Hearing is Healing
Peter Mawanga is not just a musician. The Malawian hip-hop artist is also a passionate social activist who hasfound fame advocating for underprivileged youth. On September 21st, he presented a free lecture and concert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to discuss the intersection of music and public health.
“Mawanga brought the joy of Africa to the Mandela auditorium with his soulful musical narratives of those living with HIV-AIDS in Malawai. He was backed by great UNC alumni musicians,” the Chair of Global Studies, Andrew Reynolds, said of the event.
Mawanga released his first album, “Citylife,” in 2002 under a pseudonym while he studied mechanical engineering. The playful R n’ B album soon became a sensation across the country. His controversial lyrics shattered myths of urban living and brought attention to social issues. The success of “Citylife” allowed Mawanga to pursue a professional artistic career. Three years later he produced “Zango Zo Zama,” the first album featuring his signature afrovibe style: a fusion of traditional African rhythms, compositions and vocal arrangements with modern instrumention and a social conscience.
It is this last element that is at the heart of Mawanga’s popularity. Mawanga distills the social problems his people face into heartbreaking works of art. His music has become a voice for the underprivileged as a result, and has grown so popular in his home country that the president of Malawi has quoted his lyrics in speeches.
But Mawanga’s music is more than just advocacy. He has also found a way to use his artistic talents to tangibly improve the conditions of youth in Malawi. In 2004, he founded Talents of the Malawian Child, an NGO that provides underprivileged children with the opportunity to collaborate on an album with him. All the proceeds from the record go to support children whose lives have been devastated by AIDS. The organization has allowed Mawanga to mentor and support struggling youth, both emotionally and monetarily, improving the circumstances in which they live.
Inspired by Mawanga’s work, UNC alum Andrew Magill (’09), a Fulbright-mtvU fellowship recipient, sought to collaborate with Mawanga on his fight against the effects of AIDS. He traveled to Malawi to work with Mawanga to record the story of AIDS through music. Friend and fellow UNC-alum Jon Haas documented this process in film. The video is set to release soon.
“This was the first event I attended as part of the Global Studies curriculum,” Erica Johnson, lecturer in the program said. “I was incredibly impressed by the teamwork between UNC students and the Malawian artists-activists around such a globally important issue.”
Guests had the opportunity to experience Peter Mawanga’s music and hear first hand of his work with UNC alumni to improve conditions in Malawi. Local artists, families and the UNC community attended to learn how music could make a difference in lives.
“I feel so lucky to have been able to attend the event featuring Peter Mawanga,” Michal Osterweil, director of internships and lecturer in global studies added. “It is very rare where one finds such a powerful combination of moving, inspirational material, with so much invaluable information coming from a unique perspective. The event featured gorgeous live music and video footage as well as poignant and critical information on the global issues of AIDS and humanitarianism. Perhaps most notably, Mawanga managed to get across a strong critique of traditional humanitarian approaches to both HIV/AIDs and to Africa more broadly, without demoralizing his audience or losing the momentum of his inspirational and powerful call to action!”