Five years after the release of ‘Luyando’, Zimbabwe’s most celebrated music export returns with their long-awaited follow-up album ‘Tusona: Tracings in the Sand’. The six musicians from Victoria Falls are refining their unique sound: infectious Afro grooves deeply connected to Zimbabwe’s cultural DNA. ‘Tusana’ is their most danceable album to date, a DIY production recorded in Zimbabwe. It features horns by Ghanaian highlife outfit Santrofi.
Every Sunday, there is a gathering in the sweltering heat on grounds of an old local beer hall in the Chinotimba township in Mosi-o-Tunya (Victoria Falls). Entertainment is provided by various traditional groups including the Luvale Makisi masquerade. It is a day full of singing, drumming, dancing and storytelling. Mokoomba’s lead vocalist Mathias Muzaza can often be found here singing with a voice both soaring and vulnerable. In the course of the afternoon the other band members - guitarist Trustworth Samende, bass player Abundance Mutori, keyboard player Phathisani Moyo, percussionist Miti Mugande and drummer Ndaba Coster Moyo - often join in with singing. The drum driven song “Bakalubale” featured on their new album invites you to this gathering.
Mokoomba recorded ‘Tusona: Tracings in the Sand’, the follow-up album to ‘Luyando’ (2017, Outhere), in Zimbabwe during the pandemic. Instead of working with outside producers like Manou Gallo or Steve Dyer as they have in the past, this album was entirely recorded in a DIY fashion by Mokoomba. The collective from Zimbabwe put in all the experiences made over the previous years and have forged their music into a unique Zimbabwean sound. On popular demand from their fans in Zimbabwe they have even re-recorded three songs from their last more acoustic album ‘Luyando’ turning them into dancehall bangers (featured on the CD and digital versions of the album). In short, this album is more Mokoomba than any of the ones before.
On the album Mokoomba are singing about love, loss, courage in a changing society. The first single “Nzara Hapana” means “no money” in Shona. The song talks about a man who wants to ensure the future of his wife and family and is trying to protect them against the greed of his relatives. The danceable up-tempo song “Nyansola” praises the goddess of harvest and asks her for rain. “Makisi” is sung in Luvale. It celebrates the beauty of the initiation ceremony for which the whole community comes together. “Manina” is a song about losing a loved one. It was written during the pandemic and features the young singer Ulethu from Harare. Mokoomba sing in many different local languages. Their songs are in Tonga, Luvale, Shona, Nyanja and even Lingala used in “Makolo” when they team up with Congolese singer Desolo B. (The album also features horns by Nobert Wonkyi Arthur (trumpet), Bernard Gyamfi (trombone) and Emmanuel Arthur (sax) from Ghanaian highlife outfit Santrofi.)
The title of the album is a nod towards their immense respect for tradition. ‘Tusona’ refers to an ancient system of signs and symbols, drawn in the sand and used for instruction during initiation ceremonies by the Luvale in Southern Africa. Another important part of the Mukanda initiation ceremony is the incredible Makisi masquerade. Since 2008 the Makisi dances are on the UNESCO list of intangible heritage. The Makisi are masked characters, representing the spirit of deceased ancestors. During the yearly initiation ceremony the Makisi return to the living world to teach the young children to become responsible adults among the Lubale people of Southern Africa. In the last decade the interest - especially among the young people – has faded and the Makisi dances have nearly died out.
“Our inspiration comes from these gatherings”, Trustworth Samende explains, “from listening to and playing pure traditional music with everyone in the township. We then add influences from music that we listened to in our homes growing up and the sounds we experience travelling around the world.” It is the connection with the cultures around them that gives Mokoomba’s music its spiritual power. When you hear Mathias Muzaza singing and you watch closely, you will see the music carrying him away to a different sphere, a place where he is singing with the ancestors. Only a split second later though Trust Samende’s sparkling guitar riffs kick in, blending Congolese influences from neighbouring Kasai with Zamrock and Mbira inspired Chimurenga music, making you want to hit the dancefloor. It is this unique blend of local musical styles with contemporary dance music that is at the heart of Mokoomba’s music. The strong reference to tradition is also reflected in the cover illustration by young Zimbabwean visual artist Lomedy Mhako.
It has been nearly 10 years since this young energetic band from Zimbabwe has exploded onto the international music scene. Since then they have shared their music with fans all over the world: Mokoomba have performed in over 40 countries, rocking audiences in places like Roskilde festival (Denmark), WOMAD festival (UK), Sziget festival (Hungary), SXSW (USA), Apollo Theatre (New York) to name but a few.
Like anywhere in the world Africa’s musical output has become more and more producer based. Mokoomba are the living proof that Africa’s great guitar band heritage is well alive and ready to set any dancefloor on fire. Most important though is that deep below the surface of Mokoomba’s sound - flowing like the Zambezi River - you can still hear the heartbeat and the rhythm of a community connected by its music. Like ‘Tusona’, it is a source of rejuvenation, resilience and strength in these changing times. May the tracings in the sand not fade.