In 2013 Gospel Reggae artist Anthony Makondetsa better known as ‘Mr Cool’ found himself catapulted into a grand audience, well beyond that of the average reggae artist in Malawi. This was due to his partnership with the Black Missionaries to star as one of their opening acts and also due to the release of his latest album Fuko Lokondedwa. “All the songs in this album are reggae songs because I am currently working with the black missionaries as a band,” said the Chileka born musician earlier this year when he was still in the studio recording the album. The mega stardom musician has 7 albums to his credit which include Tisatengeke, Kambelembele, Maonekedwe, Mfakamfaka, Ndilibe Mlandu, Mbumba ya Abraham and now Fuko Lokondedwa.
In a lot of ways, Anthony Makondetsa’s Fuko Lokondedwa album has that perfect balance, daring enough to bring in new crowds with every song, conscious enough to appeal to what most gospel listeners know as Gospel music for spreading the word of God. Starting from the first track of the album, forward looking, yet, able to use the past to its benefit, ‘Ali Pompano’ follows a liquid-true reggae introduction, completely satisfying as the opening due to its catchy lyrics and its success on radio across the country. It’s abrasive and on-attack right from the start, a sound in debt to classic hardcore / political acts like Matafale, Black Missionaries or Vic Marley. It’s hard to imagine one man being able to successfully take the scathing attack of artists like those, yet come up with soulful, laid back tracks like later cuts on the album. But that’s the nature of Mr Cool’s game. In fact, he utilize this ability right away in track number 4 while making a jam packed transition into the butter-smooth street anthem ‘Muyuda’ which combines the tradition of Malawian Gospel braggadocio with seductiveness laced among weirdness capable only by lyricists who refer to themselves as Mr Cool.
As far as mainstream success goes, Fuko Lokondedwa is not short of it. ‘Ali Pompano’, ‘Sudzamupeza’ and ‘Muyuda’ are huge hits, and once again, allude to the captivating variation of Anthony Makondetsa. This is a Gospel reggae album and track number 2 certifies this by going straight to Christian driven lyrics and set ups that Anthony promises his fans from the get-go. In position 3 is ‘Fire Hire’, like many reggae albums before it, includes a dedication for Africa. Whereby Anthony tells Africans that the time is now, burn the fire as our continent is under attack, with lyrics like “World leaders in devils control, they can smell human blood in their hearts, they can see smoke and fire every where… I got no respect for them at all, because I know their time is gone”. It’s also good at this point to note that ‘Fire Hire’ and ‘Black Woman’ are the only two songs in the album that are in not in Chichewa but sang in English which Anthony can speak and sing fluently.
How many odes to relationship honesty have you heard with more conviction than song number 5 in the Fuko Lokondedwa album, ‘Sadziwa’? Sadziwa is currently the top-selling mp3 online from this album and It goes in deep on the subject matter, but that’s the catch, Anthony tackles the situation with both tongue-in-cheek lyrics and sincerity. The somber effect-ridden beat trudges along, sparsely backed by synths and keys during the hook, which is another focal point in Anthony Makondetsa’s attack; Mr Cool croons his apologies to the song’s namesake, shades of the catchy, poppy direction as he tell his woman that “Chomwe Ndakukondela makolo ako sadziwa…. Anzako Sasdziwa”. We once again find ourselves staring at Anthony Makondetsa other side.
The title track of the album number 6, ‘Fuko Lokondedwa’ is drum ‘n bass assault at a frantic pace with perhaps one of the best guitar solos in reggae history today. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this track, though, is the rapid-fire delivery by our favorite man. Its no wonder he chose this as the name of the album as he brings the listeners close to his story with clean nice gospel driven reggea music. ‘Fuko Lokondedwa’ is the kind of song that gave Anthony Makondetsa the reputation as one of the best live shows Malawian reggea has to offer, as he, along with his Chileka comrads The Black Missionaries among others implement live instrumentation into their acts, which is still horribly under utilized within Malawian studio recordings.
Of course, with most glorified pop reggea albums, the real gems are not the singles but the songs too genius for air-play. These might include, depending on who you ask: the pseudo afro-beat energy of track number 9 ‘Black Woman’. Which is a Sexual appreciation 101 tune, an intensely psychedelic love song, talking about the African woman and how delicate, beautiful and special this flower is. The gospel hop equivalent of a song in this album would be the 5:38 long ‘Wandisintha‘ in position 8, which once again celebrates the love of God and the power he has to change people’s lives.
One song definitely worth mentioning in this album is the serious tribute to Enock Robert Fumulani, who was Anthony’s grandfather and passed away in July last year while Anthony was in the middle of recording this album, RIP Robert Fumulani was a mentor in music to Anthony Makondetsa. The cancer-serious death dirge of ‘Wanga Mtengo’ is the last song on the album. With the exception of the Dub version of Fire Dub which can be found at the end of the CD sold online.
At the heart of Anthony Makondetsa is the contradiction. At the heart of contradiction for Mr Cool, is Fuko Lokondedwa. The reason Anthony Makondetsa has been so successful through all these years is because he plays off the Mr Cool character so perfectly and the result can be quite magnificent in terms of music in general and not just reggae or gospel, as exemplified by both Mbumba Ya Abrahamu and Fuko Lokondedwa. If today, Mr Cool decided to stop making music right now, you’d be hard pressed to convince us that Mr Makondetsa produced a better album than this. Fuko Lokondedwa is a great piece of work and nothing in it is bad. We recommend you buy this album and make up your own mind yourself.