Nobuntu: Obabes beMbube

Inland Surfing

Listening Post 218. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country but in Nobuntu it may have found its waves—warm, rolling a cappella tides that wash over the soul. Nobuntu means “Mothers of Compassion” and Obabes beMbube (Women of Mbube) is the third—and perhaps defining—album by the female ensemble from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city. Their two previous records fused Afro-jazz, soul, gospel and folk, some songs featuring voice only, some backed by traditional instruments. This time they are all mbube—the tight a cappella harmony style that traces its origins to South African singer-composer Solomon Linda, whose 1939 song Mbube (later popularized as The Lion Sleeps Tonight) became the foundation of a movement. Though in recent years women have become part of South Africa’s a cappella scene, Nobuntu marks the first female surge onto Zimbabwe’s male-dominated mbube landscape. The five women give a distinctly feminine turn to the genre, honoring nature, work, civic engagement, faith and the transformative capacity of music, singing in Ndebele, widely spoken in their country’s south and west. The album’s call-and-response title track is Nobuntu’s story: Insisting that a reluctant DJ play a song by a women’s group (video 1). Asambeni (Let’s Go) celebrates life and culture with the vibrant din of children’s voices and drums flowing into a soothing cadence (video 2). Music’s healing power courses through Cula (Sing), offering a prescription for sadness—or happiness (video 3). Ostensibly a folk tale about a frog, Nobuntu Click Song (video 4) highlights the characteristic sounds that Ndebele shares with sister languages like Zulu (in which Solomon Linda sang) and Xhosa (language of Miriam Makeba’s original Click Song). The women of Nobuntu may not have brought the ocean to their inland country but they are surfing the airwaves and digital channels and taking Zimbabwe’s music to a higher plain. (10thDistrict Music)

Nobuntu
Thandeka Moyo: Soprano/first tenor
Zanele Manhenga, aka Uzah: Soprano/alto
Joyline Sibanda: Alto/tenor
Heather Dube: Alto/tenor/bass, percussion
Duduzile Sibanda: Tenor/baritone/bass
Dumisani Ramadu Moyo: Producer
Mehlulu Dube & Dumisani Ramadu Moyo: Guest musicians (percussion)

Note: Get to know Nobuntu with the Obabes beMbube album trailer (video 5).

 

Obabes beMbube/Women of Mbube
Composed by Dumisani Ramadu Moyo

(from the Ndebele lyrics)
Play it disc jockey, play that song from my home/Play it… Play this song
All because…
/It belongs to the babes of Mbube
All because…
/It belongs to our ancestors
Haw… Play it disc jockey/Play it… Play it with power
Because we are free/All because…
Because we are free/Play it with power
Play it… Play this song/
It belongs to the babes of Mbube
Our ancestors
/It belongs to our ancestors

Haw… Play it disc jockey/Play it… Play it with power
Because we are free/All because…
Because we are free/The babes of iMbube
We are…/The babes of Imbube
We are the babes of ImBube

The babes of ImBube/Play ImBube
The babes of iMbube/
We are the babes of Imbube

 

Asambeni/Let Us Go
Composed by Thandeka Moyo

Let us go/Come along
Let’s rejoice and celebrate/For this life
What about love…/The beauty of our origins
Aho yeya/All you multitudes, praise the Lord

Aho yeya

Let us go/Come along
Let’s rejoice and celebrate

 

Cula/Sing
Composed by Zanele Manhenga

Even if you are sad
/Even if you are sad sing a song
Even if you are happy/
Even if you are happy rejoice in song
Even when dumbfounded/
Even when dumbfounded express it through song
Even if you cry/
Even when you cry, cry through song

Because music soothes the heart/(music soothes the heart)
Music can change your train of thought/(music can change your train of thought)

Because music soothes the heart/(music soothes the heart)
Music can change your train of thought/(Music…)

Sing… Sing a song/(sing oh sing a beautiful song)
Sing… Sing a song/(sing a beautiful song… oh sing)
Sing… Sing a song/(music soothes the heart)
Sing… Sing a song/(music can change your train of thought)
Sing… Sing a song/(sing a beautiful song… oh sing)

 

Nobuntu Click Song
Composed by Zanele Manhenga

Have you heard the tale/
Told by the frogs
As they jump into the pond
?/They tell of an old man
Who slurps a gourd of beer and empties it
with his goatie

Frog, oh Frog/Cut the weeds, trim the weeds
With what courage?
With the courage to walk the hills, heading to other nations

The frog walked up and down the hills
With what courage?
With the courage to walk the hills, heading to other nations

 

Obabes beMbube trailer


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