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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Evison Matafale Is Asking, “Olakwa Ndani?”

By Wonderful Mkhutche, political scientist

The Evison Matafale life story is for another day. Let us go straight to the song that we have to talk about today, one of the masterpieces from his short music career.

From his first album in 1999, Kuimba One, was a track titled “Olakwa Ndani?” (Who Is To Blame?); a question that has not been easy to answer by those of us who have taken time to deeply think about what the songs says.

In the first verse of the song Matafale talks about the agony that he goes through when he is walking past the city streets. Before seeing what he sees in the streets he says he used to think he was the only poor man around. But after seeing it all he begins to understand that there are others who are poorer than he is.

They have no cloth to wear and no place to sleep. It exposes a Matafale who is observing, sensitive and emotional to whatever he sees happening in his environment. He has compassion towards the people he feels are not privileged as he is.

Then let us go to the second verse. In it he introduces a character, an unnamed young man who is far away from home, in a foreign land. Life there is not going on well as he thought it could, and he is crying over his plight. He asks the universe, whom he killed that he deserves all the poverty he is going through. Then Matafale introduces people who are responding to the young man, telling him that he should not cry. That is how life is in this world.

But the central point of the song is in its chorus, where Matafale asks the question; who is to blame for all the poverty happening around. When he died on November 27, 2001 he left the question unanswered. Understanding that the song was a piece of art, the artist is not obliged to give answers to the questions he raises. Art is meaningful when it is left to the audience to conclude on it.

Even if Matafale was to be alive today, this question was beyond him as an individual. It belongs to us as Malawians and humans. Who is to blame for our poverty? The only response Matafale attempted to provide was when he said that poverty cannot be defeated by a living human being.

Only the dead can defeat it. How right or wrong was he? We have countries like China, who five decades ago, were poor. But today China is the world’s second biggest economy. It has managed to defeat its poverty. On the flip side, we have countries like Malawi, who in their entire history, have been poor.

China and Malawi are perfect two different ends of a single story. Even among individuals, there are numerous stories of rags to riches. Where does this leave the assertion by Matafale that poverty is only defeated by those who are dead?

But before death comes upon us, to escape from poverty, as Matafale claims, who is responsible for the poverty we see around and the one we have? The question is still unanswered. Listening to social, national and global debates on poverty, there are several thoughts on who is to blame as well as who holds the solution.

There is a crash of ideologies and approaches to how nations and their leaders have chosen who to blame and how to solve poverty. It seems there will never be a single human answer to who is to blame for poverty.

One of the biggest challenges from the song is that Matafale never specified the kind of poverty he was talking about. He may have mentioned lack of sleeping space and cloth to wear in the first verse, showing that he was talking about material poverty, but the fact that some people, while alive, have managed to defeat their material poverty, shows that Matafale was talking about something big when he said no live human being can defeat poverty.

Poverty comes in different forms. Besides the material one, others are poverty of ambition, friends, family, fulfillment, knowledge and happiness. The list cannot be exhausted. When one looks at all this it is easy to conclude that we are all poor in one way or the other. We may have materials but lack fulfillment or happiness, for example.

The only time we will be free from all these kinds of poverty will be when we are dead. Maybe that is what Matafale was talking about. Just as with the material poverty, it is hard to give an answer to who is to blame for people having this non-material poverty.

That is how deep the song is. It goes beyond a mere song with lyrics and title that has a question. The story in it and the question that is raised from it is relevant and soul-searching. It is the center point of our existence because whatever we do as human beings we try to move ourselves towards the eradication of the poverty we have.

But it sometimes just happens that while you are working hard to free yourself from the poverty, you stop doing everything and ask yourself, “Who exactly is to blame for my poverty?”

Matafale was known as “the prophet” in Malawi and was seen as an elder amongst the community of Malawian Rastafarians.

NB: The article was first published on December 29, 2015. Visit original source:

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