Nsimbi

Fireside University

Listening Post 169. There is wisdom in movement and movement in wisdom. That’s an essential takeaway—and a lyrical one it is—from Nsimbi, the album and partnership of Ugandan hip-hop pioneer GNL Zamba and American singer-songwriter Miriam Tamar. Based on Swahili proverbs and the artists’ quest for cross-cultural understanding, the album’s 13 engrossing stories—performed in Luganda, Lingala, Swahili and English—bridge peoples, eras and musical styles. From modern travels to long-ago communal fires around which elders imparted life lessons, lore and ethics; from world community to nuclear family; from the poetic flow of a river to the poignant flow of refugees, Nsimbi reflects a universe of connection and change. In addition to Tamar and Zamba’s personal chemistry and musical synergy—his warm singing and rhythmic rap, her velvety vocal power—the album channels their shared background in educational outreach and social activism. Added texture comes from Congolese soukous-guitar master Jaja Bashengezi and Ugandan percussionist Hebert Kinobe, who between them play 18 instruments. Wisdom and movement are defining features of Dunia ni Matembezi (The World Is Walking), encouraging young people to travel (video 1, journey seen through a schoolboy’s eyes). Mujje (Come All) is a recipe for humanity, for peace and love—words that might sound like clichés if today’s world weren’t so inclined to their opposites (video 2). A saga suspended between threat and wonder, Koona (Beat It) portrays an African abroad explaining his culture (video 3). Back home the culture is palpable in Sokota (Tie Up/Ready to Dance), about getting joyously lost in the rhythm (video 4). Other captivating tracks are Omugga (River), a love song to a waterway that makes “this East African landscape your dance floor,” and Amaka (The Concept of Family), showing elders at their fireside university, teaching the values that may yet move a troubled world toward wisdom. (Imara Records/Baboon Forest)

Nsimbi
GNL Zamba: vocals, backing vocals, composer
Miriam Tamar: vocals, backing vocals, composer
Jaja Bashengezi: udu, guitar, electric guitar, bass, harmonica, mbunda, shakers, binyege, likembe, ngoni, wood block, backing vocals, composer
Herbert Kinobe: talking drum, kora, adungu, ndongo, balafon, calabash, akogo, backing vocals, composer

 

Dunia ni Matembezi/The World Is Walking
(sung in Luganda, Swahili and English)
The world is walking (Gotta go, gotta go)
Life is traveling (Gotta go, gotta go)
Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, to come home
Our ancestors used to travel far and wide
Like kites they used to fly high in the sky
When they came back we would slaughter goats to roast
And feasted as they told stories of their travels in strange lands

I’m in need of dusty roads and dusty toes
So I have gone again and travelled far from home
To the moonlit shows of Mombasa in the blue green seas I’ll float
Down to the Serengeti through golden fields I’ll roam
Don’t you know the world is walking/Reach out and take a hand
Yes the beauty’s in the talking/Dance to the beat of a distant land

Travelling is experiencing through the eyes, the journey back is laden with tales
I have sweet stories for you if you could warm a cup of chai for me
My dear friend, you should travel while you can still blink
This life could be gone in a flash, faster than one-two in a flash
My friend Kamya and I dared to go to the ends at light speed
Riding on camels, we went to see the world
The world doesn’t end at Busia border
Went to the shores where the waves whisper to the sand
To where we saw great things that expanded our understanding
The lands of beautiful women of will, the food impeccable, you cannot starve
Into the deserts, we explored the vastness
In the forest we encountered a diversity of hairy animals
Shared bananas with them


In this world of freedom why bind yourself to where you were born
A frequent traveller replenishes fountains of wisdom
It is through our exploration that we find the answers to new questions

 

Mujje/Come All, Come Together
(sung in Luganda, Swahili and English)
Come all, come all, come all/Come all, come all, come all
Let our fire blaze

Raha ya dunia ni amani na upendo/Happiness on earth is peace and love
For tranquility to prevail and shine, work together with others

So come now come lets light our fire and let it blaze (Let our fire blaze)

We are drowned in negativity/
Can we find some positivity
Inside of you inside of me
/We are love, we are light, humanity

Come all, come all, come all/Come all, come all, come all

My beloved you know it, one hand washes the other
Since the beginning of time in this land, love has been a norm
So share the little you have with each other
Laugh from the heart, not just with your teeth
Realize that greed is the source of all trouble
We do not realize that what we’re greedy for is really pointless
It all fades quicker and disappears like a sprinkle of dough on a lake
We should all recognize that we are all one
So let’s love each other, let’s work with each other
Let’s listen to each other because
For tranquility to prevail and shine, work together with others
So come now, come lets light our fire and let it blaze (Let our fire blaze)

 

Koona/Beat It
(sung in Luganda)
I have been in the world travelling/
Hunting and working hard so the children can eat
I found myself in the land of white people/
The authorities asked me why I was there
Dumbfounded I had nothing to say/
They asked me what part of the world I was from
They asked me about the ways of my people/
They asked me what strange language I was speaking
I told them to relax and have no fear/
Then they told me they had heard about the poetry and stories
But what do we do when we are happy?

Bang on the drum, let me show you how we dance
Tie the fur around your waist, I will show you how we dance
If you clap for me, I will show you how we dance
Bring out the shakers, let me show you how we dance


I pleaded guilty to trespassing illegally into their country
One white officer asked/
Did your king give you permission to travel?
He asked me with the utmost authority/I answered that in my village we are free to travel with no visa
We eat matoke and do not have pizza/We eat doddo and nyama
Where we dip into the calabash and feast/Thick healthy veggie soup to sip on
Every day fishermen catch freshwater fish/And when it gets dark we knot the bark cloth
We dance to the muwogola rhythm/Melodies with flavor fill the air, accented with a bang of drums
In every corner of the kingdom/
We come together as one, royals and common men
Kinobe would be slapping on the monitor lizard hide
Beating on the drum like he was trying to kill it with rhythm
Now that you are beating on the drum too, let me show you how we dance

 

Sokota/Tie Up, Ready to Dance
(sung in Lingala and English)
When the drum beats (ngoma yo bwekuba)/when the drum beats

When the drum beats (ngoma yo bwekuba)

When the drum beats (ngoma yo bwekuba) 
I feel it flow
When the drum beats (ngoma yo bwekuba) I’m letting go

Free your mind, free your soul/Get lost in the rhythm, let it go
Oh wololo, 
Oh wololo
Lost in the rhythm sokota, sakata/Lost in the rhythm, tie up, beat it

Lost in the rhythm, tie up, dance until you can’t

We dance to Muwogola, Sundiata, Fela Kuti, Keita and Ssebata

Today the frogs will leap on the back of the duck

For this beat burns ferociously, like a forest fire

Shouting at the top of our lungs, unencumbered like the epiglottis was cut

As the sweat drips I order another round for those gyrating bending their backs
On this day even the old and hunched will let out
As the saying goes, the ones you birth will play the drums for you to dance
Kodina, the dance where the palm meets the forehead

Lovers with their loved ones caress to find the best spot on the body to hold
The Ndongo is sounding sweeter, it’s like tilapia soup

The kind that gives you goose bumps and makes your hairs stand

Down we go, the hips wiggle, we are feeling the taste of free life

We have ladies to woo, too

The haters look at us, like goats chewing peelings of cud

We look at them happy, like a cat licking milk

From my mouth I give you sweet words

I can already tell from the way you move your hips that you possess a secret
But for now, me and you tonight shall dance until the cock crows

Oh wololo, Oh wololo

 


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