Queen Fyah A Legend in the Making – @Queenfyah MW
Merrium Pondani aka Queen Fyah is a Malawian Roots Rock Reggae Artist who’s steadily making her presence felt in the reggae industry. The last born of three girls and raised by a single mother, Queen Fyah persevered through all the hardships she faced in life and is now paving her way to Legendary Status. MzansiReggae caught up with her when she came to South Africa to shoot a music video for her recently released chart topper “Gratitude”.
Where did you grow up and how was your childhood
I grew up in Malawi in different places, Blantyre then we went to Liwonde which is just a town and went back to Blantyre City that’s where I’ve been all my life from my childhood until I went to College and became a teacher and a radio DJ and Producer. I have two sisters, the first born is here in South Africa, the second stays in Malawi as well. My father passed on long time ago
And how did you become a Rastafarian?
It was because of my friend Kommunique, he inspired me a lot, he was trying to teach me the teachings of His Majesty, and after realising who I was, I decided to go back to my roots, cause I know that everyone is born a Rasta. It just take the family you are in, I was born in a Christian family but it was maybe cause they were influenced to be Christians way back. I know everyone is born Rasta it’s just takes some time to realise who you are and go back to your roots. So that Rasta Man helped me a lot and after reading some books I realised that I’m a Rasta Woman, I should be a Rasta Woman, I should go back to my Roots as a Rasta Woman.
How did the family react when you told them you are a Rasta cause you grew up following the Christian way of life?
It was really hard because my Mother always thought that maybe I’m going crazy, I’m going mad; with the hair, you know my Mother would always tell me that I should cut my hair, but I refused up to now and she just accepted that maybe let’s just leave her she’s a Rasta woman, right now I don’t have any problem with my family. They’ve accepted that I am a Rasta woman.
While we still on that I read somewhere you said (are you still teaching?) “yes I’m still a teacher”. You were saying it’s very hard when the government doesn’t accept dreadlocks. How was that journey?
It was really hard cause in the very 1st days they used to tell me to remove the dreadlocks, I had to give one of the primary education advisor some money to cut the story short. Like to stop them from penalising me and stuff like that. It’s been very hard up until now, maybe they’ve just accepted also. The school I teach I can never leave and go somewhere else because that school accepted me. If I try to leave that School or if I get posted to another school it will be difficult, I’ll have to deal with those guys as well. I find it hard to leave that School and teach somewhere else. It’s like I’m stuck, those people accepted me. If I try to leave then I’ll have to cut my dreadlocks. They say we are not supposed to teach with dreadlocks, they say what kind of example are we setting? We are not setting a good examples to the learners, you know it’s really hard but at least right now I have peace.
How long have you been teaching? Did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I didn’t want to be a teacher, to be honest, right now I understand that maybe Rastafari that’s what he called me for. I wanted to be a nurse. I had to apply after my secondary school for nursing, I was called for interviews, but the day I got the letter it was after some time, some bad minded people hid the letter so that I shouldn’t go to the interviews, the grace period was over so I just left it. My mother is a teacher, a secondary school teacher, so she was also telling me to apply for teaching but as a secondary school teacher, but I refused I told her that “I don’t want to grow poor like you” but then there was nothing I was doing, I didn’t have a choice, I applied, unfortunately it was for a Primary School teacher, I applied, that was in 2010, I went to college that was in 2011, I got posted in 2014, so I have 5 years’ experience.
Are you enjoying it now that you’ve accepted it?
Now I enjoy teaching but maybe because I have two jobs, I’m a radio DJ, presenter and producer as well so it’s like I balance. I enjoy teaching I enjoy being on radio as well.
How did you get into radio?
I had a friend, who was working at a radio station and he invited me as a guest for a certain program that deals with youth issues. I met this other lady Gertrude, she also invited me to a guest on her show, so when I went for the second show, the radio boss said: ‘I think I like your voice it fits radio so when you are free you should come for auditions.’ So I told him no I can’t come back as I stay far and I am a teacher and it means more transport costs for me. So he auditioned me that very same day with some other people who worked there. But I had to wait for a year before I heard from them again. I had heard they got someone in my place, like maybe you know connections, someone had a big connection there so that one was picked and I wasn’t. After a year that’s when I was called, that I can come for training so that’s how I got into radio.
So it just came naturally; do you have your own Queen Fyah show?
I have three shows, the one is called Amaitakatani (small scaled business ladies) we encourage small scaled business ladies so that they can reach greater heights. The other one is called “Toppa Top Ranking” it’s a Dancehall show, the last one is called Roots Rock Reggae it’s a Reggae show where I play reggae music.
