With their last two studio albums: 2012’s Rising Tide and last year’s organic follow-up Luyando, Zimbabwean group Mokoomba have simultaneously proven their musical diversity and solidified their place in African music history. Their induction into the Afropop Worldwide Hall of Fame and recognition at such events as the forthcoming Songlines Music Awards, has shown how their afro-fusion sound — drawing from the traditions of the Zambezi valley, heartfelt gospel harmonies and joyous soukous interplay — can encapsulate audiences around the world.
The band make their return to Band on the Wall on Wednesday and while on their travels, took the time to answer our questions ahead of the show. The group discussed the origins of their sound, their musical message and Victoria Falls homeground, as well as their ambitions beyond this month’s shows and award ceremony.
Your music has a natural sound and captivating presence, thanks to your acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies. What inspired you to first sing together and to perfect those harmonies? Does singing as a group provide you with the grounding and energising feeling that many singers speak of, having sung together?
Mokoomba: ‘Our sound is deeply inspired by our traditional music and stories. Singing, drumming and dancing is mostly done in community with everyone participating. The individual does not outshine the group and that does bring us all closer together. While that feeling is not only transformative for us, it also translates to the audiences that come to our live concerts.’
What is the most important message you want to convey through your music?
Mokoomba: ‘Our message is mostly promoting the values of respect, love and harmony, told through our stories, old and new, and rhythms that are familiar but also different. We believe happy, loved people are inspired to be better and can bring positive change in the areas they can affect.’
You are performing at the Songlines music awards later this month, where the band are nominated for Best Group. How does it feel to be recognised internationally as one of the most accomplished young bands touring today?
Mokoomba: ‘We are very excited to have been nominated in the best group category for the Songlines Music Awards. We are humbled and honoured to be recognised amongst many other great bands and this is encouraging us to continue to work harder and to reach more and more people.’
Your song Kumukanda centres around the Tonga tradition in which boys spend time with community elders in the wilderness, to learn and mature. Was this an experience that each of you had and if so, how has it shaped your outlook on life and relationship with those elders?
Mokoomba: ‘Only a few of us have attended the ceremonies and one of the most important benefits to the band is that there is a lot of foundational teaching about music, drumming, vocal training, spirituality and traditional knowledge about who we are as a people and how to be respectful, productive adults.’
Recent news articles suggest that more and more UK residents are visiting Victoria Falls. What do you feel are the most important parts of your home region; the things that bring you joy when you spend time in the Zambezi valley?
Mokoomba: ‘Yes, there has been a marked increase in visitors to the Victoria Falls since last November, when the country’s leadership changed. The Victoria Falls itself is the main attraction but there are plenty of other exciting activities and national parks, like Mana Pools, that are close and are doing great work not only for wildlife tourism but conservation as well.’
You’ve achieved a lot since beginning your journey as a band. What would you like to achieve next? Do you have ideas for projects to begin in the new year?
Mokoomba: ‘We are humbled by the journey that we are taking and our hope is to do a few collaborations with other artists that will challenge is to grow and also introduce us to new audiences. We are working on a new album at present and we hope it will be better than the previous one, maybe win us a Grammy. 😄’