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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 16:17 GMT
Malawian farewell to 'the prophet'
Deceased Malawian musician Evison Matafale
Matafale's concerts with the Black Missionaries are always sold out
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

Thousands of Malawians have attended the funeral of the country's most popular reggae musician, who died suddenly in police custody early his week.

In a rousing send off, close to 10,000 people from all walks of life thronged Chileka town, just outside the capital, Blantyre, to say goodbye to Evison Matafale popularly known as "the prophet".

Matafale was a music genius, hard to comeby


Police have denied foul play.

A few days before his death, the controversial Matafale, who was 32 years old, uttered some prophetic words.

"I don't fear death because my Bible tells me that I should fear the one that kills both body and spirit, not the body alone."

Tense atmosphere

Though Malawi's music industry attended the ceremony en masse, it was dreadlocked members of the Rastafarian community who dominated the ceremony, turning it into more of a fiesta than a sombre gathering.

Deceased Malawian musician Evison Matafale
Matafale shaved of his locks after treatment for TB

But tension filled the air as some thirsted for revenge for the death of their prophet.

Police, whom many people accuse of killing the musician, were warned not to come anywhere near the ceremony as were ruling party officials.

Police officers at a nearby police post barricaded themselves inside as the funeral cortege passed by singing songs of revenge.

Seditious mail

Elton, Matafale's brother, told journalists the singer was arrested and tortured by police last Saturday because of letters he had written to President Bakilu Muluzi denouncing his government's policies.

"When I saw him at Maula Prison he was in a bad shape," he added.

According to police, the reggae star was arrested at his house in Blantyre to be interrogated about those letters.

In them he had accused the president of backing Muslims and Asian traders and exploiting ordinary Malawians.

The singer, a temperamental man, had early this month lost his cool with an Asian merchant over payments. He had also been suffering from malaria.

His mother had pleaded with the police not to take her son away but officers had assured her he would be released the same day.

However, police sources said Matafale was transferred to the capital, Lilongwe, in the night where he was remanded in custody.

Lilongwe Central Hospital administrator Charles Mwasambo said that Matafale died of severe pneumonia.

He said there was no evidence of torture when police officers brought the reggae star into hospital.

"His condition deteriorated around midnight and he died at 0320 in the morning (Tuesday)," he said.

Debut album

Matafale rose from almost nowhere to become Malawi's favourite musician last year with the release of his debut album, Kuyimba 1.

Deceased Malawian musician Evison Matafale
He is survived by his 5-year old daughter

Soon after Kuyimba 1 he disappeared from the public view for almost a year battling with tuberculosis.

But after coming out of hospital he released his second album, Kuyimba 2, which catapulted him back into the limelight.

His music, laced with frank social commentary done in a Jamaican reggae style, made him popular both in pubs and homes.

Meanwhile, the dread-locked Rasta community - of which Matafale was an elder - are planning a series of demonstrations as part of the mourning process.

Matafale leaves behind a five-year old daughter and an album of uncut songs.

The only single on the album that has been released was 'Time Mark', a tribute to victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States of America on 11 September.

See also:

11 Sep 00 | Africa
Malawi Rastas' marijuana struggle
19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
26 Mar 01 | Africa
'Coup plot' foiled in Malawi
20 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi's prisoners back judges
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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