Okongola Caucus is the name of the latest EP from Malawian musician Chmba. In her mother tongue Chewa, it translates to “a meeting of beauty” and represents the progression of her sound from lower energy music (created while she was grieving her late mother) to a sunnier, more dreamy vibe that celebrates love in all forms. She was born in 1994, a pivotal moment in Malawi’s politics when the nation shifted from a single party state to a multi-party democracy that allowed for easier access to music from all over the continent. In an interview with AZ, she spoke about the influence of artists like Brenda Fassie from South Africa, Nigeria’s P-Square and Congo’s Awilo Longomba on what she describes as her “Pan-African, futuristic” sound.
A child of the Youtube and Soundcloud era, Chmba also draws inspiration from house icons like Kaytranada and Black Coffee, finding her niche in experimental, percussive electronic beats with haunting vocals that take listeners through a spectrum of emotions. When it comes to creating, her process is as fluid as her sound and she often absorbs the sounds around her, sampling instruments that mimic nature’s call. While working on Okongola Caucus she spent a lot of time in Malawi’s lake region with Tiwale, a charity she founded to support women, girls and non-binary people through arts and educational programmes. The peace and warmth she felt being by the water really bleeds through into the EP which ebbs and flows through groovy tropical house rhythms that make you feel as if you’re floating.
Her work as an activist with Tiwale directly informs the music she makes and vice versa. She founded the organisation in 2012 in response to the high rate of school dropouts amongst secondary school aged girls. At the time, child marriage was still legal in the country and a huge contributing factor to the number of adolescent girls being taken out of school. When someone close to Chmba fell victim to this, she created Tiwale to “push the government to criminalise child marriage” which they finally did in 2018. Now Tiwale has over four community spaces throughout Malawi, helping to empower women and girls with vocational skills, educational resources and creative outlets. Chmba commitment to the cause has earned her many accolades including a feature in Forbes’ Africa 30 under 30 and a managerial position at Nile Rogers’ We Are A Family Youth to the Front Fund.
While teaching music for Tiwale she pours her knowledge of production back into her community and when performing on huge stages like The World Economic Forum in Davos, she’s always on the lookout for potential Tiwale funders and to generally expand the profile of the organisation’s work. Despite being a trailblazer who has smashed many career milestones including DJing for Madonna twice (once at her private residence and a second time at her Oscar’s after party) Chmba still has to tread carefully around expressing herself authentically at home. In Malawi, queerness is punishable by up to fourteen years imprisonment and homophobic vitriol is rife. Chmba describes it as a ‘battlefield’, referring to instances when she’s been turned away from performance spaces simply because they weren’t safe for someone who presents as she does and times when she’s been subject to hateful abuse online because a publication decided to use her sexuality for sensationalist content.
She says the silver lining in it all is that she’s able to provide much-needed representation for other young, queer Malawians who are often in her DMs expressing gratitude. Chmba hopes to be around for a long time to come and has fantasies of collaborating with the likes of Peggy Gou and Rihanna. She remains a student of the craft and is constantly looking to her Spotify Discover Weekly for new inspiration as her sound is constantly evolving. With Okongola Caucus out in the world Chmba has jumped immediately to working on new music and plans to take her existing stuff on tour in the US in September before hopefully coming over to the UK and Europe. To keep up with new releases and everything she’s up to you can follow Chmba on Instagram.