2 February 2013

Zambia: Emmanuel Makulu - a Guitar Wizard

HE was determined to learn how to play a guitar and after succeeding, it became a toy and no-one could stop him.

This is Emmanuel Makulu who went on to become one of Zambia's best guitarists and music composers.

He had a vision and had it not been the cruel hand of death, Emmanuel could by this time have been riding on 'cloud nine'.

Even his contemporaries are still soaked in the exploits of this gifted musician who contributed greatly to the development of the local industry which rested mainly on Zamrock music.

In fact, he was influenced by guitar heroes like Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix and Erick Clapton, among others.

Born in Ndola on June 6, 1957, Emmanuel grew up with his vision set on music and as his cousin Reggie Mfula observed, he was really keen to take up music as his career.

Mfula, who is also a guitarist, describes Emmanuel as an ardent guitarist who never rested because he was always willing to get to the next level.

"We used to go to Coffee House at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe, where a resident band, the Apple Juice as well as the Boy Friends (Later the Peace), used to perform and we could watch and try to imitate them.

"Then Emmanuel and I could train how to play the guitar for at least five hours a day," Mfula, whose father Jason Mfula was director of MEF and a former diplomat, explained.

The zeal for music was unearthed during his early days at Kabulonga Boys' Secondary School in the 1970s and one of Zambia's guitar legends, Bright Mfula played a key role in perfecting Emmanuel's guitar works.

At that time, he was still struggling to learn how to pick the strings with his childhood friend, Patrick Mwondela.

He, together with his cousin George Makulu, formed a band called Rainbow and later changed its name to Peace Mission whose members were George on bass, Emmanuel (lead), Harry Johnson (vocals) and his brother Hexter on drums.

The two siblings Harry and Hexter were tutored in music by their late older brother Heyman, who was a singer and drummer for a rock band called the MIGS.

Their father, Earl Johnson came to Zambia from the Caribbean Island of Jamaica as an expatriate in the 1960s and adopted this country as their home.

Harry is now a resident in Botswana while Hexter lives on a farm in Lusaka West. Both parents died and are buried in Zambia.

The band was influenced by a tour of Zambia by a former British Rock band, the Equals and American soul king, James Brown during the 1970s.

In 1976, Emmanuel and Patrick came together to form the Guys and Dolls with Anna Mwale, Muriel Mwamba and Mervis Mukobani as Dolls, while Emmanuel on guitar, Aaron Banda (bass) Hexter Johnson on drums and Patrick on keyboard, were the Guys.

"We featured on a TV comedy show called Tiyende Pamodzi presented by Field Ruwe but the break came during a music performance at the 20th Century Cinema Hall then run by the late Edwin Manda.

"The Guys and Dolls stole the show, the crowd just went crazy and could not believe what this new band was producing," says Mwondela, in a recent interview from his base in London, England.

It was at this point that the Witch Band got interested in Emmanuel and this is because both John 'Music' Muma and Cosmas Zani were contemplating leaving the band.

In 1978, Emmanuel replaced John 'Music' on rhythm and Patrick took the place of Cosmas on keyboard.

"Interestingly, I was not very keen on the idea but Emmanuel saw that it was a great stepping stone to his career," Mwondela explained.

Former Great Witch lead vocalist Jaggari Chanda, who performed alongside him, said "Emmanuel was a serious musician, very creative and he loved his guitar.

"He gave us conditions that he could only join the Witch if he brought along his colleague Patrick on keyboard and that is how he joined us."

For Mwondela, "Emmanuel's talent on the guitar was phenomenal. He was one of the greatest guitarists of our generation.

"You know, we influenced the type of music the Witch played as demonstrated in the album Movin On. Guitar parts on the album are quite outstanding."

The Witch, with Emmanuel in the pack, shifted camp to Zimbabwe where they recorded Movin on.

One of the tracks, My Desire, was number one on the charts of that country's popular Radio 3 for six weeks. Some of the names on the charts included Michael Jackson, Billy Ocean and Lionel Ritchie.

But after the Zimbabwe tour around 1983, Emmanuel left the band.

"We had just come back from Zimbabwe and toured Southern Province. Income from shows could not sustain the band.

"The Movin On album was not well marketed because of the delay in releasing and this resulted in it being leaked and pirated and by the time it came out, everybody was already tired of it," Mwondela explained.

This did not go well with some of the members, forcing most of them including Emmanuel to leave and went to join the Zambia Air Force-sponsored Air Power Band.

The skeleton band led by Mwondela had a contract at Moon City Night Club in Lusaka and when it ended in 1984, the band folded up.

As Air Power band leader, Emmanuel was instrumental in composing and releasing of hit songs like Uzaniyondesa, That's the way we get by as well as albums like Nafela Nkhope and Ichupo.

Emmanuel also composed a gospel album called Come to Jesus which was well received on the local market.

Allan Sinkala, the current drummer and band leader of the Air Power Band who assisted Emmanuel during recording of Come to Jesus, described him as helpful and made him what he is today.

His death in 1995 left a big gap on the local music arena and robbed this nation of a talented artist.

That was Emmanuel who had reached the peak of his career but passed on at a tender age and his footprints are still visible, though no-one will ever fit in his shoes.

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