With exuberant youthful energy bursting with natural talent, the six musicians who make up Mokoomba are Zimbabwe’s next musical generation.
Contagious pan-African rhythms, brilliant playing and slick dance routines combine for a spellbinding live presentation.
Winner of the Songlines Music Award for “newcomer of the year” in 2013, Mokoomba received international rewards for its album Rising Tide and caught the attention of the world music community at WOMEX 2012 with a remarkable performance.
The band’s six young members come from the Tonga, and the language they sing in is not widely understood even in their country, but they were determined to make it as musicians.
Mokoomba’s music sounds modern and reflects their experience growing up in the cultural melting pot of Victoria Falls, but also draws heavily on traditional songs and Tonga rhythms.
Members of the group are keen to put their culture on the map and have found the perfect voice to do so.
Abundance Mutori was just 14 when he began playing with the other members of Mokoomba. It was in 2002, when they were at school together at Mosi oa Tunya High in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and he remembers that their biggest problem was getting hold of instruments.
“We didn’t have our own, and even at school when we had a music class we didn’t have any guitars or keyboards,” he says.
“But my dad used to play in church and had a bass guitar at home, and he first showed me how to play. From then on, I was practising by myself or jamming with the guys.”
Now, in their mid-20s, Mokoomba are being feted as Africa’s most internationally successful young band after a rise that is as deserved as it has been remarkable.
After all, they come from a country with an international musical profile that has sadly declined since the glory days of the 80s, largely because of Aids.
Even in Zimbabwe they were initially considered outsiders.
They sing in Tonga, a language that most Shona and Ndebele speakers can’t understand, and come from a tourist border town that’s a 12-hour drive from the capital, Harare.
As a border town, close to Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, Victoria Falls was a “melting pot”, according to Mokoomba’s young manager Marcus Gora.
“When you were growing up there, you couldn’t escape different cultures, languages and musical influences. There was music from the local Tonga tradition, Congolese rumba and soukous, funk, pop from the Beatles, and even country. That’s what our parents played.”
The band reflects these different cultures. Mutori plays bass, and his bandmates include Trustworth Samende, an excellent guitarist, and the powerful, soulful singer Mathias Muzaza, who travelled widely in Southern Africa as a boy with his Angolan and Zambian parents.
The band played in restaurants, or busked for tourists, and developed their own distinctive style. “It’s Afro-fusion,” Mutori said.
“A mixture of Tonga rhythms, soca, soucous and the other things we listened to growing up.”
– The Guardian