‘The Last Original Diva’ is gone
* Mourns renowned radio producer and co-founder of Story Workshop Marvin Hanke
* As tributes keep pouring in for late ‘Lady Groove’ Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma
* Immediately laid to rest on Saturday in line with COVID-19 measures
By Kondwani Magombo, MANA
The last time renowned radio producer Marvin Hanke connected with veteran broadcaster; actress and musician, late ‘Lady Groove’ Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma, was towards the end of 2020 — and hearing of her sudden death on Saturday morning was such a shock he fails to fathom.
All Hanke could say in an interview was: “It’s times like these that you start appreciating people whose lifetime contributions you took for granted.”
And he took a deep breath to control his deep emotions before continuing that their last chat was through WhatsApp, in which they shared reminiscences of their experiences having worked closely together at the country’s state broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), for over a decade.
Hanke, co-founder of Story Workshop, said he had reminded Maria about one piece, ‘At Times Like These’, which the two did together nearly 30 years ago while they were together at MBC.
“I asked her if she still had a copy of that song and she said she still had it,” Hanke said. “I asked her to send me a copy because I no longer had one, and she promised to send me the copy — now she can’t do that.”
Hanke recalled how he and Maria hatched ‘At Times Like These’ back in early 1990s at MBC where the two worked as producer and presenter, respectively.
“I had just brought a guitar and Mario found me playing it. She just joined in, putting lyrics to the playing guitar — just like that and straight from the head.”
He said Lady Groove was an amazing composer and her creativity in coming up with the lyrics to the playing guitar did not surprise much as he Maria was already a renowned musician before they became colleagues with her as a presenter.
Hanke recalled to have been following Maria as a musician and his first encounter of her performing was in the 70s at Mount Soche Hotel with a music band named True Tones.
True Tones had other legends such as Isaac Nkukupa and drum wizard, late Ada-Manda, among others.
Meanwhile, Maria was also featuring in MBC and Chichiri Queens Band, which took her to places beyond the borders.
Hanke recalled that when the songbird joined MBC as a presenter in 1982, he worked as her producer in a popular music programme then called ‘The Song Book Days’.
“As her longtime producer of the music program and with my love for music, we were close and she was a friend — a musical friend on top of being a workmate.
“Her death has really shocked me as we had planned to continue our happy reunion,” Hanke said.
In her multidimensional career, which saw her joining Channel Africa in South Africa before going to the United Kingdom and the United States of America for studies, Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma, seems to have touched the hearts of many.
Like Hanke, those who worked closely with Maria remember her as a “fountain of wisdom” and “a multitalented artist, who had so much to share”.
Winston Mwale, former colleague at Zodiak Broadcasting Services (ZBS) wrote on his social media: “She was a mentor and whenever we met, she would call me ‘oMwale’ in [Central Region] Chichewa accent.
“Her’s was a golden voice and when I worked with her at Zodiak from 2009-2019, I always asked her to voice over my special programmes.
“What a loss to the broadcasting industry in Malawi and Africa! Rest in eternal peace oNankhoma!”
Another former Zodiak colleague, Mallick Mnela described Lady Groove as “a veteran, a perfectionist” and woman who was always eager to learn things she didn’t know.
“It was a privilege to have worked with Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma alongside these other four great men — Mr. Mathias Manyeka, Lucius Chikuni, Owen Lupeska and late Franklin Titani,” Mnela said.
Short of words, Lucy Chimwaza, another former Zodiak colleague simply wrote: “A Nankhoma, muli ndi malo mu mbiri yanga” (you have a special mention in my career).
Another media guru, Baldwin Chiyamwaka described the music icon as “an astute and accomplished broadcaster and musician, with outstanding mastery of both the Queen’s language and Chichewa.”
Chiyamwaka further recalled the legendary musician and broadcaster as a buddy and contemporary musician to his late uncle, Bernard Kwilimbe, with whom she shared the stage in their heydays in the 1980s.
In her condolence statement, chairperson for Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter, Teresa Ndanga described Chidzanja Nkhoma as “a source of knowledge and experience in broadcasting” and that she “will be remembered as an experienced and dedicated broadcaster and motherly figure to most journalists”.
Minister of Forestry & Natural Resources Nancy Tembo said: “Today we mourn the passing of a legend, Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma (Anankhoma). A lady far ahead of her time in Malawi. Our very own diva.
“I first met Maria when [my] late aunt Mrs Ruth Tembo insisted that Maria sing ‘Ave Maria’ at church for Dudu Tembo’s wedding. And she sang with such passion, I felt she outdid the original.
“Maria put her all in everything she set out to do. We would sit, chat and laugh at how slowly she ate her food.
“You were a beautiful soul, Maria and I will miss you. The heavenly choir has gained a beautiful voice. Rest in peace Maria.”
Lady Groove Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma, who died Saturday morning whilst receiving COVID-19 treatment at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, was born on August 19, 1952.
Other than working with MBC, Channel Africa and Zodiak, she also performed with Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre where she featured in two plays — ‘Cry The Beloved Soldier’ and ‘Check It Out’.
With the demise of the composer of the lone song, At Times Like These, Malawi has, perhaps, lost ‘The Last Original Diva’ as journalist, Yvonne Sundu described of Maria Chidzanja Nkhoma in The Nation newspaper’s July 25, 2014 edition of Chill supplement.
One would only hope that lost with the diva, too, should not be the copy of At Times Like These, the only master piece which Maria did with Hanke which she had promised to share for possible reproduction.