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Music Review Stunning sounds from Mokoomba

RUBY FISHER experiences a thrilling fusion of tradition and innovation from a young Zimbabwean band on the rise

Mokoomba
St Mary’s Music Hall, London

SOMETHING special happens in the room when Mokoomba start to play. In the opening strains of the first song Yombe, Trustworth Samende’s lilting guitar and Mathias Muzaza’s soaring vocals pull you into a soundscape of traditional Luvale and Tonga sounds and rich, soulful harmonies.

They go on to deliver an electrifying night to remember, combining history, tradition and identity fused with an entirely unique modern sound in a stunning 12th century church, complete with lager in the pews.

The band's six members grew up together in a township on the fringe of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and this shared identity infuses the spirit of their music — their voices seem to have found a pristine balance after a lifetime in each other’s company.

Mokoomba’s career has spanned a particularly turbulent decade in Zimbabwe’s history and managing to write, play and produce music amid the economic and political turmoil can't have been easy.

But according to bassist Abundance Mutori, difficult times come and go, yet it remains the duty of the musician “to make people think, talk and feel with the hope that this helps people to push for positive change.”

That hope is alive and well in the beats that transform the audience into a rhythmic congregation of movers and shakers, dancing and clapping along to Miti Mugande’s earthy percussion or listening in silence as the sensational a capella harmonies on Nyaradzo fill the church.

All the musicians draw on vocal techniques taught in the Luvale traditional initiation camps in Victoria Falls, which emphasise importance of using the voice as a tool to communicate different messages and feelings.

Though rooted in such tradition, Mokoomba's hallmark style draws fresh inspiration from the diaspora, old and new, and it comes through with particular zest in songs like Muzwile during which Mathias Muzaza shows off his extraordinary vocal range. It's a voice that never tires, growing in depth and versatility as the evening progresses.

Next time they're in Britain, check this band out because, after the era of Mapfumo, Dembo and the Bhundu Boys, we could just be at the dawn of the Afro fusion and Zim rock of the Mokoomba era.

For more information on Mokoomba, visit mokoomba.band

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