.
As he preaches in his post-arrest song, Nthawi, from the 2009 album, Freedom, one should never have the grace of forgetting his family for it is the shelter that one runs to when the howling winds of the world smite his soul. Lucius sings, with a better experience, that friends are but for the season when the sun is warming yet when the same sun reaches a peak, they flee.
It is the same philosophy he carries in M’bale wanga in which a cousin reminds another that despite his wealth, that has eventually earned him friends, it is them – the family – that he will need when trouble sets in.
Wealth is cosmetic, not happiness
Lucius has lived through the worst forms of poverty, that he concedes. And, he understands, there are many like him: people who, having had lived through the pits of poverty, thought that once you have wealth then there came happiness following as a faithful marriage partner to the wealth.
However, if his songs are anything to go by, at the peak of having the things he aspired for, Soldier discovers that happiness is beyond earthly pleasures. Thus, he sings in his 2002 song, Chuma sichimwemwe, that wealth is not happiness. To this philosophy, he appends the gospel hit of the 2006 album, Samueli, in which he finally declares that there is a single way to attaining happiness: walking in the path of the light – living by the decrees of God.
In the end, death awaits
Lucius is not a young man, in the world of music and even as per Malawian standards when weighed against the life expectancy. He has seen it all, has accepted that it is vanity. He puts this message across in his latest album through the song, Ndakonzeka. But Lucius’ lack of fear of death, the inevitable, is not a new theme in his music. It is old.
He first tackled it in 1999, in arguably his best album to date – Yahwe – in the very song he accepted the Soldier medal to be tied together to his name: Mzimu wa Soldier. In the song, he indicated his acknowledging of the fact that his death will come but then, he sang, only until after an equality has been achieved. Apparently, it appears ridiculous as the world appears to be running on inequality as its very tyres.
Lucius must have accepted that fact that equality is an illusion, but not death. Little wonder, the year after he sang Ndiobwereka, a song in which he proudly claims that this life is borrowed and one day it will be surrendered. It has to come to an end.
*This article first appeared in The Sunday Times of March 9, 2014