Skip to main content

Gasper Nali – A Bale Ndikuwuzeni (2010)

In 2010, someone recorded a video of a musician playing on the shores of Lake Malawi. The musician’s name is Gasper Nali. He is small and strong, shirtless with blue jeans. He is kicking a bass-drum with his foot and playing something else with his hands: it looks like a three-metre-long banjo. It’s not a banjo – it’s a babatoni, a gigantic homemade instrument assembled from wood, cowskin and a big mortar well. Nali tunes the babatoni’s single string and hammers it like a dulcimer, banging with a drumstick, generating a buzzy, overdriven bass-tone that sounds a little like punk-rock and a little like the way I imagine a crocodile would, if that crocodile had a band, riffs echoing through a sewer grate.

Nali also sings. It’s the singing that keeps A Bale Ndikuwuzeni from becoming Nkhata Bay’s answer to the Stooges. He sings like a man in love. Clear-hearted and confident, he sings a melody that seems to glitter in the sun, fly out across the waves. And so despite the muddy, thumping instrumentation, A Bale Ndikuwuzeni feels like bright and joyful pop.

It isn’t. Two weeks after Nali’s music came sailing to me over the Internet, I discovered that this is a song of hellfire. Nali’s not in love, he’s not full of gladness: in fact, he’s terrified. He’s worried for the state of his fellow citizen’s souls. “My friends, I want to tell you, I want to preach everything today,” Nali sings in Chichewa. “I’m so upset about what I’m seeing [here].” He’s upset about drunk pastors and child marriage, broken families and domestic abuse. “Seeing the whole Malawi / seeing the whole Africa / our destination is fire!”

I won’t comment on Nali’s theological expertise. But I was grateful for the reminder that music has a way of changing before our ears. We think we know it; then we don’t. We hear old beats in new ways. The next time I listen to A Bale Ndikuwuzeni, in 10 minutes or 10 years, maybe it will have changed again. There’s no telling what any song will become.

Simon and Garfunkel – America (1968)

I’d always figured that revolution would have to be led by the kids. Capitalism isn’t going to overthrow itself, and it’s the punks and young people, Occupy’s occupiers, that would take the fight to the streets, socialism to the Capitol.

Now I’m not so sure. This month, the would-be U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders began airing ads soundtracked by Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Sanders, 74, is a socialist. And as the ads go viral, it’s almost as if the baby-boomers are harkening back to when they were brave, mortgage-free, and listening to Bookends. Maybe they’re waking up. I’m doubtful that Sanders can defeat the moneyed interests behind Hillary Clinton and the status quo. But maybe he, Paul and Art can stir something up. Maybe there’s a chance yet – for the kids and their parents to marry their fortunes together.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

Editor's note: Paul Simon is a member of Simon and Garfunkel. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Latest Videos