My Malawi Pt. 1

Unu House | Physical Education

Chikale, N’khata Bay, Malawi

Teaching drums at Unu House

Physical education as means to musical practice;

Referring to the idea of sports in school, relating to maintaining the human body through physical exercises.

Travelling through Malawi has taught me a valuable lesson, which is to experience life, or to live the experiences.

Our travels led us to Nkhata Bay, Malawi: one of the biggest tourism spots in northern Malawi. The serene atmosphere on the lakeside created a great bed for tourism in the area. When we reached our hosts in Chikale, we soon realized we were stepping into something bigger than what we had imagined.

Unu House Gallery is an open-house model which started a few years ago for visitors and travellers to live close to the local community and learn about Malawian village life, providing a peaceful environment to children and youth from the villages around. It invites people to come together to share knowledge, skills, experiences, stories and support. The children come to the house to play, draw, sing, dance, drum or to do whatever comes into their mind, in a free and open environment. Since many of the children are exposed to confusing and conflicting occurrences in their daily environments, it’s very important for them to have a child-friendly space where they can gather and just be kids. 

The Project was founded by Antje and Phillip, a Swiss-German couple which came to Malawi in 2015 and started renting the house. In 2018  Anton, Annetta and Nicole, three young travellers from Germany, took over the house from Phillip and Antje.

There are many toys, musical instruments, books and painting materials in the house you can share  with the kids. The main fields of interest revolves around education, games and group activities. 

Many educational  misconceptions I came with were confronted immediately upon our arrival; The physicality of the education seemed inescapable. The kids’ participation was mainly manifest in group dance and making fun of my moves. Whilst dancing was the first thing everyone played, it proved to be the key to their musical participation as well – if they could dance it, they would play and sing it, reminiscent of the African churches which they have yet to attend. 

After our 2nd day, Noam and I started participating in activities, Noam making art activities with the children, and I tried to help with musical activities. Through playtime, the importance of language was long gone, and we were left to our own devices, improvising dance and song.

A local musician and educator, Lumbani “Jah Youth” M’kandawire, was the kids’ instructor to musical activities. We became fast friends, jamming into the night and having lengthy conversations on the past, the present and the possible future.

The kids were shy at first, but after we had jammed a little and danced a lot they became willing and took active participation in everything we did.

After a week of participating and helping with musical activities, the kids presented a theatre play they had written, with the help of the people of the house. I recorded the entire show, edited and mixed it quickly to play it back to them. 

It was the first time some of the kids heard their own voice played back, and it was beautiful.

After Noam and I left Unu House I felt agitated and uneasy. I could not concentrate on relaxing and enjoying the lake, as I felt I had more to do in the house. 

I took the Ilala boat ride from Usisya (northern region) back to N’khata Bay by myself, this time with the intention to record the children’s songs they had written for the show, with higher quality.

Once again, the physicality of the experience led me to make some decisions on recording techniques, informing my misled conception of music recording, allowing me to go back to the “old way of recording”. We did placements for each member of the band, we tried different microphone positions and we orchestrated the whole session to fit the children’s short attention span. Everything felt like going back to the 1950’s, concentrating on performance and room tone, not post production; everything had to happen then and there. The physicality of the process had become the product itself.

This collection of recorded songs presented here represents some of the best moments we had in this 3 day recording session. 

Some of the songs are written and performed solely by the kids, some present Jah Youth on guitar and some extra vocals, while some are just captures of moments during the process.

Check out the full album on my bandcamp acount, it’s free to download, but please consider giving a donation, all proceedings will go to Unu House for musical equipment❤️

Stay updated, more posts coming soon!

My Malawi Pt. 2

My Malawi Pt. 3

Our Malawi; No Words Needed || interactive audio-visual Photography exhibition