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Alick Nkhata
'Shalapo' (RETRO4CD)

Love songs and other 1950s hits [Zambia]

Alick Nkhata was a pioneer of Zambian popular music whose career spanned the pre- and post-Independence years in Central Africa. In a unique way, he mirrored the spirit of the age and the feelings of Northern Rhodesians, on whom his personality and his music had a profound effect.

Alick was born in 1922 in the Kasama District to a Tonga father and Bemba mother whose characteristics were later reflected in his art. He trained as a school teacher but when World War Two broke out he enlisted with the East African Division and served in Burma. After demobilisation, he began working with the celebrated musicologist High Tracey, with whom Alick toured the region recording African musicians. He went on to join the Central African Broadcasting Service as an announcer-translator, who also claimed he could 'sing a bit'. The first song on this collection was the most popular of all his songs, but all of them combined traditional and contemporary idioms, elements of town and country, past and present, and of tribal and detribalised society. As Michael Kittermaster, formerly head of broadcasting in Zambia recalled 'The man was true original, who mirrored in his songs something that transcended the barriers of tribe, race and language.'

At first Alick recorded on his own as a sideline to his radio announcing, but he later formed a quartet with the help of Dick Sapseid, Assistant Broadcasting Officer, who played piano and had also led a dance band in England. Like a calypso singer, Alick had the ability to to produce on the spur of the moment songs that were a social commentary on current events, often dealing with social and sexual themes. He also composed explicitly political songs but in the climate of the time these were never recorded. He could in turn be ridiculous (Taxi Driver), melancholic (Chisoni), sentimental (Maliya) or satirical (Abalumendo Bamo). At concerts the audience would be laughing at one moment and crying the next.

Michael Kittermaster defines Nkhata's quality as lying in the age old traditions of those African singers who once toured villages to sing at weddings, funerals and seasonal festivities. So prized were these musicians in bygone days that some Bemba chiefs caused them to be blinded so they were unable to stray beyond their boundaries. These singers combined the functions of entertainer, raconteur, social commentator and custodians of tribal history.

 


Alick Nkhata recording in the field for Central African Broadcasting Service

Once promoted to Director of Broadcasting and Cultural Services, Alick found less time for playing and recording music but In his years with the radio he made thousands of recordings not only in Zambia but Malawi and Zimbabwe also.

In 1974 he retired to his farm at Mkushi, although he continued to play music. His farm was close to a camp of Zapu guerillas who were then fighting the Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia. One night In October 1978 Smith's forces attacked the camp and Alick was killed in the cross fire. It was a savage irony that he, the least aggressive of men, a commentator on politics rather than a participant, who by his art had probably done more for peaceful coexistence than any politician, should have met his death in the barbarous way. But if his murderers destroyed the man they were unable to destroy his art which lives on in these recordings.

This is an edited version of the sleeve notes by Michael Kittermaster which accompany the CD Shalapo (RETRO4CD)

Alick Nkhata
'Shalapo' (RETRO4CD)

 
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