The golden voice; powerful and intelligent lyrics that used to be carried in the frame called Evison Matafale still hang with a distinct quality. Matafale went for good, true, but the fact we all live with is that his wisdom, intelligence, prophecy, silky voice and clear musical art were – and still are – mighty.
They all escaped those chilling fangs of death that senselessly and savagely smothered the life of the reggae maestro who died at a nubile 32. Quite young for a person of his caliber.
A musician with qualities, one can safely say, that any musician on the local scene is yet to boast of. Reason? Evison Matafale, profoundly called ‘the prophet’ then, was not just a musician like any other. He was a musician and more.
Matafale, the man who lived in a time he never lived
Arguably, this is one of the roles that many use in distinguishing the late Matafale’s music from other people’s music. Lately, to back up this claim, almost everybody picks at Kuyimba 1’s hit Malawi.
In it, the silky voice of the gone but to never be forgotten Matafale advises: mtendere si nsimatu ayi (Freedom is more than having food).
The people of Malawi, now agree, the man was just right at the point. They have food but does that mean they are free? The people of this nation can answer that one better, in their hearts.
Yet, the prophecy of the man survived by two full albums and a band that still exudes perfection on the reggae scene does not stop at that. It does not even conclude at Time Mark, the hit single just before his unnerving death, in which he called himself ‘Rasta Daniel…only here to finish up the revelation.’
The Arab springs, it appears, were already seen by the man in his song ‘Freedom’ in which he lets his hypnotizing voice flow with an unguarded sweetness as it proclaims:
The song is freedom, freedom, freedom/everywhere/the song is freedom/total freedom/to the people
Matafale knew and saw an age in which people will never be satisfied by almost free housing, free education, free access to medical facilities as was the case in Libya but would demand something more: freedom.
End result? The prophetic voice, clearly and with an arguable style of its own, announces in the song:
And all I can see is smoke and fire/they’re still fighting in mamaland/And all I can smell is bomb and blood
He knew, our safely interred prophet, that the song of freedom will not just be sung amidst peaceful ululations, it will be embroidered in sorrow. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria know better.
Evison, the avid reader
Chinua Achebe, the man whom most of Africa – and even the entire world – looks at with a powerful reverence has been in the news lately. The reason being he has denied an award from the Federal government of Nigeria because, in his words, the government has not tackled issues to do with corruption and bad governance which were the same grounds he used to snub the award in 2004.
In one word, it would be prudent to say, Achebe is wise. It is in that wisdom that the man wrote in his 1986 fiction book ‘Arrow of God’ that: ‘sometimes the gods use us as a whip’.
Matafale, the fallen giant whose works refused to fall with him, was not very far from that wisdom in Time Mark as he challengingly announced, and warned, the Al Qaeda days after razing down the World Trade Centre in America on September, 11 2001:
This is the warning to the terrorists/you have been used by Almighty as a whip/to punish people of the land
Borrowing from Achebe? It appears so, one cannot completely rule out the high possibility that the man read Achebe.
Even the thinking espoused in Olenga Dzuwa, for all those who have read Malcolm X’s autobiography, will agree that it is the kind of thinking preached in the book in its foundation pages. The late ‘first black missionary’ scathingly denounces the white man. He sings, with an admirable velvet voice still:
Nawe mzungu taona wangoziulura kuti Satana ndiwe/ukulamulira dziko lapansi/ndi nkhanza zokhazokha (white man, you’ve just revealed yourself that you’re the devil incarnate/you control the whole world with all the cruelty)
Matafale, the man of God
Sometimes, it gets hard to classify the music of Matafale. That it was reggae, pure and undefiled, everyone accepts. The question lies whether it was secular or gospel. A good number of practicing Christians will be quick to dismiss the music as secular chants of a Rasta while almost every Rastafarian who chooses to appear in fidelity to the faith will embrace the man’s music as the gospel.
