KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
SOMETIME in the 2000s, a rumour had circulated that Laban Kalunga had died. But the details were sketchy, and because he had been out of the limelight for a while, it was difficult to confirm his death.
Then, almost from nowhere, he was wheeled in the Times of Zambia newsroom in Lusaka from Kanyama township by his aide so that he could quell the rumours. Indeed, the man was alive, and was actually rearing to get his career active again.
On Wednesday, social media was awash with news that Laban had died in Kapiri Mposhi. But this was certainly no hoax. His friend, the folk singer Andy Chola, confirmed the death.
Steve Jobs said: â€œNo one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven donâ€™t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is lifeâ€™s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.â€
But who has Laban made way for? You will have to look hard.
In his book Zambian Music Legends, Leonard Koloko writes that Laban churned out a number of hits that were loved by the young and old.
He actually does a good job in summarising his career.
â€œThis Ndola-based singer was the brain behind hit songs such as Umwana Alelila Bawishi and Ba Mukabene. The former is a touchy song about the lament of an illegitimate child crying out for his father. The song brings out the plight of such children,â€ Koloko writes.
â€œThe latter, also popularly known as Brandy is a social comment on the need to respect other peopleâ€™s spouses and not to flirt with them. Both songs are everlasting classics on the Zambian music scene.
â€œLater in his career, Laban linked up with former members of the Blackfoot and started a new outfit called Laban Kalunga and Amantanki Band with whom he released the great Nkalandauzi; done in Namwanga. Kalungaâ€™s 1980s release of the UNIP vigilante song By Air was included on the Zambiance compilation album. It was done with his Fikashala Band.â€
The Zambiance compilation album was originally issued in 1989 by Ace Records on the Globestyle label, and had such styles as kalindula, mantyantya and what you may perhaps call as zam-rhumba.
Other than Laban with his By Air, the album also featured the likes of Shalawambe (Kambowa and Icupo cha kulala pa Mpapa), Amayenge (Mao – 2Ã—2), Alfred Chishala Kalusha Jr. (Itumba and Ni Maggie), Kalambo Hit Parade (Nyina Kataila part 1 and 2) and Julizya (Tai Yaka).
In a way, Laban owes his musical rise to the Southern Rhodesia-born Edward Khuzwayo, the man behind the Zambia Music Parlour, which he used to operate in Ndola although he used to reside in Luanshya where Laban was born in 1947 to a carpenter father in Mpatamato township.
Khuzwayo, a godfather of Zambian music in his own right, he helped promote the likes of Violet Kafula, Keith Mlevu, the Witch and other bands at a time many musicians were heading to East Africa for recordings.
It was during one of the auditions by Zambia Music Parlour in Ndola that Khuzwayo, together with his manager, saw the potential in Laban, and thus signed a recording contract with him. Soon, he was at DB Studios, which was established by Peter Musangilo in Lusaka, recording.
Musangilo was a pioneer when he established DB Studioâ€™s, which was followed by Zambia Music Parlour and Teal Record Company, both in Ndola. He had seen an opportunity to produce and market local music when cover versions of foreign hits were being played by the likes of the Broadway Quintet, Crooners and De Black Evening Follies.
Anyhow, Laban was able to record four songs at DB Studios which included one titled Kanshi Kalembula Munani. He soon formed the Fikashala band, which was later to change its name to Amantanki in 1992. The band was made up of mostly former Blackfoot members, who were also associated with the Zambia Music Parlour.
The band had Laban on lead, George Banda (drums), Peter Chilufya (bass), Paul Chilufya (rhythm) and Daliwe Banda (lead).
It with this band that he released By Air in 1982, which talked about the politics of the time, how those who showed opposition were dealt with. When the band changed to Amantanki, the complexion changed a little with the addition of Garry Njovu on lead with Laban going on rhythm.
It is with Amantanki that Laban produced Ba Mukabene and Bashi Malama, which JK (Jordan Katembula) covered on his phenomenal self-titled debut album released under the title Bana Malama featuring Joe â€œThe Ambassadorâ€ Chibangu.
Well, if you do not know Laban, atleast you should know Bashi Malama.
This song, together with others, were enough to see Laban and the Amantanki perform in various joints on the Copperbelt such as Savoy Hotel and Edinburgh Hotel. He also resident at Masase Bar in Kapiri Mposhi where he was performing with Kasinje Band, a Congolese outfit. There, he would play mostly Francoâ€™s covers as well as his own.
â€œHe was a cheerful and quite interactive with his audience, usually making hilarious commentaries in his native lamba language before and after playing each song. He also used to dance with his head and shoulders while slumped in his chair,â€ says Chanda Mwenya who used to watch him in Kapiri.
Unfortunately, the economic challenges of the 90s coupled with high levels of piracy impact negatively on the music industry so much so that record companies closed. That is what forced the termination of his contract with Zambia Music Parlour.
With that, Laban decided to settle in Kapiri in 1993 where he continued to play music. But misfortune struck when the Zambia Army soldiers overran the settlement where he was living, setting it ablaze as an act of revenge against the villagers who had beaten their colleague.
Laban, who had a daughter, lost everything, including his instruments. From that time, you can say things had never been the same for him. He trekked to Lusaka without any specific plan but fortunate to be welcomed by Chris Chali of the Amayenge, who themselves did not have it easy with the change of government in 1991 as they were perceived to be UNIPists.
In recent times, you could see Laban backing Andy Chola whenever the folk musician was playing.
Now with his death, who will play the kalindula the way Laban did? Bâ€™flow who has just announced that he is moving from dancehall to kalindula?
Impossible, it can never be the same.
â€œFarewell to Laban Kalunga the kalindula legendary who was buried in Kapiri Mposhi on Thursday. Weâ€™ll remember him as a humble and talented man who was ready to transfer his knowledge and skills to the current generation. He worked well with all ages and was never influenced to any other strange sounds,â€ the Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) chairman Njoya Tee says.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka