Lazarus Chigwandali is a Malawian musician with albinism. After being discovered performing on the streets of Lilongwe by an English tourist who filmed Lazrus performing his songs, her short video eventually made its way to Johan Hugo a Swedish producer who recorded his debut album.

Lazrus, well known for the rich but plaintive timbre of his voice, for playing a homemade banjo in the streets of Lilongwe, dwells 50 miles south from the Malawi's capital city in a village called Nankumba. Growing up in a society where Lazrus was subjected to violence and marginalization first-hand, it was not simple to be accepted among people with no albinism.

Lazrus describes his past life as miserable because people used to beat him for no reason and some would throw stones at him around his village. It was hard to associate with other kids who would despise Lazrus for his condition as an albino and would not even play soccer since the other kids would leave the arena because his presence.

Life was hard for Lazarus but consolation came through church and music he composed with his younger brother Peter and wrote songs concerning life in their village. One song that drew them attention from fellow villagers was about how parents would raise their kids to be nice and helpful. This song was embraced by a lot of people who would call them to perform at weddings and the two boys were loved for their beautiful music until Peter died due to skin cancer, a common but devastating condition for people with albinism and life changed for Lazarus.

Following Peter's death, Lazarus left his village for Lilongwe where he would busk the whole day in the sun for a small change. Life was really hard as he and his family had difficulties with eating properly and lived under a poor shelter. Not giving up, Lazarus would still wake up and move around the capital of Malawi to perfom his songs on a homemade banjo until fortunately luck came his way.

One of his usual days as he was performing around a shopping centre, one of his songs caught the eye of an English tourist who fell in love with his talent and eventually short him a 10 minutes clip and video eventually made its way to Johan Hugo, a Swedish-born, London-based musician who has worked with Lana Del Rey, MIA, Baaba Maal and Mumford & Sons and not to forget Esau Mwamwaya of The Very Best.

After watching the video, Hugo was wowed by Lazarus's kind of punk rock version of traditional music accompanied with a massive sound from a homemade banjo and instantly, Hugo wanted to produce record for him. Hugo called Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, and together they set about tracking Lazarus down.

Upon tracing his roots, Hugo's mutual friend, Spiwe Zulu, happened to have the musician's contact and agreed to record an album when days later, Lazrus went missing. Inquisitive about where he had gone, Spiwe found Lazarus had fled with the family to his home village where he found out that Lazarus had feared it was some sort of a kidnap plot.

Spiwe assured Lazarus that he could trust Esau Mwamwaya and Hugo and later, a makeshift recording studio was set up in an AirB&B complex in Lilongwe, with additional recording taking place in the streets where Lazarus first learned to play.

According to Lazarus, life started to change upon meeting with Hugo and his team. He never imagined seeing a crowd of people clapping and singing along to his songs. Moments started to feel great to see producers and film makers record his songs at his place.

The first single from the sessions called Ndife Alendo (we are strangers) was released early 2019. The song is a metaphor for the plight of people with albinism as Lazrus feels people with such conditions never feel like home in their own state and tells everybody that we are all just the same.

Ndife Alendo has become a radio hit not just in Malawi, but in the UK - where Jo Whiley and Lauren Laverne have championed Lazarus on BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music. Maddona has also produced a film documentary about Lazarus's life which got premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Hugo decribes Lazrus as a great pop songwriter as his music sounds very poppy but at the same time traditionally raw and energetic that the sound of it, its nothing he has ever heard of.

Apparently, Lazarus is becoming a superstar across the world. Having been on TV shows, and a big tour, the world is getting to know the story behind Lazarus. Lazarus's wish, his music gets popular all over the world like Madonna's.

Published on 18 Oct 2019 / in Afro Beats


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