TikTok fame wins 92-year-old Malawian singer’s birthday party with president

CHIRADZULU, Malawi, Feb 8 (Reuters) – Malawian musician Giddes Chalamanda never dreamed in his 92 years that he could one day be famous enough to have dinner with the president followed by a night in a luxury hotel.

Last month the singer did both, thanks to his unlikely new stardom on TikTok, a social media platform popular with young people of four generations estranged from him – and which he cannot access because he has no no smartphone or even electricity to charge one.

Chalamanda’s ode to his daughter, “Linny Hoo” – a cheerful reggae track with drums and synthesizers – has been viewed more than 80 million times on the video-sharing site owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance. Her fame launched her career locally, with multiple paid requests to perform live.

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Putting his tiny lakeside southern African country on the digital map last month caught him the attention of President Lazarus Chakwera, who threw a party for Chalamanda’s 92nd birthday at the State House in Lilongwe .

“I didn’t expect to be invited to State House. It was such an honour,” Chalamanda told Reuters from his red-brick house in his village of Chiradzulu, a green area of ​​macademia and coffee plantations in 30 km (18 miles) northeast of the commercial capital, Blantyre.

“The president asked me for my opinion on the music industry and the arts in Malawi,” the singer added, before launching into a banjo tune.

He received a blanket and a pair of leather shoes from Chakwera, and together they sang one of Chalamanda’s songs: “Azimayi a Malawi”, which means “Malawi Women”.

In his state of the nation address on Thursday, the president said at one point, “Ours is no ordinary nation. Ours is home to the beautiful sounds of Giddes Chalamanda.”

Born in 1930 in Chirazulu, Chalamanda started playing music at the age of 12.

“I didn’t get far with school. British colonial teachers…thought I looked too old to be in class,” he recalls – he doesn’t remember how old he was then.

He took odd jobs in the tobacco industry, playing guitar on weekends in bars. Over the past decade he has managed to perform in Germany and the United States.

But he was overwhelmed by the popularity of ‘Linny Hoo’. The song, he said, carries “a message to young people to have good manners in helping their elderly parents with household chores like sweeping the yard and fetching water”.

It remains to be seen how many of its millions of young viewers take that message to heart.

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Written by Tim Cocks, edited by William Maclean

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