Maggie Kadrum is an Afro Jazz singer, songwriter and bassist from Karonga in Northern Malawi.  She was born Maggie Kang’oma Mkandawire in Mzimba and belongs to the Tumbuka tribe.  “I am excited in learning new things that support healthy living to maintain a good lifestyle”, she told Jazz It Out.  She is a physical exercise enthusiast who is leading by example in her daily campaign of living a balanced life.

Karonga is one of the districts with a rich and diverse culture.  Its residents are extremely proud of their different cultural practices.  “Being a Tumbuka growing up in the Ngonde territory, with its cultural diversity including people with Swahili roots since Karonga is about 45 minutes from the Tanzania border led to my interest in music, dance, and food”, she explained.  This multicultural melting pot taught Maggie to appreciate both similarities and differences between Tumbuka, Ngonde and Swahili.

As a young learner, she did not have a specific favourite artist or genre, but enjoyed anything she could groove to and appreciated great music.  “Growing up, I’ve always listened to Angelique Kidjo, especially the track “Agolo” and Yvonne Chaka Chaka from my father’s CD collection”, she recalls.  After completing high school, she was not selected for university enrolment due to a quota system which overlooked students from the north (where she comes from) in favour of students from the south despite obtaining good grades.  She did not see this as the end of her ambitions.

Vocalist and bassist Maggie Kadrum

“Instead, I decided to continue at a music centre I was while waiting for university selections.  Music chose me and I enjoy performing.  Even though I started from scratch, it was worth it”, she said.  Maggie honed her musical skills at the Malawi Music Crossroads Academy, where she received training in playing bass, music theory, writing and stage performance etiquette.  That decision did not go well with her parents.  “In most African societies and more especially Malawi, music is regarded as a hobby not a career that someone can depend on”, she added.  

Her musical journey began as a lead vocalist for Lubusilo where she spent two years with that band.  Maggie has travelled to South Korea and Germany on short cultural visits where she got to interact with different musicians.  She also spent 10 months in the Mozambican capital Maputo.  “I noticed the patriotism Mozambicans have to their indigenous sound.  They infuse it with different genres to maintain their sound while learning from others.  In addition, they have this sound I always danced and exercised to with my exchange colleagues called Marrabenta”, with fond memories.

She has done a few collaborations with musicians from Southern African Development Community (SADC region).  “These have helped me understand how best to present my craft to the world in a unique and captivating style while experimenting with different African music touches that I have within my repertoire”, she said.  Maggie draws inspiration from the distinct characteristics of her mother tongue, Tumbuka, infusing it into her compositions.  Her music reflects a fusion of Afro Jazz with a touch of her cultural roots.

An advocate for living a healthy lifestyle

Through her music, she has also managed to demystify some cultural myths.  Most young people think that her approach to music is only done by the older generation.  “I find Tumbuka very poetic, rhythmic and vocabulary strong in my opinion.  It is one of the most interesting languages to sing in despite being jokingly referred to as primitive sometimes”, she explained.  This has contributed to her unique sound as a musician and is inspired to see the world embracing her music which she wants to see growing beyond Malawi.

In 2022, Maggie released her debut single “Ungaonanga”, a powerful song about knowing your worth and not looking down on yourself regardless of what you bring to the table or in any situation.  It makes a difference and makes one feel special.  People loved it and kept asking where they can hear more of her music.  They loved the Malawian Afro Jazz touch to it.  She was extremely happy to see Malawian music taking another level which gave her a lot of motivation.  It also inspired her not to set any limits.

Her debut album titled “Nkhwiza” (which means I’m coming in Tumbuka) is scheduled for release in 2023.  “Everything on the studio technical side is complete and soon to be released on all music platforms”, she confirmed.  Maggie is the executive producer of this recording and has worked with different individuals.  They include Sullu, a Malawi Congolese artist in a single titled “Sabao” that is already on digital platforms.  This body of work further includes Erik Paliani who is recording engineer and producer, West Cole a Malawian based in South Africa, Don Chisenga a Malawian, Sullu as producer, German Gert Muller on mixing and mastering.  “I worked with these individuals on different tracks, so I won’t specifically say which one is my producer”, she added.

Proud of her cultural heritage

Beyond music, Maggie is a passionate advocate for healthy living and mental fitness.  When Covid brought the world to a standstill in 2020, she founded My Body Speaks, a dance team whose aim is to help the youth focus on something positive using Afro contemporary dance productions, physical fitness training and build a creative aspect which began in a critical period when schools were closed.  She also collaborates with Pamoza Tingakwanisya Youth Organization in Karonga, whose mission is to support youth self-reliance initiatives in their communities.  This includes doing charity work in schools.  Her young age makes it easy to relate to the youth in her community. Also, the music she records and performs helps to drive this narrativ

The fitness enthusiast acknowledges that female musicians are often made to feel they need to work harder to earn respect compared to their male counterparts.  “There is a struggle for female artists.  But they must work on their craft, hone their skills and stand their ground”, she said.  Her belief is that artists should not be judged on their gender but the work they create.  By her own admission, jazz is not very big in Malawi.  “A lot of people in Malawi will be surprised to learn our African music has root elements that can be used in jazz” she added.

Maggie wants to be involved in more music projects, not just in her country, but globally on humanitarian issues and promoting a change in mindset that takes Malawian music to the international stage, not just inspire her fellow women with words but action as well.  Her favourite musicians include Angélique Kidjo, Sibongile Khumalo, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, Lianne La Havas and many more.  Her Facebook Page is Maggie Kadrum.  Follow her on X @MaggieKadrum, Instagram @maggiekadrum and Tik Tok @Kaadrum.