Music

For decades, this musician's dream was to visit the US. Now, at 86, he's doing it.

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Giddes Chalamanda on a street corner in Washington DC

Giddes Chalamanda on a street corner in Washington.

Credit:

Isabel Liabunya

Decades ago, in Malawi, he sang the line: "If I had enough money, I would go to America."

Now, finally, it's happening.

At 86, a superstar at home has set foot in the US capital — and made a big impression. 

Fans back in Malawi got together earlier this year to raise money so that Giddes Chalamanda, who has had a musical career for nearly half a century, could realize his long-held dream. 

And with help from the Malawi Washington Association in DC, Chalamanda was able to get to the States with a supporting band. 

Giddes Chalamanda outside the Malawi embassy in Washington DC

Giddes Chalamanda outside the Malawi embassy in Washington DC

Credit:

Isabel Liabunya

His country "rallied together" for Chalamanda, says one backer, Davis Njobvu, a lawyer and part-time musician in Malawi. 

"This dream," Njobvu says, "is something that everybody has known about for a long time. We're trying to honor him while he's alive and able to appreciate it." 

Njobvu, who was on the plane with Chalamanda, said the trip to the US was emotional and historic.

Chalamanda doesn't speak English very well, but when asked his first impressions of America, he said simply: "It's a very nice country. The people received me well ... and I'm very glad." 

On Tuesday, he played "Buffalo Soldier" on a new stage — the Library of Congress.

Chalamanda's overdue American visit has been warmly welcomed, Njobvu says.

"A lot of Malawians flew in from different states just to come and see Mr. Giddes Chalamanda because he's like an icon."

Our thanks to a PRI's The World listener, Thoko​ Kachipande, who tipped us off to this story.

Credit:

Isabel Liabunya

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