In the groove with Fred Zindi
In an exhilarating, visually stimulating two live-concert hours last week on Saturday inside the Old Mutual Theatre at Alliance Francaise, the emotionally-charged sensory explosion of Mokoomba came alive.
After their manager, Marcus Gora, had introduced the band to an enthusiastic crowd in the fully packed, but small venue, band members stepped in one-by-one, beginning with the percussion section led by Miti Mugande and Ndaba Coster Moyo followed by bassist Abundance Mutori, then Trustworth Samende, the lead guitarist. The last to climb onto the stage was Mathias Muzaza, the versatile lead singer. His vocabulary in both English and Shona is still limited (quite understandable as his mother is Zambian and father is Angolan and was raised speaking Tonga in Victoria Falls’s Chinotimba township). But he managed to say a few words: “Muriko here uko? (Are you there?) This is Mokoomba from Victoria Falls.”
In Harare, since winning the Music Crossroads International competition in 2007, the band has been considered outsiders because they sing in Tonga and audiences have been slow in warming up to their songs, but not that night. Indeed it has taken time for Harare audiences to appreciate them due to both the barriers in language and the fact that they are not a sungura or Zimdancehall band which most people are used to. However, with word spreading around Zimbabwe that these guys are doing wonders in Europe and are getting awards and accolades at major festivals across Europe, every Zimbabwean in the country has now become curious to see what makes them tick.
Some will even ask why we should treat Mokoomba as superstars when they have never had a hit that we all know in Zimbabwe.
As I was listening to this brilliant band, a sudden thought came to mind. It is not because they are not good. The language barrier defeats their crowd-pleasing efforts in Harare. They probably need a Shona songwriter with depth, like Chirikure Chirikure did for Oliver Mtukudzi.
If they could sing in Shona the songs they are singing now, then they are definitely going to overthrow the giant music stars already in existence here.
Although Mokoomba exploit Tonga rhythms and melodies, they are yet to create a Shona fusion which I think should still be mixed with music rooted in their home reality, while still open to the sounds of the rest of Zimbabwe. (Jah Prayzah and Winky D, this is the band to do a collaboration with and both of you will set Zimbabwe on fire.)
But that is a digression. I am still yet to report on the live performance they gave at Alliance Francaise last week.
There were six members on the stage, like before, but keyboard player Donald Moyo was missing. I asked Gora what had happened to him and he told me that he had been involved in a car accident and was recovering at home. Yes, we wish him a speedy recovery.
The sixth member, who was also on percussion, was Moyo’s younger brother. For an acoustic concert without keyboards, this made sense.
Instead of lead singer Muzaza, Mutori, the dreadlocked bass player who is well-spoken in English, took it upon himself to introduce and explain the meanings behind each song played by the band. Under normal circumstances, it is the lead singer’s privilege to talk to the audience and introduce the songs the band is playing.
Mokoomba started the show with some soulful ballads. Muzaza, with his rich mezza-soprano voice which ranged from the lowest note to the highest musically useful pitches, defied the weight of expectation on this live performance as he began to thrill the audience with his theatrical imagination and undiminished voice. The first two songs were Mokole and Kumukanda. The multiracial crowd, which consisted of black Zimbabweans, Italians, Indians, coloureds and white Zimbabweans, warmed up to the band as they clapped in appreciation at the end of each song. Muzaza went further into the third song titled Bakaluvale, but the audience, although worked up, could not leave their chairs as there was no space to dance. They just nodded their heads and clapped while seated. Then the heat of the moment began when Mokoomba belted hit-after-hit, from Njawane to Muzwile Chani. On realising that the crowd had now begun to eat out of their hands, the whole band dropped their instruments, as if to tell the crowd to sit down and listen. Then they roared into Nyaradzo, a Shona acappella tune. They knew that this would resonate with the audience. The harmonies coming from the rest of the band were purely amazing. The lady sitting behind me knew every word and she also sang along. The band is surely gifted with singing voices. At this point in time, the audience had gone ecstatic. The band then picked up its instruments and together they sang the popular tune Mbibe again in perfect harmony and at the same time showing off their well-choreographed gyrations which have become part of the Mokoomba showmanship experience. I am still amazed at how Mutori keeps the timing on the bass so tight while doing those gyrations and dance moves.
This Victoria Falls collective were awestruck by the big response coming from the crowd as they stormed through their new hits, Wayile, Manina and Nyasola, even surprising fans by bringing out Ndaba Moyo, the percussionist, to the front to dance with Muzaza and Samende to humongous cheers. Their mix of drum and bass beats and liquid Afro-fusion rhythm brought to life with a live band was a deserving booking for the famous Old Mutual Theatre’s Alliance Francaise stage.
And with so much music that has never been played before in front of this audience, this was always going to be a snapshot. More dancey tunes came one after another from Makisi to another Shona tune, Nzara, which got a few members of the audience running to the stage to dance with the boys, to the closing number, Kulundiswe, which got everyone chanting “One more! One more! One more!” well beyond its final chord. Mokoomba had no choice, but to come back for the encore.
They belted the familiar tune, Misozi, before leaving the audience completely dumbfounded.
That was the first concert for Mokoomba in Zimbabwe this year. It began at 4pm and ended at 6pm. A repeat show aimed at accommodating those who could not attend the afternoon show due to limited space, with the same repertoire at the same venue began at 8pm and ended at 10:30pm.
If ever there is a musical collective that defines and inspires the Zimbabwean tourism industry in its besieged infancy, then Mokoomba is it; the lightning rod, the benchmark and the precious attraction of the much-needed foreign currency the country always moans about. The Ministry of Tourism would be found lacking in good sense of judgement if they do not use this band to attract foreign tourists to Zimbabwe. After all, the band hails from Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Besides, they have taken their trade to so many Western countries such as Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, United States of America, Malta, Sweden Switzerland, Canada and many more where they have been generously appreciated.
Mokoomba are indeed Zimbabwe’s international ambassadors on a large scale as they continue to raise the national flag high. Who can deny this?