Who dumps a lawyer’s lucrative job for a music career? Not many. But Chikondi Kambuwa Suleman can. She trained as a lawyer in South Africa.
She holds two degrees in legal studies from The University of KwaZulu Natal. But all that did not appeal to her above the affection she has for music.
She says her drive has been more to fill the gap that is there because there are a few female artists and in most cases they are looked at with an air of suspicion as women with questionable morals.
“I want to rectify the negative perception society has placed on female artists in Malawi. Female artists need a role model, someone they can look up to with pride and get inspiration from. If I can do that, it will be more than I set out to achieve,” she says.
Codi is her stage name. Find Codi is the name of her band. When I first heard the name Codi, I thought it is in reference to a music code. But then I was told Codi is just a name from back in the days when she was in college. However, i could not believe her. I remember saying, at metaphorical level, the name ‘Find Codi’ suggests there is a missing code that has to be found in order to complete the rhythm of the song. And in Chikondi, we have found the code.
She has an infectious smile. It’s difficult not to like her. If it is not her captivating voice that gets to you, then it is her beautiful face that exudes the sophistication of an African queen imbued with innate powers of creativity. If not that then it is her dexterity on the music equipment, the piano being her instrument of choice.
Just a fortnight ago, she wowed fans when she shared the stage alongside Lucius Banda. Banda is a music icon and you don’t share the stage with him and steal the shine. But such is her stature that she has already left an indelible mark even before her music career gotten established.
Unique music style
She plays a unique type of music; something Afro Jazz styled on traditional folklore. Her music is easy to identify with because she taps from traditional folklore such as the song Mwezi Uwale. These are songs you and me grew up singing during moonshine at night. Her music speaks to the ear of the ordinary man.
The genius of Find Codi is to adapt these songs from the communal psyche, add traditional music instruments to it and come up with some unique Afro Jazz rhythm to which people can dance. Most of the songs are not done in one language. In the album Find Codi, there are four languages; Shona, Zulu, Chichewa and English. She says the languages mirror her journey in life as an international citizen.
“Malawi is my home but I also grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa. My mother comes from Zimbabwe and between 1993 and 97 I was in Zimbabwe doing high school. And in 1997 my father moved to South Africa and I stayed there to finish high school and university education up to 2010.
“So I have music influences from Zimbabwe such as Mbira Music and Oliver Mtukudzi. In South Africa I also listened to Zulu and Afrikaans rhythms and all these have an influence on me. So my music is a fusion of all these different cultural sensibilities that is why there are four languages in my music,” she says.
Targeting adult audience
Chikondi says her aim is to play the kind of music that would be appreciated by adults.
“Music has gone commercial these days. Young artists are no longer pouring their soul in the music. It is more digitalised such that during live shows there is no emotional connection between the artist and the audience. But the way I understand is that people want to feel the music. They want authentic music not just noise. They want to hear the instruments during live performances. I want to bring back those days with my music.
“My models in local music are Che Chamba, Mbilia Bel, Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma, Paul Banda whose music is timeless. Paul Banda released his albums decades ago but people still enjoy his songs and patronise his shows up to now. It is because the songs have messages that are not affected by time. I want to play that kind of songs,” she says.
Some of her songs such as Tukuka are aimed at women empowerment, encouraging women to wake up early, work hard and excel. She says it is another way of advocacy.
“As a trained lawyer, I should have been in the office fighting for the rights of women. But I chose to do so on another front. I chose to use music as an instrument to bring the message home,” she says.
“When I came to Malawi on holiday in 2012 I planned to learn the legal system here. But then I started a Chisa Nyama business in Lilongwe and it was very successful at the time and priorities changed. Then I moved to Blantyre and started another business in fashion and design. And the shops were successful. As a result I decided to dump law and embrace business and music,” she says.
Koccos Boutique along Victoria Avenue is one of her shops in Blantyre. She says it is easier for her to run her shops and do music unlike if she had been practising law where there is too much pressure with court hearings, appointments with clients and many more.
So far Find Code has had three shows in Blantyre (Mibawa) and Lilongwe (Chameleone). One music video, Nanjiri from the album Find Codi, is out already enjoying airplay on Trace Africa. Chikondi is married to Football Association of Malawi (FAM) executive committee member Daudi Suleman. n