MAY 31 this year marks ten years since Chris Chali, the charismatic founder and leader of the award-winning Amayenge Cultural Ensemble, died.
Chali widow, Alice, says life hasn't been easy since his passing but addsthat God has performed miracles in her life.
A young and uncertain Alice took over the leadership of the band shortly after the death of the Zambian music legend in 2003.
"When my husband died, I was just a backing vocalist and very young," she recalls. "I didn't know where to start from. I asked myself, 'how am I going to survive now? How am I going to take care of my children?' But God has a way for everything because when I look at myself today, even I fail to believe it's really me, considering what I have gone through."
The mother of three celebrates her 40th birthday on September 15 this year.
Amayenge Cultural Ensemble was formed in 1978 in Choma, and Alice only joined the group in 1988. Her first performance was at Mumana Pleasure Resort in Lusaka.
Alice says she was very shy at first, but gradually gained courage andconfidence as a performer and singer.
"I couldn't stand in front of people during musical shows then but through prayer and encouragement from family and friends, I managed to move on, and what has kept me strong is prayer," she says.
A staunch Catholic, Alice believes nothing can be achieved without prayer.
Alice says she gave herself at least ten years to mourn her husband before she considers ever tying the knot again.
"I'm not married and I'm not seeing anyone at the moment. But I hope to get married in future, especially now that ten years have passed since my husband died. Besides, I'm still young. I told myself to say maybe after ten years from the time he died, I can get married; just maybe there can be a 'Mr Right'," she says.
Alice's father passed on thirteen years ago, hence she takes care of a large family, including her mother, siblings, nieces and nephews.
Born in a family of nine, three of whom have since passed on, Alice earns a living through music and other business ventures.
She is determined to forge ahead musically and hopes the band will receive global recognition.
Her stepdaughter, Mayeba is also a musician and heads her own band.
Supervising a band as big and successful as Amayenge is certainly no easy task.
Millions of kwacha are spent on equipment, costumes and other needs just to ensure the smooth running of the ensemble, says Alice, who is also a cross-border trader and travels to countries such as China, South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania.
She sells assorted items such as clothes, and so far, her business is flourishing.
Perseverance and discipline has seen her twenty-member band, now managed by Frazier Chali, grow and score many successes.
The band owns five Hiace buses which, according to Alice, help sustain the ensemble, especially when it doesn't have shows.
The band has produced two albums since Chali's death, - Mangoma Kulila and Chisango - and is presently working on another Kalindula album set for release in two months' time.
Alice advises young musicians to exercise self-discipline and take pride in their culture.
"Young musicians shouldn't forget their roots. Even when they sing R&B, hip hop and other genres, they shouldn't forget where they come from because personally, I think traditional music has really benefited me," she says.
Well-known for her vigorous dance moves, Alice says she was born an entertainer and will always be one.
Amayenge boasts ten Ngoma Awards in the fifteen-year history of the National Arts Council-organised event plus a raft of other awards.
Frazier says music has pushed the group to great heights.
"Music has taken us places," he says. "We have mingled with very important people worldwide and we have achieved a lot. And as a group, we share the little money that we make."
He attributes the band's success and longevity to discipline, commitment and consistency, as exemplified by its founder.
"The big man (Chali) used to tell us that whenever you are on stage don't take liquor, don't smoke, so we have maintained that," says Frazier.
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