Malawi

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Makambale Brothers Banjo Band (made from oil drums)

Malawi is one of Africa’s least-developed countries, and one of its smallest. Main threats to the birds include the pressures of human population growth, conversion of land to agriculture, and poverty.

Musical Collaborators:

Mr. Tekarora (njari huru); Madawi ulimba master; 
Sena musicians from Chikwawa, Nsanje; marimba players; and Makambale Brothers Banjo Band.

One musical goal in Malawi was to hear the Likhuba drumming of the Mang’anja of southern Malawi, perhaps the most unique tradition of tuned drum ensemble in the world, using rapid interlocking patterns played by ensembles of 12 drums, of different pitches, from soprano to bass. These drums were tuned by first tightening the drum skin with heat, then weighting it with a ring of castor oil bean or roast groundnuts mixed with beeswax. Though it was generally accepted that this extraordinary musical tradition had already completely died out, one Likhuba drum maker and player was located – perhaps the last keeper of this tradition. However, whereas formerly the drum ensemble would have numbered 10 – 12, his set included only 4, and he did not have trained drummers to accompany him. This elder reported that there was little interest in it any more. He believed that after his death, the tradition would disappear.

“We scoured Likhuba land, days on dirt paths following false leads. In the end we found one old man who still had some of the knowledge of the tradition and the rhythms. He pulled out four drums to show us. They were in very poor condition. He said, ‘We’ve lost it. It’s gone.’”
-Chris Berry, music researcher

Our deep gratitude to the many people who collaborated and assisted us in Malawi, especially ethnomusicologists Dr. Moya Malamusi, Johannes Malamusi, and Dr. Gerhard Kubik.

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  • Malawi

    Size: 94,276 km²

    Human population: 14,900,841
    (World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2010)

    Bird species: 648
    including 94 species of intra-African regular migrants; 77 species of regular Palearctic migrants; 17 bird species of global conservation concern, such as Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) (VU) and Corn Crake (Crex crex) (VU) (Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire, Robert J. Dowsett, Michael Dyer, in Fishpool, L.D.C. and Evans, M.I., eds., 2001)

    Important Bird Areas: 22

    “We searched for a player of a kind of thumb piano called njari huru. We were afraid this instrument had become obsolete. Finally we heard about a player of this instrument, Mr. Tekarora, and went to find him. It turned out that Mr. Tekarora did indeed have a njari huru, but he hadn’t played his instrument in about 15 years. His instrument had rotted and the keys rusted. He said he used to play this music for ceremonies to bring people together. But a mine had moved near the village, which had modernized, and no one had use for that music anymore.” -Chris Berry, music researcher