Based on the laws of probability, if you step into physics teacher Malele Nzeza’s classroom, you’ll likely find the average science class; depending on the day, students will be listening attentively as Nzeza lectures about force and motion and everything in between, or collaborating together while working on the day’s lab.
If you’re lucky, you’ll enter what he calls “Dance Party Fridays.” Before the last day of the week’s lecture starts, he takes the time to play music for the class. The songs are different each week—“sometimes it’ll be a three-minute long Fall Out Boy music video. You just never know,” eleventh-grader Cooper Couden said.
That element of just not knowing is what led up to the day that Nzeza shared his own music with his classes.
“One day, he decided to play a cover he did of a song…I would’ve never thought he was that good. I listened to a few of his other songs and they honestly blew me away,” tenth-grader Nicole Laureno said.
The thing is, Nzeza’s life doesn’t exactly play by the rules of probability. Having been born in the Congo before moving to Belgium and eventually to America, music is one of the few parts of life that has remained constant for Nzeza over the years. It’s the medium he has used—and still uses—to express himself since the age of 15.
“I came into the United States in the mid-‘80s and I didn’t know anybody. I went to a concert with people who loved the same music, and we came together. Music brings people together. It’s the universal language,” Nzeza said.
Bringing people together is the purpose of Nzeza’s YouTube channel: Malele. He had been playing for about 40 years before creating the channel in January 2019.
“I wanted to expose my music, give it to other people. A friend had a YouTube channel and recommended that I make one, so I decided that I would make videos and see what happens,” Nzeza said.
Two years later, the channel is home to nine videos. Some are covers, while others are original pieces. One is a full album he released in January 2020. It’s called “Aurora,” named after and inspired by his daughter.
Prior to Aurora, Nzeza had released one album, called Rhythm of Life, in 2006. He notes the differences between the two albums come from developing his style of music through nuance.
“I’ve gotten better at playing guitar [since 2006], but the writing in Rhythm of Life was more complex. Aurora is a simpler album; the structure of the music is simpler. I’ve simplified the way I write music over time,” Nzeza said.
That simplification is what makes the Aurora album feel like an extended letter to his daughter—a letter that Nzeza spent seven years writing. Aurora begins with an instrumental called “As the Sun Rises”; immediately following it, audio from right after his daughter’s birth is combined with another soft instrumental. Comments like “She’s gorgeous” and “She’s so quiet” are heard in the listener’s right ear as Nzeza plays on. It’s quiet, peaceful; the listener is immersed in the middle of a private moment—one of “the greatest events in my life,” according to Nzeza—and the almost whisper-like comments from Nzeza’s family cement that.
Another personal moment is shared in “Baby Talk,” the fourth song on the album. It’s an instrumental accompanied with the audio of Nzeza’s wife trying to teach their daughter how to say “mama.” She keeps saying “dada” instead.
The album continues for a total of ten songs, three of which have vocals from his friends. One song in particular stands out to Nzeza, as the vocals for it were sung by his friend, Twinkle. It’s called “Learning to Live” and solidifies what Nzeza wanted for his daughter to get out of the album.
“’Learning to Live’ is like a letter I wrote to Aurora about the lessons I’ve learned in life, the same ones she’ll learn herself someday,” Nzeza said. “Twinkle made it her own because she had her own interpretation of it. She did a great job with it—way better than what I could’ve done.”
Nzeza’s life experiences have crafted the unique ways he writes his own music. He draws inspiration from works in different languages and genres.
“When I grew up, my siblings were into R&B. I had other family who listened to classical music. My parents listened to African music. My friends, the kids I hung around—they were into heavy metal. I incorporated all of those things into an appreciation for all types of music,” Nzeza said.
His parents didn’t allow him to pursue music lessons, so Nzeza taught himself how to play. His first instrument was an acoustic guitar—“with a bowed neck, which made it really difficult to stay in tune,” Nzeza said—that he got with a guitar-playing guidebook.
Once MTV came along, Nzeza watched the videos and learned how to play the songs that were featured. He started off simple before progressing into more complex pieces, citing heavy metal and jazz as major sources of inspiration because of the musicians’ multifaceted abilities. Over the years, he has learned how to play acoustic, classical, and electric guitars, as well as the piano, keyboard, and bass.
Nzeza is always making new music; oftentimes, he’s working on multiple songs at once. His most recent piece is called “Sarasota.” He hasn’t published it yet but plans on doing so soon.
“Sarasota inspires me. I love the place where I live. I think it’s paradise here,” he said.
Nzeza’s experiences with both science and the arts have given him the opportunity to discover their rarely-seen similarities.
“Both music and physics are art. Being able to solve equations is conceptual. Music is conceptual,” Nzeza said. “When writing a song, you arrange the melody and create a structure. When you solve an equation, you follow a structure with rules that will flow with the outcomes. I can give an idea for how a tune is going to go and someone else will make it their own. Same with physics problems; we all solve it in a different way, but we hopefully come to the same conclusions.”
“But when you’re playing music, your brain hurts less than when you’re doing physics,” he added, laughing.
When thinking about retirement, Nzeza notes that neither music nor physics will be going anywhere.
“My life revolves around three things after family: physics, music, and martial arts. Those are the three things I’ve been doing forever and those are the three things I’ll do forever,” he said.
Check out Nzeza’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgnyzI1BUZhZa4GXjHhEfmw