How did you start as an Artist?
You know these things starts when we are young, I didn’t know that I have talent until I was in secondary school, that was in New Way Catholic Secondary School, that’s where I finished my secondary schooling. I was still a Christian, so when there were gatherings, we called then SCOM, that’s where we would showcase our different talents like singing; so one day I decided to sing a gospel song, I liked Rebecca Malope. I performed, then people were discussing ‘there’s this newcomer, she’s a very good singer.’ I was encouraged, motivated and inspired. So I just decided maybe I am a good singer I should just nurture the talent maybe I can go far with it. That’s how I started. But then it was all about Christianity. After secondary school I started recording, some guys would call me just to do a hook, a chorus for them, but I started serious recording in 2013 with my single Mothotjabe. It was not about Christianity or Rastafari it was all about humanity. So that same year I converted back into Rasta livity.
So after that how has the journey been? What transpired? How was the single received?
The single was massive, but you know nowadays if you want to make it, serious promotion is required, I had no money. If my music was played on radio it just meant that person just loved the song but for it to be played more I needed money but only two radio stations were playing the tune. After sometime I released a song called Kupatsa (Giving) with my friend Vigil, it was a collaboration, she’s a very good singer she’s got talent. We helped each other until we shot a video for that tune, Ahh massive airplay, TV station were showing the video like very often so it was like that’s when I realised that people have received my music very well.
So what was the feeling like when you first heard your song on Radio? When You were just a teacher from nowhere.
It was great feeling, like the joy of seeing yourself on TV Ahh people calling you “I’m seeing you on TV” “I’m listening to your tune on the radio” it was a great feeling. It hasn’t been easy for Malawians to recognise me, I can say they only started recognising and embracing me as recent as a year ago. The reggae that Malawians like listening to is not very different from the reggae that I do cause I try to do the real Reggae, Real Reggae stuff Real reggae business; but it’s seems like if they like one reggae Artist they’d love that person even if someone comes maybe with great great stuff than that person, they’d still love that person cause maybe that’s the first person who came into the limelight, so it hasn’t been easy for me. Maybe cause of the path I took, because I’m a Rasta and being a Rasta and doing Reggae in Malawi is something that maybe not many women can do. The others are doing Reggae but they are not Rasta, the type of Reggae they are doing is commercial, I feel I do great stuff (HARDCORE?) Ya ya hardcore, so people wonder who is this lady! Like now they are realising that this is the kind of reggae we were missing in Malawi. So it has not been easy until last year when I released my music video for Zion Calling, people were listening to Queen Fyah but they didn’t know Queen Fyah is a Malawian until they watched that video and they weren’t even convinced that I am Malawian. They thought maybe I’m Jamaican but after some interviews that’s when they realised: ‘oh she’s a fellow Malawian,’ cause I speak Chewa.
Why do you feel you need to do hardcore, why didn’t you just do commercial? Cause Queen Fyah also needs to make money out of it.
I do not plan to be just known in Malawi, I want to be known internationally, I want to be an international artist, it doesn’t bother me when some people say they don’t know me in Malawi, because I feel that on an international level that’s where I’m heading to. So the other reggae that other women are doing in Malawi can’t take them anywhere, can’t take them nowhere, I wanted to be unique. My voice fits that direction that’s why I chose the hard core direction. I can sing but you know Christian people are all about singing if I want to sing I can sing but I’m very much comfortable with this.
But why do you think it won’t take them anywhere?
Cause it’s like me, I try to be me and I don’t copy anyone, way back people used to say I sound like Tanya Stephens, the very first day I stepped into studio, the Producer said you sound like Tanya Stephens by then I didn’t even know who she was, after productions I listened to her and I realised that we have something in common cause she has a nasal voice I also sound like that so I tried very hard to change cause you know Tanya Stephens is a legend, of cause I’m going there but she’s a legend, I respect her and I don’t have to be like her, I have to be myself, of course the voice I have was even before Tanya Stephens so I just tried to have my own identity that’s why I chose my own lane to be unique, if I tried to copy someone else people will say this one is trying to be like that one, so it’s not something nice so that’s why I chose that path so that I can be unique.
How big is the Reggae Music scene in Malawi?
Uhm in Malawi, allow me to compare, compared to South Africa in Malawi Reggae is big right now cause we can host a reggae show and people will come, but I think it has just been accepted now people used to local music, but now I think people are releasing that reggae is the real root of music. It is becoming big with time we will be like Zimbabwe, because I know in Zimbabwe they love reggae and dancehall.
