"I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
It only takes one band or one musician to lay the very foundations for a metal scene to flourish, in some countries it's touch and go, but for others? The process is long and arduous. Take the African country of Malawi for example, here is a country bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania, the first three have one thing in common - they have metal scenes. Tanzania like Malawi has yet to produce one, however it's musicians like Blessings Chisama who are laying the foundations of change. Through teaching aspiring guitarists, he hopes that others may follow in his footsteps whilst hoping to change this negative perception of the metal genre, that is just a form of music and has no Satanic connotations at all. Perhaps may one one day in the future we will see the first Malawian Metal band... for now we have Moto Buu a rock band.
GMA spoke to Blessings about how he got into playing the guitar, the challenges musicians face in Malawi - mostly hardly a solid music industry and what plans he has for the future in music.
How did you first get into metal music? Who are your favourite bands? What do your parents think?
"I started my music journey in a rather not so conventional fashion for most metal guitarists. My uncles have a reggae band, and I used to be around them whenever they were playing their old box guitars at home whilst growing up at my granny’s house. However, as time went by I began to be exposed to rock through the music mix programme on Voice of America, which was aired here at midnight through Capital FM Malawi. At that time, my youngest uncle used to like leaving the radio on throughout the night in the bedroom. At some point they started recording using Fluteloops and Sonar and it was around that time that I also started learning how to record although I only used to play bass with few fingers.
Throughout this time I’ve listened to a lot right across the spectrum, from Christian metal bands (that uncle Evance had on his desktop) such as Seventh Day Slumber, Krystal Meyer, Jeremy Camp, etc. to ‘real stuff’ to get your head banging, bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Andy James, Dream Theatre, A Day To Remember, Animals As Leaders, Killswitch Engange, Stephen Taranto, The Helix Nebula, Periphery and lots more, with Andy James probably being one of my main influences on guitar because of his detailed instructional videos on guitar playing. In addition, anything shred, prog and djent has lately become my favourite!
I grew up mostly with my grandma which was the time when my uncles were all into music and when I moved to live with my mother; I had switched to hip-hop as it was easy to get tapes in my secondary school days. However, in 2008 I moved again to re-join one of my uncles (Peter Chisama) and that's where I started learning guitar. It was on the morning of 1st November 2008, two days after I moved to the house, when uncle Peter brought his Ibanez Guitar, a Roland amp and a photocopied book called “The Handbook for Guitar” by Ralph Denyer into my room when he was leaving for work.
He told me to start learning and ask him anything that am not understanding so the process was rather self learning. He also exposed me to the Famous Frank Gambale and gave me his pdf books and audio's which at that time I found very had to digest. As such I was left to explore without negative remarks and up until now I think it was the best thing to ever happen to me. However, I should say that mother doesn't really believe one can make a big fortune in the Malawian music scene and as such has been of the view that I should vigilantly pursue my education in something else other than music."
What is it like being a rock / metal musician in Malawi? What are the challenges you have to face?
"Rock music is not a popular genre to the masses and as such the fan base is extremely low. It's mostly comprised of the expatriate community and very few middle class Malawians who at some point had little exposure to pop rock music and video games, which is how I first heard the song “Hand Of Blood” by Bullet For My Valentine.
For me personally, it has been a journey I sometimes feel like giving up and thanks to the internet otherwise, I don't think Malawi is ready for it considering the religious stereotypes attached to it. I’ve however devised a different approach to buying in audience which at this level are fellow musicians within and I’ve incorporated element of music education and guitar learning in particular where I’m offering lessons and showing them that actually they can apply the same techniques into other styles of music. I'm a music major and that has been the path I’ve taken.
We don't have music stores that offer descent equipment so getting proper gear is problematic. Most so-called music shops are riddled with cheap and very poor quality instruments. I'm actually lucky that the equipment that I have been using was bought by my younger uncle from South Africa. I buy quality accessories like strings, music books, plectrums e.t.c. through the expat community based here for work coming in from their respective holidays.
What equipment are you using right now? What guitar, effects box, etc?
"My uncle has been kind to buy me the Boss GT 100 and an Ibanez GiO. My first owned guitar is an Aria STG series which I was given by someone I used to teach guitar who is now in the U.K. I’ve lately got the Cort X6 which I bought from an expat. And in additional I am exploring and investing in a couple of computer amp sims and impulses."
What is the general perception of rock and metal in Malawi? Are you aware of any rock or metal musicians in Tanzania?
"Metal music in Malawi is mostly considered a demonic music culture for the average masses and something difficult to achieve among Malawian musicians since music education is limited for many of the instrument musicians around. Adding to the problem is the lack of proper gear in most studios around. As such it is often times misunderstood and the knowledge of creation is almost non-existent.
I’m aware of a very strong metal community in Botswana and South Africa but I'm yet to come across metal music from Tanzania."
Will you look to release your own material in due course? Maybe form the first Malawian Metal band?
"Yes! But as a solo artist through platforms like Bandcamp. I’m yet to meet the right people to work with in a band setup so my performances for now are mostly through backing tracks whether be it my own recorded material or covers. So basically my computer is my band at the moment. I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
For metalheads visiting Lilongwe, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"I’m Blantyre based since birth so I haven’t heard much of Lilongwe in action with metal music except for the Moto Buu which sometimes perform at 4 Seasons. There’s a pop rock / 80's – 90's cover band in Blantyre called Rusty Nails which perform mostly within Blantyre and happens to be a band I’ve worked with in the past."
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020 and leading into 2021?
"Well, I lost my main job due to COVID-19 and I’ve gone to guitar teaching as my last point of standing financially to survive, so I'm back to studying licks and technique to become better."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"Shout out to all the metalheads all over the world and to my uncles Evance and Benjamin Chisama for their support and inspiration. I'm also thankful for my late uncle Peter Chisama who gave me his guitar, amp and a book to learn from, he was a music genius that our family will leave to remember."