However, in Chauta N’gwamphamvu, the maestro reconciles the two parties to accept him as a man of God. A man who could appreciate the role of God in our lives. No wonder, he patiently implores us all to thank God, still maintaining the irresistible reggae touch and that angelic voice, as he sings:
Ukaona dzuwa latuluka/mbalame nazo zikuimba/Chauta n’gwamphamvu…timuyamike/kuti izi zipitilire/timtamande kuti iye asasiye (At the break of every new dawn/just know God is great…Let’s praise Him/for all the good works to continue)
That was in his first album, Kuimba 1. He did not stop there, anyway; in Kuimba 2, as a missionary, he went on a mission inviting people to the Rasta faith. The lyric of Why Jesus was born bare it all:
I want to know why Jesus was born/Was he born to be king?/Oh no!/Wasn’t he already?/Oh Yes!/To save mankind/But has really man of the world been saved? Oh don’t lie! Rasta has got the answer
He released that song after divorcing with the wailing brothers; he had formed the black missionaries. In that song, he was the missionary. A black missionary inviting people to a faith he believed had answers.
Evison, the social scientist
“Matafale, what distinguishes him from other musicians, is not only the skill he laid in the instrumentation. The lyrics are even powerful, maybe even better than the voice,” Lackson Creto, a third year Chancellor College music student, describes the reggae genius such.
In Sing a Song, Matafale stays faithful to that argument. In it, he does not just sing as any other musician. He sings and dares Africa to a soul searching the entire continent appear to be scared of taking. He laments:
Africa is moving/nobody minds the destination…Corruption is still rising/the victim is the poor man…Africa is stumbling/nobody minds the destination
It is an intelligence only associated with scholars yet Matafale talked about it with a naked honesty, in music. He encrypted it in art as he did with the message on the ravaging pandemic of AIDS in Poison so Sweet in which he sings:
Do you get bored/when you hear this again, on the papers and the radios: HIV/AIDS?…The poison is so sweet/that’s what’s killing men in town…
He did the same in Watsetsereka, indisputably the hit that catapulted him to fame, in which he proclaims and reminds:
Nyerere yokonda shuga/imayamba kuzungulira pa mulomo wa kapu/kenako kugwera mommo (bad habits usually start slowly but graduate into something)
Matafale, him who valued the love for mankind
That the late Matafale wanted people to be free cannot be overemphasized. Yet the man also had a value for mankind, those principles of humanity that makes us all our brothers’ keepers.
Yang’ana Nkhope bears testimony to this when he calls on each of us to look at each other’s faces and see the resemblance on our faces just as we all resemble God.
In Umafuna Zambiri, he describes the same philosophy as he wonders why people are busy building churches when their Christians have nowhere to sleep. Is that not hypocrisy?
Evison, the political activist
Perhaps, the late Matafale had a feeling those in government had no time to listen to his songs. He felt, just an assumption, that those in authority could not stand his ‘renegade’ though honest chants of a Rasta.
That might explain why he wrote that angry letter to the then administration under the tutelage of Dr. Bakili Muluzi accusing it of having preferential treatment towards Asians and Muslims among other vices. Matafale fought for equal treatment.
It was that letter that invited the wrath of the law enforcers on him. He was arrested on November 24, taken to Lilongwe for interrogation after assuring his relations that he would be back soon as he was in no good health condition. Three days later, the full life of the reggae maestro, was announced over. They said because of pneumonia.
He left a single song, Time Mark, which was to appear in his Kuimba 3 Album. That was ten years ago.
It really years since that life of a man with many faces than a musician came to a grinding, shocking, abrupt and unexpected end. His faces, nevertheless, refuse to be obliterated from the face of the earth.
About Matafale: He who formed and led Black Missionaries died on November 27, 2001 while in police custody following his arrest after authoring what was considered seditious material.
He rose to fame and became one of the country’s favorite musicians by the year 2000 through the release of his debut album Kuimba 1 in 1999.
The late Malawi’s King of Reggae Matafale was known as ‘the prophet’ in the country and was seen as an elder in the community of Malawian Rastafarians.
*This article was published in The Sunday Times of 27 November, 2011 under the title: “ÉVISON MATAFALE: 10 YEARS ON”