US: Nobuntu performance sheds light on Zimbabwean culture

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UNITED STATES: In vibrant and colourful outfits, five women with anklets enter the Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall stage on Tuesday night. Their performance begins with the thumping beat of a drum.

From Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the performers Zanele Manhenga, Thandeka Moyo, Duduzile Sibanda, Heather Dube and Joyline Sibanda make up the a cappella group Nobuntu.

Following the steady pulse of the drum, the group sang in harmony. As the song continued to build, the rhythm quickened and the women moved their arms up and down to the beat. Then, they began clapping, making for an exciting opening act.

The ensemble performs many Mbube-style songs, which is a South African genre. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” originally written by South African singer Solomon Linda and played in the children’s movie “The Lion King” is a popular Mbube tune.

“Back then, before civilization, people used to gather around the fire after their chores and a long day of working and start singing. We sing a lot in Africa. We use music to express a lot of things. Every situation has a type of music,” Duduzile Sibanda said.

After the second song, Nobuntu introduced themselves to the audience. Manhenga said their opening act was a prayer to ask when wanting a good marriage, embarking on a journey or making a major decision.

Throughout the rest of their performances, Nobuntu explained more about their backgrounds. Whether it was through teaching the audience “The Nobuntu Click Song” or joking about the temperature difference between Zimbabwe and Georgia, the environment provided an educational and meaningful experience for the audience.

“This is the first concert I’ve ever attended in my life. I loved it. My wife grew up in Zimbabwe as well, so that’s why we … [were] brought back [to] a lot of memories and feelings of back home,” 62-year-old University of Georgia student Lee Redd said.

The Mbube genre is dominated by men, making Nobuntu the first all-women Mbube group not only in Zimbabwe but the world. After mentioning this at the concert, the audience erupted into applause.

Several of the songs performed were dedicated to women in some fashion. “The Cry Song” was about stopping abuse and encouraging speaking out.

“Better to be proven wrong than not to say anything. Let us speak out,” Manhenga said.

“Obabes Bembube” which means Babes of Mbube was a tribute to Nobuntu for owning their role as women in the Mbube genre. Another song detailed the pressures women in Zimbabwe feel to get married, get pregnant and have a baby boy. The performance included cries and stomps of pain from the members.

Other themes communicated through their music included freedom and the joy of singing. Nobuntu also performed their own rendition of “Amazing Grace” with different harmonies and the addition of stomps and claps.

The messages Nobuntu communicates complement the meaning of their name.

“In this case ‘no’ means mother. ‘Ubuntu’ is an umbrella term for all good things, for peace, for love, for humanity,” Duduzile Sibanda said.

Not only do these five women educate their audience by immersing them into the performance, but they also generate discussion on topics such as mental health and women’s rights through their music. Nobuntu combined emotion and their rich culture with interesting auditory and visual elements into one show.

“This is our history. We are taking this on. We really want to be cultural ambassadors and really take this further and take it to the world. A lot of people always join Africa with dance, but where would dance come from without the music?” Duduzile Sibanda said.