Despite the inconveniences that are colonial borders, the diverse peoples of southern Africa will always be united by the warmth of the rich African sun and all the cultures that thrive under its glow.
By Nyasha Themba Dhliwayo
For over two decades, Mahube — a collection of top southern African musicians and vocalists — have celebrated this shared heritage through song and dance.
Founded by saxophonist and composer Steve Dyer, the regional musical collective brought together luminaries such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Suthukazi Arosi, George Phiri, Feya Faku, Sean Fourie and Barry van Zyl.
Their vibrant interpretation of organic southern African styles was expressed quite colourfully in memorable concerts and collectable albums.
It’s against this backdrop that last year at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) the venerable elders of Mahube “anointed” the next generation of the super-group.
This reincarnation of Mahube brought together a younger group of artistes who alongside the older members gave an acclaimed performance when they headlined Hifa’s opening concert.
After putting expectant fans through a wait that must have seemed like an eternity, this past Sunday Mahube released a new album on all major digital platforms.
Titled Zenzele, the 11-track offering is produced by Dyer and his son Bokani, a respected jazz pianist and composer.
Zimbabwe’s own princess of Mbira Hope Masike features on two songs Madzimai and Vanondi with the former being one of the standout tracks where she affirms the intrinsic value of African women.
While imploring African women to assume leadership positions and contribute to the development of the continent, Masike also counsels them not to neglect their integral role as custodians of culture.
Such themes of affirming the need for Africa to embrace togetherness and progress are a common thread through Zenzele, which means “to do for yourself”.
The title track brings the haunting voice of South Africa’s Mbuso Khoza to the fore as the message of the continent’s need to benefit from its own resources is expressed powerfully.
Other tracks theme’s range from collective love and friendship in Babem, Ndiza Nothando and Amizade to overwhelming personal chemistry in Vanondi and a child being asked to return home in Mahungu.
While each track is arranged and vocalized in a unique manner, there is an easy familiarity that ties all the songs together as the unmistakable rhythms of southern Africa are in each of their DNA.
“The reason I was always interested in the band [Mahube] is their take on being actually able to fuse influences from all these different regions and create a sound that is very holistic but is also extremely African,” said Siya Makuzeni.
Siya from the Eastern Cape, South Africa puts in a double shift on vocals and trombone, while Mozambique’s Xixel Langa composes and sings on three tracks.
These sterling vocalists are allowed to soar given the rock solid backing laid by some of the region’s finest instrumentalists.
Josh Meck, Zimbabwe’s charismatic guitar virtuoso is joined by colleague Cameron Ward from South Africa, John Hassan on percussion and Stelio Zoe from Mozambique assuming drumming duties.
Overall the sound and feel of Zenzele is not necessarily jazz per se, but a contemporary take on traditional vibes with jazzy inflections and the improvisations only extremely talented artistes can create.
Like the name of the band which translates to “new dawn” in Setswana, the evolved Mahube dares to envision an Africa that is proud of its past yet forward-looking like the harmonies the artists lay.
“Mahube is a representation of what all African countries must be doing — collaborating beyond music,” said Masike.
While none of the new compositions on Zenzele quite reach the lofty heights set by Mahube’s elders on tracks like When the Stillness Comes and Qhubeka, this current offering remains a rich selection and a great acquisition for the lounge or car.