The Sound Cafe
Malawian Singer-Songwriter Keturah Releases New Single 'Nchiwewe (Ode To Willie Nelson)'
By Devon Leger.
WITH A POWERFUL STORY AND AN UNMATCHED VOICE, THIS MALAWIAN CELEBRITY IS BREAKING OUT INTERNATIONALLY
Nchiwewe (Ode to Willie Nelson)" Inspired by Trip to LA to Record Album + Catching Willie Live! Features Willie's harmonica player Mickey Raphael
Malawian singer and songwriter Keturah has just released a new single off her upcoming self-titled debut! "Nchiwewe (Ode to Willie Nelson)" came from her trip to Los Angeles to record the album. It was the first time out of Malawi and LA was quite the culture shock. But she recorded at Hen House Studios on Venice Beach, and they're good friends and collaborators with Willie Nelson's family. Keturah got to go see Willie play live in LA while she was there and was blown away. Returning to the studio, everyone was really inspired to make a country-infused song and they lucked out in getting Willie's own harmonica player, Mickey Raphael on the track. Here's what Keturah says about the meaning of the lyrics for "Nchiwewe (Ode to Willie Nelson)": "In my country, many young people face heartbreaks, some end up hurting themselves, committing suicide, doing things that are not necessary. Sometimes we end up doing unnecessary things, we put all the faults on us, we feel guilty if the relationships or marriages end, we feel it’s our fault. But sometimes it appears that we are not the problem - it’s the other person who is the problem. We have tried everything to make it work - and then we feel broken. But the others are the ones who are not good enough, They are like dogs biting people, taking advantage of people. And they will never be contented."
From the warm heart of Malawi, rises Keturah, a 27-year-old virtuoso arriving to the world stage with her self-titled debut. A 10-track odyssey chronicling Keturah’s journey from the tiny remote home village of Monza to the shores of Venice, California, Keturah (coming May 19, 2023) updates traditional Malawian folk with contemporary rhythms from the greater African diaspora, a cultural exchange made possible through a unique opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to record her first full-length project.
Having never stepped foot on an airplane, let alone leave Malawi, Keturah's 30-hour trip proved to be a significant leap forward in an artist’s journey that began on foot. As a child, Keturah first realized her musical potential on walks through her village with her uncle. He’d strum his guitar and sing ballads. She’d just watch and listen until eventually gaining the confidence to join in with her own melodies. In song, she began to form a connection with her community that had long been elusive. As a child she mostly kept to herself, often feeling more like an elder than a friend to her peers. She found solace in her thoughts or those of her mother, who often sat her down to share wisdom through stories and memories. The two became best friends until she passed away when Keturah was only 13. Having already lost her uncle, Keturah turned to music as a way of carrying forward her family's message.
Not yet fourteen, but determined to reach a larger audience, again Keturah set out on foot, this time for Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city, where she hoped to find a recording studio. She met a local producer who was so impressed by her voice that he offered to record her for free. Keturah put down one song that eventually made its way onto radio, launching her music career with releases empowering listeners to connect their Malawian identity as a way to realize their own power. The attitude resonated, Keturah earned the nickname “Naliyela, Local Girl” as she rose to the status of Malawian celebrity.
Her talent soon caught the eye of French Honorary Consul Luc Deschamps, who runs the Jacaranda Foundation, a Malawian school for AIDS orphans and its cultural center. He recognized her potential and connected her with Harlan Steinberger, director of Hen House Studios, an independent music label and recording studio, churning out roots and world music in Venice, California. Jacaranda arranged for Keturah to travel to Los Angeles to record at Hen House in July of 2022. She arrived with voice notes featuring roughly sketched melodies over lo-fi guitar and let Harlan mold things from there. He hoped to elevate the demos into anthems by calling in Playing for Change co-founder Mark Johnson and surrounding Keturah with an all-star cast of musicians, including the rhythm section of the Playing for Change Band (Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo), bass player Kaveh Rastegar (John Legend, Bruno Mars), Magatte Sow (Senegalese drummer featured on the Black Panther soundtrack), seasoned Kora player Prince Diabate, Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson's long-time harmonica player), The Doors drummer John Densmore (percussion), soul singer Chris Pierce, Zimbabwean guitar legend Louis Mhlanga and the young Stones Throw pianist Jamael Dean.
The album journeys through a dynamic blend of genres, from the lively, upbeat afro-folk-funk rhythms of "Kwanumkwanu" to the emotive ballads of "Sukulu" and "Chimbalame", the Americana inspired “Nchiwewe” and more lighthearted tracks such as "All The Way from Africa" and "Ku Nyumba." Keturah's exceptional songwriting and powerful vocals are elevated by intricate percussion, melodic guitar lines, subtle backing vocals and horns, creating an eclectic album that showcases her talent as an African songstress ready to make a global impact.