I sat down with Malawian-born singer and poet Chigo Gondwe last week to talk about how she got started, her performance at the Jan. 20 “Stop Violence Against Women in Malawi” protest rally, politics and what it means to be an artist in Malawi right now. Here’s a preview and a poem:
“In Malawi, I haven’t really been able to perform a lot of my poetry; most of it has been political because of the craziness that has been happening here. A lot of it I don’t agree with. I don’t agree with certain policies, I don’t agree with certain decisions that are made or implementation thereof, but it’s difficult for me to voice out. There’s a part of me that’s so afraid that if I do say it, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.
“There’s a poem that I’ve been warned about – I don’t know why. I think it’s innocent enough. It’s called “Our Father”.
Feverishly chanting, profusely sweating, their bodies lay prostrate, painting and appraising presidential portraits,
Leaving people destitute; an error of injustice.
In stately chambers, wining and a-dining, with mighty men and women, planning re-elections, new cycles of deception, new forms of corruption, misleading the nation with false proclamations.
Now their heads are a-bowing, them weeping and a-wailing, carving mass images of black Mona Lisas, hoping that the masses will worship their dreams but their poverty is theirs and we’re not in need. No we’re not in need.
In their high-wheeled four-by-fours they clasp the high-heeled hands of their hoes dressed in their finest clothing, they speak in tongues understood only in far-off lands where once upon a time they were masters of none.
Now canivingly claiming, blood-wealth accumulating, despicable acts and them daily indulging,
In their suits and their ties they charm and they lie to their lovers and their pals, caruse till morning hours and then start to cry because Jesus came down,
And the people had not forgotten the killing of the millions, the stealing of the billions, misleading the nations, and now, it’s judgement time.
Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.
“That poem talks about how we’re living in a time where we’re almost expected to worship photographs of political leaders. It’s ridiculous.
“There are more important things. There are people who are hungry, there are people who need homes, there are people who need education. Money is flying out somewhere. It’s going somewhere but it’s not in people’s pockets. Not in the streets anyway.
“[The poem] talks about all the corruption that is going on in the country. It talks about how broken our society is and how that starts right at the top. Because you read the stories about these really top figures in the country who maybe are married but you read about them or you see them with girlfriends and you’re like, ‘Where’s the example for us to follow, for the children to follow?’ It’s not there. We’re almost giving up everything that we ever professed to believe in so that we can believe in a whole new set of lies. And those lies are going to be written down somewhere and it will become our new bible until the next person comes with their new bible of lies, and we’ll drift further and further away from who we’d like to be as a people.
“There’s so much history that this country has, we’ve had one of our past presidents who’s still embroiled in a corruption case. We had that other president that used to kill teachers and have people feed them to his crocodiles. And now we have a president who just doesn’t have the time to listen to what people have to say. It’s from one evil to the next, and only God can save us from ourselves. Even we can’t save ourselves. We’re just going deeper and deeper and deeper.
“It’s those types of poems that sit closest to my heart. People have asked me before, ‘Oh Chigo, can’t you do a love poem or something?’ And I’m like ‘Ok, I’ll try.’ And I try like two sentences. ‘Love is caring, love is kind, love can also be blind.’ [laughing] It’s always very difficult for me to write about sunshine.
“Maybe the pain will end one day. Maybe I’ll stop seeing these things. Maybe then I’ll be able to write about something else.”
– Chigo Gondwe