Smokey Haangala – Remembered With Love

Loved this piece in the Times of Zambia for several reasons. Smokey was very popular when I arrived in Zambia in the late 70’s and made great music. Zambezi 107.7 fm, the local Livingstone radio station that airs our Sunday night show is owned by late Smokey’s brother Swithin. It’s great that Smokey is still remembered with love.

Even after more than 20 years, the late Zambian music legend Smokey Haangala’s legacy still lives on, playing on the minds of yesteryear’s music fanatics. Smokey’s throbbing sounds stand out as a rich Zambian musical heritage from where the young generation of musicians can tap. Yesteryear’s music had a place in the hearts of the people, which is why there are now wild calls from followers to have promoters put together all the songs done by Zambian legends.

Fans believe that music done by bands like the Great Witch, Tinkles, Blackfoot, the Peace, Five Revolutions, Rikki Illilonga and Keith Mlevhu, among them, could still command a good market. The same goes with Smokey, who was creative in his own right and never to rest until he accomplished his ultimate goal – to record music which was danceable, meaningful and marketable. He was definitely an instant hit maker who was ready to forgo formal employment to pursue music and is fondly remembered for his contribution to the development of the Zambian music industry in general.

Sometimes he sounded controversial, especially when he wanted people to mind their own business, like in the song Mvelani Anyamata (Kumwalila Niza Mwalila Neka) and Maria (Wilanshupa). Smokey did not soak himself much in copyrights of the Deep Purple, Grand Funk, Santana and the likes. He instead wanted to come up with his own style of composing songs in local languages and in English which did very well on the market.

His colleague Happy Mulenga, who played bass guitar on his maiden album Aunka Ma Kwacha, describes Smokey as not just an ordinary musician but an intellectual and genius who could do anything for the sake of music. “He was one of the most versatile musicians one could ever come across; his talent was deeply rooted having come from a family of musicians with his younger brother Swithin, who once played in the Kitwe outfit, the Rusike Brothers,” Happy explains.

Smokey believed in originality, the reason he wrote his own music mainly in local languages trying to break away from copyrights. Being a nephew of former vice-president in the UNIP Government Mainza Chona, this did not go well with his family because to them, music was a career for school dropouts. He was born Edwin Haakulipa Haangala in January 1950 at Chalimbana to a school teacher Cosmas and a housewife, Agness Nangoma. But his first name changed to Smokey during his days in a University of Zambia (UNZA) band called the UNZAMITES as he adored American music legend, Smokey Robinson.

He was soon fronting another UNZA band called the Iceicles as lead guitarist, mixing with colleagues like Captain Sakala, Cuthbert Chalabesa, Max Kachasu and their manager Mumba Kapumpa, who is now a prominent Lusaka lawyer. Smokey went to St Michael’s Primary School at Chivuna Mission in Monze at the age of four and because he was a genius, he was always on top of the class. His creativeness surfaced when he exhibited his dancing prowess in a school band that entertained people during end-of-year celebrations much to the amazement of the audience.

After completing his Standard Six, he straight away went to Mpima Major Seminary in Kabwe to enrol as a Catholic priest, and that was where he met the late broadcaster Charles Mando. But for heaven’s sake, he could not go beyond the second year and decided to quit and continue with education in Form Three at Munali Secondary School in Lusaka. While he was at UNZA and staying in Mufulira during holidays, he met his close colleague Happy in 1969 and together they formed a band with no name, which comprised Gilbert Chibanga on bass, Happy (vocals), Smokey (lead) and a man only known as Sweddy on second guitar.

He graduated from UNZA in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration and immediately joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an executive officer. He formed the X-Ray Band, which jammed in popular places in Lusaka like the Barn Motel, Kilimanjaro, Pelican, and Lido Drive Inn. The X-Ray had notables like guitar maestro Bright Mfula, drummer Kinky Ndhlovu, the younger brother of the former Tinkles bandsman, the late Dylan, and a vocalist only known as Mweetwa. But it was not too long that he quit the civil service and joined National Education Company of Zambia (NECZAM) as an English editor. It was during this time that he released his debut album, Aunka Ma Kwacha and a single, Sticking it Out, which broke new ground for him and made him a superstar overnight.

While at the TIMES, he wrote a satirical column called Sikini Mabonzo highlighting the plight of the youth in the 1970s and reviewed music releases by various musicians under Teal Record Company and Zambia Music Parlour labels. Aunka Ma Kwacha was released in 1976 under Teal Record Company in Ndola with the help of music raporteur Ben Shumba and the cover was designed by veteran Ndola artist Peter Kapenda.
Before then and while in Lusaka, he worked for a private newspaper, The Weekend World which boasted seasoned journalists like Arthur Yoyo, Enos Phiri, Josh Mulenga, Joseph Mkandawire as well as graphic designers, Evans Mutanuka and Henry Chisanga. In 1985, Smokey joined the ZAMBIA DAILY MAIL as a Sub Editor and embarked on two novels, one in Tonga called Okuno Nku Lusaka and The Black Eye, which he unfortunately never saw. He also went to Kalipinde and performed with a band called Kalyaunga with the Kalipinde dancing queens.

But unfortunately, in the early hours of August 16, 1988, the very day his Black Eye novel came out, Edwin Haakulipa, a.k.a Smokey, was no more. As his brother Swithin partly wrote: “The embers that had lit the fires that fuelled a literary genius and guitar maestro died out and the smoke receded into the world beyond.”