How did you come up with the name Queen Fyah?
I realised after coming back to my senses, going back to my Roots, I realised that I don’t have to go back to Babylon, Christianity. I have to maintain the place that I have taken, maintain the Fyah that I have lit. It’s like unquenchable Fyah, and the Queen, I know that very woman is a queen, so I crowned myself as a queen. I realised how worthy I am.
Any Albums under your belt?
I am working on my 1st album, which is Black Roots, I’m finalising some stuff then it will be out, I’m expecting it to be out end of 2019, right now I’m working on my own. I had a label that was helping me, so after some misunderstandings we parted ways in November 2018. So it’s just me so I have to be strong and do the thing.
So how is it being an independent artist? How is it working for you?
It’s nice, cause I’m here (in SA) cause I’ve been booked for a show, I came, I’m here and it was easy, had it been that I’m under a label it could have been hard, cause I’ve been booked several times here in the past but because of the label and terms and conditions I couldn’t make it. So it’s easy, I do things freely of course sometimes we need guidance we need help from other people, we need some people to be in front of us. So it’s good both ways, to have a manager and not have one. Yeah, I was supposed to release the album early this year but after the crisis with the label that’s when I decided to release it later this year.
How do you try to stay relevant as an artist?
I try to put out positive vibes cause that’s what reggae music is about. I have to make sure the music I do is positive. It’s not contradictory to my livity. I’m a Rasta woman so I have to follow that direction with my music. I am a Rasta woman. I take time to write my music, you know reggae music is serious business, so if I don’t take my time it means that the message I’ll put out will not be strong or have an impact.
What are you most grateful for?
*A big sigh* I’m grateful for life that’s the very first thing. I have little but there are other people that have nothing. So when I see myself, I see talent, the job I have, I thank the Most High that at least I have something. There are other people out there who have nothing, completely nothing, but then I’m also grateful for the opportunities that are out there, unlike way back, the doors are opening so I’m grateful for that as well.
Queen Fyah – Gratitude
So People say you sound like Tanya Stephens, but who has been your inspiration?
I started listening to Tanya Stephens after people told me I sound like her, I listened to her too much then she became an inspiration to me, but that was after people started telling that I sound like her not because I started listening to her then I started singing like her. Then I realised that she’s a great woman, I also love listening to Jah 9 and Queen Omega.
What is Your role in the Musicians Union of Malawi Women desk? And Why the need for a separate arm because I’m guessing MUM is for all musicians.
I’m the Vice President and the President is Martha Mituka. It’s an honour for me to know that people consider me when it comes to women issues in Malawi. And a separate desk because we are trying to balance things you know, We don’t get the same opportunities as men, so they thought it was wise to have a separate arm that will look into women’s issues so that things can be easy because not everyone can be recognised in MUM. We also wanted women to be treated in a special way, we wanted to have time together, know each other, teach each other, help each other through the women’s desk. In 2017 I went to Tanzania through the women’s desk to represent Malawi, where sharing stories about the challenges that women encounter and how best to move forward. So I feel like women in Malawi trust me.
Do you think it’s making a difference?
It is making a difference little by little but after some time things will change.
Since you are here, have you gotten a chance to talk to artists this side, any future collaborations?
I once spoke to Reign Africa about Collaboration but not since I’ve been here. I’ve spoken to Born Afrikan who’s also a Malawian but resides here in S.A so those are the people I’d like to work with.
Lets talk about Merrium, is she married, single? Does she have any kids?
Merrium is single, she doesn’t have any kids. But she does have a partner and have been together for 3yrs but not married, maybe soon (and hoping to?) Lol yes.
And your message to the fans?
Their support is always motivating, without their support, I would be nobody, there won’t be Queen Fyah. So they should continue to support us. Africa is for Africans. If I’m an African doing Reggae music. They shouldn’t say an African cannot reach the heights of Jamaica when it comes to Reggae music. So people should support us. Cause even the Jamaicans are Africans. There are other African’s who are doing it big in Reggae like StoneBwoy, Patoranking and Shatta Wale and get to perform in some shows in Jamaica. So they shouldn’t underrate fellow Africans. In Africa we do Reggae music, another example is the Late Lucky Dube, he was very big and he was doing great music. So they should keep encouraging us to reach greater heights.
You can reach out to Queen Fyah on her Facebook Page.