Music icon

92-year-old Malawian music icon finds international fame on TikTok

Malawian musician Giddes Chalamanda (right), 92, poses with his wife Margalita Alfred, 71, at their home in the village of Madzuwa. AFP

At 92, Giddes Chalamanda has no idea what TikTok is. He doesn’t even have a smartphone.

And yet, the Malawian music legend has become a social media star, with his song Linny Hoo garnering over 80 million views on the video-sharing platform and spawning mashups and remixes from South Africa to the Philippines.

“They come and show me the videos on their phones, but I have no idea how it works,” Chalamanda said at his home on the edge of a macadamia plantation, about 20 kilometers from Malawi’s main town, Blantyre.

“But I love that people are having fun and my talent is getting the right attention,” he said, speaking in Chewa.

Despite his gray hair and slight arch, the nonagenarian singer and guitarist, who has been a constant presence on Malawi’s music scene for seven decades, displays a youthful exuberance as he chats with a group of young fans.

He first recorded Linnyan ode to one of his daughters, in 2000.

But world fame didn’t come until two decades later when Patience Namadingo, a young gospel artist, teamed up with Chalamanda to record a reggae remix of Linny title Linny Hoo.

The black-and-white video of the recording shows a smiling, gap-toothed Chalamanda, nicely dressed in a white shirt and v-neck sweater, playing with Namadingo under a tree outside his house, under the eyes of a group of neighbors.

The video went viral after it was posted on YouTube, where it racked up over 6.9 million views.

It can be seen here:

Then late last year it landed on TikTok and went around the world.

Chalamanda only learned of the song’s sensational popularity on social media from her children and their friends.

Since then, he and Namadingo have recorded remixes of several more of his best-known tracks.

Her daughter Linny16-year-old son Stepson Austin said he was proud of his grandfather’s longevity.

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Malawian musician Giddes Chalamanda, 92, plays his acoustic banjo at his home in the village of Madzuwa near Chiradzulu in southern Malawi on January 13. AFP

“It’s good that he lived long enough to see this day,” said the youngster, who aspires to become a hip-hop artist himself.

Born in Chiradzulu, a small town in southern Malawi, Chalamanda rose to prominence in his homeland with singsong songs such as Buffalo Soldier in which he dreams of visiting America and Napoleon.

Over the past decade he has collaborated with several young musicians and still performs across the country.

On TikTok, regular DJs and fans created their own remixes as part of a #LinnyHooChallenge.

“When his music starts playing in a club or at a festival, everyone wants to dance. That’s how appealing it is,” said longtime musician and collaborator Davis Njobvu.

“The fact that he’s been around long enough to work with young people is special.”

South Africa-based music producer Joe Machingura attributed the global appeal of a song recorded in Chewa, one of Malawi’s most widely spoken languages, to the feelings behind it.

“The old man sang with so much passion, he connects with the listener,” he said, adding, “It speaks to your soul.”

Chalamanda, married twice and father of 14 children, only seven of whom Linnyare still alive, said he doesn’t know how to get royalties for TikTok games.

Chalamanda and his wife hope to benefit financially from his newfound fame.

“I’m just surprised that despite the popularity of the song, there’s nothing for me,” he said. “Although I’m delighted to have made people dance all over the world, there should be a payoff for me. I need the money.

Its director, Pemphero Mphande, said he was looking into the matter and the Copyright Society of Malawi said it was ready to help.

Arts curator Tammy Mbendera of the Festival Institute in Malawi credited platforms like TikTok with creating new opportunities for African talent.

“With songs from our past in particular, they were written with such depth that they can still resonate today,” she said.

“All you really have to do is have the chance to experience it, to recognize its importance. I think that’s what happened here.