Marshall McLuhan’s once futuristic idea of the ‘Global Village’ has long since become a reality. Only now in pop music are we in many ways learning and experiencing what the legendary media theorist had already formulated at the beginning of the 60s. Through digital technological advances, the majority of pop genres have acquired a worldwide, global dimension. Hip-hop, blues, and jazz are all evolving in hundreds of regional varieties, far from their original roots. The music of Malia can without a doubt be seen as impressive evidence of this worldwide fusion.
Moving from the southern African republic of Malawi to London at the age of fourteen, the singer spent her teenage years in the Big Smoke. Malia has recorded three albums in France with Andre Manoukian: Yellow Daffodils (2002), Echoes of Dreams (2004), and Young Bones (2007) - all originating in Manoukian’s Paris studio.
In 2010 she got to know the Swiss producer Boris Blank, who, since the 80s as part of the avant-garde duo Yello (The Race, Bostich) with Dieter Meyer, has enjoyed great success. In 2012, Malia published a tribute to Nina Simone, Black Orchid, which won that year’s ECHO Jazz Award. In 2014, Boris Blank produced the eleven electronically shaped songs of her album Convergence.
Malia’s sixth studio album, Malawi Blues/Njira, sees her clear, incisive voice again amplified in a soul-jazz context. ‘A record that I’ve long wanted to make… Right now the time feels right for this… I wanted songs that reflected my awareness and ancestry’, she sums up the vibe of the ten tracks on Malawi Blues/Njira.
The album features thoughtful, mostly slow-paced originals, with sparingly orchestrated piano supported by guitar and percussion, amongst them an almost minimalistic cover version of the classic Moon River. Right from the outset, Malia with Malawi Blues/Njira looks back to the sound of her childhood.
Not only in the rousing Love Is Holding Both Our Hands are the local vibes of the Kwela- and Kwasa-Kwasa traditions heard. ‘I consider it in all humility my duty to pass on the rich traditions and stories, in the same way my ancestors did, in the way my grandparents and parents did as we sat around the fire in the evenings in Malawi, eating nsima with pumpkin leaves and peanut sauce.
Of course that is just one aspect of her rich oeuvre. Her songs are characterised by artistic experiences and experiments, an amalgam that has shaped Malia’s life, and a lasting effect of her time on the club scene in London, where she was able to sharpen her sense of timing in small bars in front of small audiences. Here she was always able to adjust her sets live and directly, evening after evening. This musical diversity is now to her benefit, when, on Chipadzuwa (a slang term in southern Africa for pretty woman), she switches between the regional language of Chichewa and the world language of English with mellifluous ease. With the support of the virtuoso pianist Alex Wilson, comes a sound that is cool and yet warm-hearted. Malia has arrived in a global musical world which she works and fights for. ‘To all the quiet warriors of this world’, concludes Malia, ‘Malawi Blues/Njira is for you!’