That time when I started to play in the street, I was going to Mzuzu (town in Malawi) and villages. Just around, anyplace, maybe like in the road, or the market where they sell tomatoes and whatever else. I was just around for people to see me and say: ‘Hey you guy! Come here!’ And me, I was there, and they’ll say ‘how much for a song?’. Maybe 50 Kwacha, maybe 100 Kwacha. ‘Oh ok, what music do you play?’ I say it’s my real music, not copyrights (covers) from somewhere, no. So that people they say ‘Yeah yeah, show us’ So then, first pay money for three songs, maybe two songs, like 200 Kwacha (20 pence). After finishing, maybe to go somewhere to perform again. That’s the work for the streets.Gasper Nali about his early years as travelling musician in Malawi
When both brothers passed away in 2002, Gasper decided to continue on his own, designing his own Babatoni instrument in a fashion that would suit a one-man-band. Read more…
Gasper Nali plays a Babatoni – a 3 meter, one-stringed, home-made bass guitar – with an empty bottle and a stick. And makes the most beautiful and catchy original afro-beats possible. Read more…
Gasper Nali has been a bit of an internet phenomena since 2015 when an old video of his song ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’ was uploaded to YouTube and then got subsequent traction on Facebook and Twitter. To date the various forms of the video has most likely gotten over 20 million views over the years.
Gasper, 42, lives a quite modest life in the city of Mzuzu in northern Malawi. In his younger years, he and his two brothers would travel as a band from village to village in order to make money – at first he would be the one collecting the coins and later he would join the group playing. When both brothers passed away in 2002, Gasper decided to continue on his own, designing his own Babatoni instrument in a fashion that would suit a one-man-band.
Many years later, when the viral video erupted in 2015, Gasper teamed up with music producer Mattias Stålnacke, who ran a small recording studio in Nkhata Bay, Malawi, to record the song properly and get it released on newly created label Spare Dog Records.
The instrument Gasper is playing is called Babatoni. It’s a home-made bass guitar, about 3 metres long – made from a sawed-off oil barrel covered with cow skin, a hand axed piece of blue gum Eucalyptus tree and one single string made from the wire inside the rims of car tyres. Gasper plays it with a stick in one hand and an empty beer bottle in the other, using it as a kind of guitar slide. Finally, he adds a cow skin kick drum, played by a very intricate looking locally fashioned foot pedal. Here’s a short video where Gasper explains a bit more.
Gasper’s music can be considered to be in the Kwela tradition. It’s a style of music that was created in South Africa in the first half of the 20th century by blending the local sounds with the music of Malawian immigrant workers. It was then introduced back in Malawi by returning musicians. Although smaller babatons were often used as bass guitars in Kwela bands, Gasper has certainly transformed the traditional approach to the instrument to suit his own very unique style.
Why don’t you check out Gasper Nali’s discography?
In 2015, Gasper performed at the Malawian international music festival ‘Lake of Stars’. This was the first time he’d ever played on a ‘real’ stage with full sound reinforcement, microphones and stage monitors etc. Since then, he’s done three very successful tours in Europe (2018, 2019 & 2022). He has performed at major events such as Glastonbury, Womad UK, Boomtown Fair and Zwarte Cross to name a few – almost 50 shows all in all.
A 2023 festival tour is being booked as I’m writing this, planned to cover the UK, Benelux and possibly a few more territories in Europe, as well as hopefully joining an event in Malaysia that was previously cancelled due to the pandemic.
Head over to the tour page to see previous and upcoming tours!