Monday, December 2, 2019

Malaika, the mystery, the history, the torment

MALAIKA (Angel) (Ongoing research – preliminary notes, presented to Mama Africa Miriam Makeba, January 14 2008, at the Uppsala Congress and Concert Hall, Sweden.

Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi (PhD ( Professor in Swahili and Bantu Studies.
Dept. of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University, Sweden

(CRF: I spent quite a bit of time with Fadhili Williams in Nairobi, even sat in some of the recording sessions at Charles Hayes studios in Nairobi. Also played regular snooker with him at Queens' (Brunners). We talked quite a bit of Kenyan music and musicians but never discussed Malaika with him. It was taken for granted that he wrote and recorded the song. This study put some serious doubt on that score, even though there really no hard proof except somewhat weight circumstantial evidence. For some mystery remains. For others it is dead and buried with Adam Salim)

Malaika has been the No. 1 Kiswahili/Swahili song since Fadhili Williams of Kenya recorded it in 1959. It has since been recorded more than dozen including by such mega-stars Miriam Makeba with Harry Belafonte, Angelique Kidjo (several Indian chanteuses) and even the Swedish pop-rock group Hep Stars in 1967 who made it their top hit the following year. (In Kidjo’s version there are some errors in the text.)

Until recently it was generally taken for granted that Fadhili Williams was also the author of the song. However, in June 1986, Sunday News of Tanzania presented a sensational story in a rather long article to shed light on the history of this famous song. Fadhili Williams had always claimed authorship of the song which he had recorded several times and earned royalties from record sales. Another Kenyan artist, Grant Charo, had also claimed copyright to the lyrics of Malaika,  and after his death, his widow pursued the case in court without success.
In May 1986, after a concert given by Fadhili Williams at the Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar es Salaam, the Sunday News started an investigation on the origins of the song Malaika to which the Tanzanian public responded well. Hundreds of older Tanzanians almost unanimously claimed that it was a certain Adam Salim who had written the song. Some of them also believed that Adam Salim was no longer alive while a few others were they could lead the Sunday News to a little house in Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
There lived the 70-year-old Adam Salim, a small skinny man weathered by hardships of life in poverty, in the loyal company of his equally ancient-looking second wife. Of course, it was he, Adam bin Salim, who had written the song at the beginning of 1945, he said, for his beloved Halima binti Ramadhani Maruwa of Arusha (born 1926). Both families were against their union which led to the birth of the most famous lamentation in eastern Africa. Adam recorded the song for the Columbia East African Music Company sometime around 1950, and he was paid 60 shillings for it. But he had no written contract as evidence. Such things did not exist at the time.
Adam was born in Nairobi in 1916. He was a car mechanic and he had his own jazz band called Adam& Trio which performed some evenings per week. His somewhat practising Muslim parents did not approve of him being a modern musician performing in bars and clubs, and this was also the main reason why Halima’s father Ramadhani Maruwa disqualified Adam Salim as his future son-in-law. Halima was persuaded by her parents to marry a wealthy Swahili gentleman of Indian descent in late 1944. A few months late Adam wrote Malaika to an improved variant of a traditional Swahili melody from Tanga, Tanzania.
A couple of years later Adam was involved in a serious car accident and had to be hospitalised in Nairobi for three years. After his recovery, he moved to Moshi where his parent at settled. He then moved to Morogoro and worked as a bicycle repairer at the Kilombero Sugar Company for 25 years. After his retirement, he returned to his parents home in Moshi with his second wife, children and grandchildren.
Halima later separated from her rich husband and re-married. She assured the Sunday News that Adam Salim had composed Malaika for her, but she could not produce any documentary evidence.
Adam could produce his ‘Angel’ for whom he had written the song which the ‘Angel’ could at least orally maintain, and this has been corroborated for the Tanzanian media in writing by several hundred East Africans.
Several year earlier in 1967, my late uncle Ustaad (Maestro) Mitu alias Ayoub Ahmad Ayoub bin Amir Osman Rangooni, poet, musician, and singer from Mkunazini, Zanzibar, had informed me at his home in Kipawa, near Dar es Salaam Airport, that he was acquainted with both Adam Salim and Fadhili Williams. According to Ustaad Mitu, there an old very short  Swahili song of only one stanza which some sailors on the Cable and Wireless ship (that laid the telegraph and telephone lines in the Indian Ocean between Zanzibar and Bombay) used to sing a traditional melody from Tanga which Adam Salim developed further and composed a longer song. In that original sailors’ song, Malaika was the proper name of the sweetheart involved.
Malaika, nakupenda Malaika!
Nami nifanyeje, mpenzi mwenzio
Nashindwa no pesa sina wee, ninegohuoa Malaika

Literal translation of the above “old” or original sailors’ version:
1.     Angel, I love you angel!
And what shall I do, your lover?
I am defeated, I have no money (or else) I would marry you angel.

‘Malaika’ as recorded by Fadhili Williams and others
According to Ustaad Mitu, Adam Salim’s original song has only two stanza, the first and the third one; the second/middle was added later by Adam Salim and he sang it in the following orderof stanzas: 1 – 2 –1 – 3 – 1
1.     Malaika, nakupenda malaika! -2
Nami nifanyeje, kijana mwenzio?
Pesa zasumbua roho yangu -2
Nashindwa no mali sina wee, ninegekuoa malaika! -2

2.     Pesa za sumbua roho yangu! -2
Ningekuoa mwenyewe; ningekuoa dada!
Nashindwa na mali sina wee, ningekuoa malaika!-2

3.     Kidege, nakuwaza kidege! -2
Nami nifanyeje, kijana mwenzio?
Nashindwa na mali sina wee, ningekuoa malaika


Angel, I love you angel,
And what shall I do, your young friend?
I can’t afford the dowry, I have no money (or else) I would marry you angel!

Money tortures my soul!
I would have married you myself, I would have married you my dear!
I can’t afford the dowry, I have no money, (or else) I would marry you angel!

Little bird (Darling), I dream of you little bird
And what shall I do, your young friend?
I can't afford the dowry, I have no money, (or else) I would marry you my angel!


Fadhili Williams version Miriam Makeba version


No comments:

Post a Comment


  This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...