Will perform in Castle Kilbride’s music series – Lusaka Voice Live Streaming Aug 8th
KITCHENER — As a boy who loved to sing, Chasaya Sichilima knew that being born in the southern African country of Zambia meant a musical career was impossible.
“When I grew up, music wasn’t important; you couldn’t make money,” said Sichilima, a Kitchener-based singer-songwriter who will perform Aug. 8 at Castle Kilbride’s summer concert series. Now considered one of Zambia’s most gifted musical sons, the 45-year-old lived through the dramatic flowering of music in his country, from non-existent to a thriving industry.
“My influences, Teddy Chilambe, The Witch, those were musicians who still had day jobs,” he said. “In primary school, I remember composing songs. In high school, I knew it wasn’t a path. In school, music wasn’t a big thing. It’s not something we did, because there wasn’t a future in it.”
Zambian education focused on academics and even outside the school, traditional Zambian music had all but disappeared.
The public had access to some music, but it was restricted to country recordings from the west featuring singers such as Charley Pride and Anne Murray.
Sichilima had to choose a more practical career. After high school, he was granted a scholarship at a postsecondary academy run by the government’s largest mining company, Zambia Consolidated Copper Mine.
“They took the best 32 students (from across the country), all the best students came to that school,” he said. “It was a very good school.”
Though Sichilima wanted to study computer science, the school focused on math and science with the intent of sculpting future mining employees. After graduating, the company then paid for Sichilima to complete an undergraduate program at the University of Manchester, in England. For the first time in his life, Sichilima was away from home, from the warmth and comfort of Zambia, and he was desperately homesick.
After completing a degree in geochemistry, Sichilima returned to Zambia and the mining company as a systems geologist, but there was a shift happening that would eventually free him from his obligations.
A year and half later, the mine was privatized and Sichilima was able to quit and accept another scholarship, this time the prestigious Beit Trust, which provides funding for postgraduate students from Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Sichilima used his scholarship to study computer science at the University of Salford, in Manchester and in this second round of university studies, he finally had some free time to revisit music.
“I had so many opportunities to sing in England: churches, parties, weddings, fundraisers, community events, etc.,” said Sichilima. “I could do music and be good in school.”
After graduating, Sichilima returned to Zambia in 2001where he spent a year reconnecting with his family and his homeland.
“Things were totally different,” he said. In his absence, a commercial Zambian recording industry had emerged thanks to the influences of popular singers such as the legendary P. K. Chishala, a singer and government employee who had been banished to a remote region after he used his music to make social commentary. But that was the old Zambia and Zambians were now celebrating their culture.
“People were taking an interest in their own music,” Sichilima said. “Music labels were promoting Zambian music. People were starting to earn money.”
Sichilima used this surge of interest to promote his debut album, Inspirationally Yours, with original songs in English and the Zambian vernacular.
“I realized I needed to step it up, I needed to grow,” he said, calling his time in Zambia “my inspirational year.” It was a time he could devote solely to music.
“I gradually realized I really love music,” he said. “I got to know people in the industry. I wrote a song about Zambia and broadcasters loved the song. It was played over and over.”
Zambia’s music business might have been healthier, but the country’s economy was poor so Sichilima sought work in Canada, a place he had studied in geography class. His timing was a bit off.
“When I came, it was 2002, it was quite difficult,” he recalled. The tech sector collapsed and, unable to find a job suited to his education, Sichilima accepted odd jobs before landing a part-time clerical position with the province. Yet, he was still unsettled.
“I had met my wife in England, we visited each other,” he said of the longdistance relationship.
Tangu Chikamata was a Zambian student studying for a medical degree at the University of Manchester. The couple married in Zambia in 2003 and after graduating, she returned to England to practise medicine while he returned to Canada. They were reunited at the end of 2004 when she came to Canada to study pediatrics at Western University under a government program for foreign doctors. Sichilima was working in the high-tech field and found time to cut his second album, Walasa.
In August 2010, the couple moved to Kitchener where his wife runs a private practice and works in pediatrics at Grand River Hospital. The couple has two young children.
Sichilima is credited with introducing Zambian music to Canada in a debut performance at the 2003 Afrofest. Since then he has toured the province, performing with his band Mosi-O-Tunya Vibes. Mosi-O-Tunya is the traditional name of Victoria Falls in Zambia, fitting for a man who has been named honorary tourism ambassador by the Zambian government.
[SOURCE: Waterloo Record – Canada]