Tamukwera
Ilala! Ilala! Ilala! Iseee! Tamukwera Ilala eeeh! Ilala! Amama! IIala! Amama!
Ilala ise, tamukwera IIala eee!

Such is the
fast-paced song in rural areas, especially in the North, when the MV Ilala, a
620-tonne ferry, is about to depart a port—a sign of just how much the ship,
which has chugged up and down Lake Malawi since 1951, is revered.

United States-based Malawian musician Chipembere Jnr has released an acoustic version of ‘Ilala’

Ilala is a song that comes from an old
Malawian traditional wedding song. It says we are going on a ship.

On Sunday,
May 19 2019, United States-based Malawian musician Masauko Chipembere Jnr
released an acoustic version of the song as a precursor to his album set for
release on June 16 2019.

In his
version, Masauko, son to political nationalists Henry Masauko and Catherine
Chipembere, believes that the ship is taking people on a voyage to the place of
the ancestors.

It is a
powerful acoustic performance filmed at Stowel Lake Farm on Salt Spring Island,
Canada. The album version of Ilala was produced and recorded by Come
to Life at Milestone Recording Studio in Cape Town, South Africa.

But this song
is just a tip of an iceberg in a music project that captures the story of how a
boy from Los Angeles, who spent years trying to find his African identity,
finally made it home.

“I was a
child of exile,” speaks Chipembere in a five-minute documentary released
recently.

“I was
conceived in Tanzania while my mother and father were running from the conflict
with Kamuzu Banda in Malawi. I was born in Los Angeles. I was actually in the
womb in Africa and then born in the United States.

“My music, I
feel, has always been about trying to figure out how to balance that on some
sort of scale,” he explains.

His father,
Henry, played a significant role in bringing independence from colonial rule to
Malawi. He became a minister in Kamuzu Banda’s Cabinet in the run up to
independence in July 1964.

But barely a
month later, Banda’s autocratic style led to the Cabinet Crisis where
Chipembere resigned and was forced into exile.

“In Los
Angeles, I grew up amongst kids who were troubling with all things that LA had
to throw at you…Malawi was an abstract idea. I came to find out later that,
because of my father’s political situation, it was illegal for Malawians to
come to Los Angeles. Malawians could be punished by death for coming to Los Angeles
because my father was there. So, as a child, I grew up not knowing any
Malawian.

“It was up
until 1994, when my mother went back to Malawi. She was part of the government
that pushed out the dictatorial regime of Kamuzu Banda.

“That’s when
Malawi and the whole Chipembere story became real to me, more especially the
thought of my mother taking a flight to Malawi to fight someone who is an enemy
of pan-Africanism,” he explains.

This short
music documentary about Masauko Chipembere was made over a two-week journey in
Southern Africa to produce his latest record with Come To Life titled Masauko.

For years, he
had been traveling to Malawi to work with artists such as Ernest Ikwanga (lead
guitar), Chambota Chirwa (bass guitar), Kyle Luciano Phikiso (drummer) and Sam
Mkandawire (keyboard).

He, however,
says despite the immense talent that Malawi has, he found it difficult to find
better resources for his album; hence, going to South Africa which “has more
means such as better equipment and studios”.

The album’s
creation finds its roots back during the US Presidential elections of November
2016 when Masauko was invited to a jam session on Salt Spring Island, Canada.

A number of
artists had also gathered on Salt Spring to deal with the coming of the new
regime in the U.S. and to remind themselves that they could battle the
destructive nature of the new political reality with creativity through art.

They sang,
they chanted, they cried, and testified. At the end of a particularly beautiful
jam session, Masauko was standing with David from Guayaki and Daryl Chonka, who
was the sound engineer for the event.

He recalls:
“David said to me ‘We should start a record company’. I simply agreed,
suggesting that the moralistic nature that has characterised the Guayaki brand could
make a positive impact on the music industry. I never dreamed that Daryl would
call me a few months later to say, “We are starting the record company we
talked about and you are the first artist we want to make a record with.”

Chipembere
says although Malawi is financially poor, it is culturally rich; a feature that
he believes his project demonstrates.

Malawians are
a people who have ancient traditions connecting them to the earth, the sky, the
wind, the trees and the ancestors.

His album is
the product of all these elements coming together.

“African-American
community in the United States taught me about ancestors. In fact, I learnt and
heard more about ancestors from black people in America than I have typically
in Africa.

“The belief
there is that we need to come to grips with our ancestors.

But we are a
people claiming that our ancestors were slaves. That means going back into that
is choosing hardships.

“My journey
was to come to grips with my roots in Malawi and Africa.

That journey,
I understand, didn’t have to be pretty. It had to be done because it was the
right thing to do, because people without roots cannot grow.

“So, going straight at it instead of avoiding it has allowed me to find some grace in the sense that I get to know myself,” he explains.

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