BLANTYRE--Waliko Makhala, a talented musician who plays Malawian instruments such as the Bangwe, Sansi, Kaligo and Mkangala, is packing the newly established Mibawa Café with patrons since it's opening late last year.
Every Thursday, people throng to the café in Blantyre to enjoy the music of the artist who taught himself how to play the instruments.
Makhala’s interest in ethno-musicology began in 1986 when he was part of a team researching Malawian traditional musical instruments for the Department of Cultural Affairs.
A Mzimba native, Makhala trained at the Zimbabwe College of Music. He understands the similarities and differences between the music of the Malawian Sela people and Zimbabwean Manyika people who both use the Kalimba, also known as the Mbira in Zimbabwe.
Currently Makhala plays with the Great Pillars Band which represented Malawi at the Music Crossroads competition.
Mibawa Café owner John Nthakomwa said recently that the opening of the joint and involving such artists like Makhala has been a success.
He said Mibawa Café is determined to bring a difference and hoped he would provide Malawians with a unique experience.
"I beg to hear from them on how I could improve the place for their satisfaction which is my priority," he said.
"Not only has the turn-up of our targeted clients been surprisingly substantial, but their feedback, enthusiasm for support and appreciation for introducing such a place in Blantyre is very encouraging.”
Nthakomwa said the first phase of the project is complete which involved putting together a band, renovating the building and setting up a bar. The second phase, according to the owner, is development of the restaurant.
"My vision has always been to have a venue where classic and traditional music is offered. The idea is to offer a highly conducive environment in which [people] can interact, create networks and make deals while being entertained,” he said.
Alick Nyondo, an accountant who frequents the place, says he enjoys listening to a different kind of music.
“These days music is too much digitalized. Makhala’s music makes one connect with one’s roots and that’s how I like to relax after a hard week,” he said.
Chikondi Chuma, a Blantyre-based journalist, is another regular at the café.
“The crowd is cool," she said. "I think the owner strives very hard to provide entertainment with a difference.”
In the past, one could just come and have fun without paying.
Nthakomwa, who also owns J&D Records, said "we have introduced an entrance fee to manage the crowd.
“We will from time to time review this based on the number of people. Our target is to maintain a reasonable crowd for the comfort of our clients," he said.
Nthakomwa confessed that there’s competition in the entertainment industry but Mibawa Café is determined to be different.
"While there may be tight competition in the industry, we have segmented our market and I believe that this strategy has given us an immediate competitive edge in the sub-market. However, I am also aware that the market is dynamic and that competitors will be benchmarking against us to capture the same market," he said.
"Competition is healthy for the ultimate industrialization and development of our country. I have in the past heard stories of entities trying to destroy other entities. But monopolies only work to hurt the customers. Competition, on the other hand, brings about value for money and competitive prices."