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Rising Tide

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  • Igloo Records, 2012

Mokoomba is quite simply the most impressive band Zimbabwe has produced in recent memory. Surprisingly, its members do not hail from the country’s Shona majority—like iconic bandleader/songwriters Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi—or even the large Ndebele population in the south. Rather, these six musicians come from the tiny Tonga minority. The Tonga lived along the banks of the Zambezi River (bordering Zambia to the north) until most were driven to higher, and dryer, ground by flooding that created Lake Kariba. But Mokoomba, formed in 2001, do not dwell on the Tonga’s tragic past. Instead, they trumpet the energy and dynamism of their region’s best known geographic feature, the august Victoria Falls. That’s the kind of energy and confidence this band wants to project, and on Rising Tide, they succeed mightily.

Lead singer Mathias Muzaza has been all over southern Africa, absorbing music and culture. He speaks 6 languages, and sings with a sharp, clear voice capable of gale force exertions we might expect to hear from a West African griot. Muzaza and guitarist/singer Trustworth Samende wrote most of the 12 songs on the CD, which range from funky rap,  to expert Congolese grooves, including quasi-reggae and even a Latin tune along the way. You won’t hear any of the sounds generally associated with Zimbabwe—no mbiras, marimbas, or Ladysmith-style choral work.  Although Mokoomba exploit Tonga rhythms and melodies, they are out to create a global fusion, a music rooted in their home reality while still  open to the sounds of the world.

After winning awards in Zimbabwe, recording a debut CD and touring Europe in 2009 and ‘10, Mokoomba caught the ear of ace Cote D’Ivoirian bass maestro and producer Manu Gallo. Gallo is a veteran of Kiyi M’Bock, Zap Mama, and has released a number of fantastic solo CDs in her own right. She produced Rising Tide, and her savvy judgment and familiarity with high-end Afropop production help to make every track shimmer.

“Njoka,” the title track, is a brilliant mash-up of beat box vocals, warm guitar riffing, and punchy percussion and brass work, all backing Muzaza’s edgy lead vocal and rich layers of backing vocals from the rest of group. This band can sing, and they prove it on every track. For a taste, check out the video of “Njoka”, which presents an intriguing black-and-white look at downtown Harare after more than a decade of economic decline.  “Mwile” is the Latin track, and Muzaza’s keening vocal works beautifully in this context. “Misozi” explores the Congo connection, beginning with folksy acoustic guitar picking reminiscent of the old copperbelt pickers (from the  Zambia/Congo border). Later, the song revs into full Congo pop mode, with animated stop time riffs, sweetly soaring guitar leads, and great rhythm breakdowns. “Nimukonda” nods to melodious old-school reggae, and then rough-and-ready dancehall.

The sheer density of ideas in this session is impressive, but it never feels like the musicians are merely checking off stylistic boxes. Their commitment and verve enlivens every performance, right up to the clubby crescendo, “Weleye,” where Gallo’s suave production touch is once again a unmistakable and powerful asset.

This is an A+ international debut from a band nobody saw coming. Reports are they are even better onstage.  In all, Mokoomba, riding their own rising tide, are the best news we have heard out of Zimbabwe in years.

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  • lemba lemba

    ‘…..which range from funky rap, to expert Congolese grooves, including quasi-reggae and even a Latin tune along the way. You won’t hear any of the sounds generally associated with Zimbabwe—no mbiras, marimbas, or Ladysmith-style choral work.’

    I don’t really know if there is a genre called afro-funk/afro-fusion. If there is, then a lot of musicians are abusing that genre. I listened to this cd and as a world music lover and after listening to great artists from zimbabwe, this ‘rising tide’ is all over the place, cheesy and overrated. ‘Global fusion’ and ‘sounds of the world’ does not quite work here. I’d prefer more of your roots sound with less so called fusion.

    • yehudit

      @lemba lemba, if you want mono-culture and traditional music that is fine but that is not the world that Mokoomba live in and it is not the world that Mokoomba play to. What is exciting about this band that it they take their traditional identity and say to the entirety of the world music — we are not afraid, we will not lose our identity just because we listen to what is out there. European artists have been incorporating influences from other cultures for centuries without fear of losing their authenticity or identity, Mokoomba are showing that African artists can do all that and come out on top. In my opinion, Rising Tide is a stunner — infectious and electric and if you are ever lucky to see the band perform live, you will also know why their riveting stage set is brings audiences of all ages and cultures from Russia to South Africa, France and the Netherlands to their feet and begging for more.

      • Melinda

        Just heard Mokoomba on the Jules Holland show. Instant hit with me!

      • paidpaipa

        They’ve just been to Oslo and they did bring alot of energy with them. Grweat band with great musicians! What a show 😀

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  • Asekuru

    @google-b41e7a4ec865164af5e4fde896c970cb:disqus – Having read all the last 19 negative comments that you have made on various issues, it is no surprise that you came up with a negative comment on the album “Rising Tide” review. I respect your opinion and I am willing to die defending your right to say it but a little advice says being negative is the only way to earn respect as a music critic. Ini ndiri muZimbabwean living in Zimbabwe and have also listened to the album which has received excellent reviews not only in Afropop Worldwide but also muFingaz Zim, Songlines UK, the Guardian UK and got to number 7 on the World Music Charts Europe for July 2012. I think Mokoomba does great to break the norm of what is expected to come out of Southern Africa coupled with a on-stage performance that reminds me of the Bundu Boys, true potential to be part of the serious world music circuit past the nostalgic “for Zimbabweans by Zimbabweans” circuit that most Zimbabwean musicians are playing to. Not bad by group of 20-25 year old kids from Binga and Victoria Falls, they need all the support they can get!

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  • AZanimal

    I searched the Igloo records site and could not find this band or album. Can anybody tell me where I can buy one? (I live in the US.) This sounds great and I am very eager to hear it!

    • AZanimal

      Never mind, I was able to find it by navigating rather than searching. Looks like MP3 only, no physical release for old-timers like me.