The Banjo Man (Dickson, Malawi)

Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants.  “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants. “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Banjo Boy

In May-June 20105, writer Dick Wittenberg and I visited the Malawian village of Dickson for the first time. One of the people we met there was Charles Mahamudi (then aged 15). Dick noted down his story.

Charles is from the kind of family that already runs out of corn during the harvest time itself. He roams the fields, looking for leftover corn ears. He often missed school.

Three years earlier, he had done field work for three days and earned 100 kwatcha (60 dollar cent): enough to buy an old banjo. He practiced almost every day. His banjo was his only comfort. He wrote his own songs. When it got dark, he played them, softly singing with a very thin and almost childlike voice. About a woman who gives the men what they want because she is starving. About a brother who succumbed to aids. Chunks of everyday life in Dickson. Songs that are ‘true.’

“I went to buy corn
It cost 300 kwatcha a bucket
But I had only 200
So I couldn’t buy any
Back home, we have nothing to eat
How to find food now?”

We called him ‘Banjo Boy.’ But even his banjo couldn’t rescue him from despair about his mother, who had been exchanged for another woman by his father. His mother had left him and his sister and moved to another village, far away. She took his little brother with her. But Charles knew that over there, they had no fertilizer. They were eating only corn chaff. And it was still a long time to the next harvest. Would she survive? Charles knew the fate of divorced women.

Ten years later: April 2015

When we returned to Dickson, ten years later, Charles had married and moved away to another village. But one evening, he unexpectedly showed up. He had received a phone call informing him that we were back and he wanted to visit us. It took him a bike ride of 5 hours – or that is how long he thought it took him: neither he nor any of Dickson’s inhabitants has a clock.

His parents were back together again. He had not brought his banjo. He hadn’t played it for several years, but recently, he had taken it up again. He had also written some new songs. One, his favourite, was called, “Love of my Father”.

The next morning, when I came to portray him in his parents’ house, he had borrowed a banjo. Here, you can hear that song and two others, including “Remembrance”, a song about us – Dick, translator Chifumbi and me, “Johnny.”
He asked us to call him the ‘Banjo Man’ now.

(Based on book texts by Dick Wittenberg).



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Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants.  “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants. “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Banjo Boy

In May-June 20105, writer Dick Wittenberg and I visited the Malawian village of Dickson for the first time. One of the people we met there was Charles Mahamudi (then aged 15). Dick noted down his story.

Charles is from the kind of family that already runs out of corn during the harvest time itself. He roams the fields, looking for leftover corn ears. He often missed school.

Three years earlier, he had done field work for three days and earned 100 kwatcha (60 dollar cent): enough to buy an old banjo. He practiced almost every day. His banjo was his only comfort. He wrote his own songs. When it got dark, he played them, softly singing with a very thin and almost childlike voice. About a woman who gives the men what they want because she is starving. About a brother who succumbed to aids. Chunks of everyday life in Dickson. Songs that are ‘true.’

“I went to buy corn
It cost 300 kwatcha a bucket
But I had only 200
So I couldn’t buy any
Back home, we have nothing to eat
How to find food now?”

We called him ‘Banjo Boy.’ But even his banjo couldn’t rescue him from despair about his mother, who had been exchanged for another woman by his father. His mother had left him and his sister and moved to another village, far away. She took his little brother with her. But Charles knew that over there, they had no fertilizer. They were eating only corn chaff. And it was still a long time to the next harvest. Would she survive? Charles knew the fate of divorced women.

Ten years later: April 2015

When we returned to Dickson, ten years later, Charles had married and moved away to another village. But one evening, he unexpectedly showed up. He had received a phone call informing him that we were back and he wanted to visit us. It took him a bike ride of 5 hours – or that is how long he thought it took him: neither he nor any of Dickson’s inhabitants has a clock.

His parents were back together again. He had not brought his banjo. He hadn’t played it for several years, but recently, he had taken it up again. He had also written some new songs. One, his favourite, was called, “Love of my Father”.

The next morning, when I came to portray him in his parents’ house, he had borrowed a banjo. Here, you can hear that song and two others, including “Remembrance”, a song about us – Dick, translator Chifumbi and me, “Johnny.”
He asked us to call him the ‘Banjo Man’ now.

(Based on book texts by Dick Wittenberg).



Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants.  “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants. “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Banjo Boy

In May-June 20105, writer Dick Wittenberg and I visited the Malawian village of Dickson for the first time. One of the people we met there was Charles Mahamudi (then aged 15). Dick noted down his story.

Charles is from the kind of family that already runs out of corn during the harvest time itself. He roams the fields, looking for leftover corn ears. He often missed school.

Three years earlier, he had done field work for three days and earned 100 kwatcha (60 dollar cent): enough to buy an old banjo. He practiced almost every day. His banjo was his only comfort. He wrote his own songs. When it got dark, he played them, softly singing with a very thin and almost childlike voice. About a woman who gives the men what they want because she is starving. About a brother who succumbed to aids. Chunks of everyday life in Dickson. Songs that are ‘true.’

“I went to buy corn
It cost 300 kwatcha a bucket
But I had only 200
So I couldn’t buy any
Back home, we have nothing to eat
How to find food now?”

We called him ‘Banjo Boy.’ But even his banjo couldn’t rescue him from despair about his mother, who had been exchanged for another woman by his father. His mother had left him and his sister and moved to another village, far away. She took his little brother with her. But Charles knew that over there, they had no fertilizer. They were eating only corn chaff. And it was still a long time to the next harvest. Would she survive? Charles knew the fate of divorced women.

Ten years later: April 2015

When we returned to Dickson, ten years later, Charles had married and moved away to another village. But one evening, he unexpectedly showed up. He had received a phone call informing him that we were back and he wanted to visit us. It took him a bike ride of 5 hours – or that is how long he thought it took him: neither he nor any of Dickson’s inhabitants has a clock.

His parents were back together again. He had not brought his banjo. He hadn’t played it for several years, but recently, he had taken it up again. He had also written some new songs. One, his favourite, was called, “Love of my Father”.

The next morning, when I came to portray him in his parents’ house, he had borrowed a banjo. Here, you can hear that song and two others, including “Remembrance”, a song about us – Dick, translator Chifumbi and me, “Johnny.”
He asked us to call him the ‘Banjo Man’ now.

(Based on book texts by Dick Wittenberg).

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Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants.  “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Malawi, Dickson village, a hamlet with 55 households and some 300 inhabitants. “Banjo Man” (previously “Banjo Boy”) Mahamudi Charles (25) in the house of his parents.

Banjo Boy

In May-June 20105, writer Dick Wittenberg and I visited the Malawian village of Dickson for the first time. One of the people we met there was Charles Mahamudi (then aged 15). Dick noted down his story.

Charles is from the kind of family that already runs out of corn during the harvest time itself. He roams the fields, looking for leftover corn ears. He often missed school.

Three years earlier, he had done field work for three days and earned 100 kwatcha (60 dollar cent): enough to buy an old banjo. He practiced almost every day. His banjo was his only comfort. He wrote his own songs. When it got dark, he played them, softly singing with a very thin and almost childlike voice. About a woman who gives the men what they want because she is starving. About a brother who succumbed to aids. Chunks of everyday life in Dickson. Songs that are ‘true.’

“I went to buy corn
It cost 300 kwatcha a bucket
But I had only 200
So I couldn’t buy any
Back home, we have nothing to eat
How to find food now?”

We called him ‘Banjo Boy.’ But even his banjo couldn’t rescue him from despair about his mother, who had been exchanged for another woman by his father. His mother had left him and his sister and moved to another village, far away. She took his little brother with her. But Charles knew that over there, they had no fertilizer. They were eating only corn chaff. And it was still a long time to the next harvest. Would she survive? Charles knew the fate of divorced women.

Ten years later: April 2015

When we returned to Dickson, ten years later, Charles had married and moved away to another village. But one evening, he unexpectedly showed up. He had received a phone call informing him that we were back and he wanted to visit us. It took him a bike ride of 5 hours – or that is how long he thought it took him: neither he nor any of Dickson’s inhabitants has a clock.

His parents were back together again. He had not brought his banjo. He hadn’t played it for several years, but recently, he had taken it up again. He had also written some new songs. One, his favourite, was called, “Love of my Father”.

The next morning, when I came to portray him in his parents’ house, he had borrowed a banjo. Here, you can hear that song and two others, including “Remembrance”, a song about us – Dick, translator Chifumbi and me, “Johnny.”
He asked us to call him the ‘Banjo Man’ now.

(Based on book texts by Dick Wittenberg).