Interview: Q&A with Mokoomba – Bathing in the River of Music

Mokoomba are back with their highly anticipated album Tusona: Tracings in the Sand, a captivating blend of Afro-grooves deeply rooted in their Zimbabwean cultural heritage.

The timing couldn’t be more fitting to catch up with Abundance Mutori, the accomplished bassist of the band, for an interview. He shares his insights on their unique sound, the creative process behind the album, and their incredible journey so far.

Abundance reveals how Mokoomba’s music has evolved and matured over time, the profound influence of the Zambezi River on their artistry, the meaning behind the album’s title Tusona, and their mission to inspire and empower their audience.

Get ready to dive into the vibrant world of Mokoomba as we explore the rich tapestry of their music and the cultural identity it represents.

The last time we met was back in April 2017 when you were in London to promote Luyando; and were starting to experience some well-deserved popularity in Europe as well.

How much have Mokoomba and your sound changed, developed, and moved forward since that day?

As a band, we have been performing and touring together for a long time and we keep learning and growing musically.
The roots of our sound have remained intact and through hard work, on and off stage, we have become more tight technically, more mature and more open to experimentation and collaboration.

How do you celebrate your achievements as a band, such as winning awards and nominations? How do they motivate you to keep growing as artists?

We are really grateful that we have been able to receive recognition at home and internationally.

Both the awards and critical acclaim have been a huge boost to us and also validation that we are in the right direction and that a good number of people are paying attention to our music and craft.

Despite your success abroad, you still maintain a deep relationship with your country, region, local area, and even river.

What can you tell us about your connection to the Zambezi River and the life along its banks, and how does your environment shape your music and identity?

We love our country and our home area of Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls) through which the majestic Zambezi river runs through.

The river has always been important to our people as a source of life providing water for drinking, fisheries and irrigation. It also has spiritual significance as well as being a place for traditional ceremonies.

Our music and identity are inspired by our traditional rites, stories and rhythms that have existed on the river banks for many years and this makes the Zambezi river, our creative home.

In July, you will finally be ready to release your new album. What is the significance of Tusona; as its title? How does it relate to your respect for tradition and musical innovation?

Tusona is an ancient form of writing ideograms and symbols on the ground as a way of passing down instruction and conveying messages from generation to generation among the Luvale, Chokwe and Luchazi who are part of the community in Victoria Falls.

Our lead singer Mathias Muzaza and our lead guitarist Trustworth Samende come from this tradition so we picked the title Tusona to reflect our desire to use our music as a medium to preserve and also hand down stories and messages to the next generation.

We also wanted to highlight that as humanity, we all have rich histories and diverse ways of communication therefore we need to continue exploring in order to have a deeper understanding of one another.

What are some of the themes and messages that you want to convey with your new album? How do you hope to inspire and empower your listeners?

This album was developed largely during a period of disruption caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. It was a period of panic and despair characterised by lockdowns, travel restrictions and destruction of lives and livelihoods.

We wanted the songs on the album to inspire hope, to bring some comfort and joy into people’s lives.

As mentioned, your sound has a deep bond with tradition, while also incorporating contemporary elements.
How do you research and select the traditional songs and instruments that you use in your music and how do you adapt them to your contemporary style?

When we are in our home town, we usually attend traditional ceremonies to watch rites and performances.

We are lucky that every Sunday in an old community beerhall, various groups of traditional singers, dancers and drummers, take turns to entertain people and we are allowed to also participate.

With those experiences, it is natural for us to begin our process with traditional elements and then we fuse contemporary sounds to allow our music to open up to a wider audience.

Speaking of traditions, the album also exposes and affirms the importance of the Mukanda initiation ceremony and Makisi masquerade. How do you keep those traditions alive among young people?

The Mukanda is an initiation ritual camp where boys attend to be circumcised and taught productive skills, history and cultural and social values.

Today, the camp is done for a shorter period of time and consideration is taken for school holidays.

The Makishi masquerade, a ceremony held at the end of the camp, is now recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage for humanity.

As well as respecting and holding dear traditional elements and practices, your sound brims with Pan-African influences too, borrowing elements from Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and making use of styles like soukous, Afro-pop, highlife, Zamrock, Chimurenga…

How do you blend those influences in your music and who are the artists who inspire you?

The Victoria Falls area is located at a point where four different countries namely Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia meet.

We grew up with exposure to different kinds of music from Africa and the African diaspora thanks to our parents’ collection as well as radio and television.

We are inspired by artists like Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Kanda Bongo Man, Sam Mangwana, Mulemena Boys and locally we loved music by The Bhundu Boys, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Andy Brown and Chiwoniso Maraire to name a few.

Our playlist is really long and it also involves a lot of contemporary artists as well.

Tusona will feature songs sung in a number of local languages, including English, Luvale, Tonga, Nyanja, and Ndebele.

A characteristic which is quite a constant in your music writing. How do you decide which language to use for each song? Do you write your lyrics in one language or switch between them?

In most cases we use the language as an instrument, looking at which language flows and expresses the message and mood of the song best.

Among the band members, all speak and understand a majority of the languages spoken in Zimbabwe and it is easy for us to switch or translate.

We are also cognisant of the fact that minority languages need to be preserved and we hope we are playing our part however small to help keep our languages alive.

How did you manage to record Tusona in Zimbabwe during the pandemic? What were some of the challenges and opportunities of creating a DIY production?

We had started some work before Covid but when the pandemic came, we had strict lockdowns, travel bans and curfews.
We were fortunate that our lead guitarist Trust Samende had built a recording and rehearsal Studio (Kulcha Houz) at his house so we were able to camp there to record.

With the help of technology we managed to collaborate with other artists on the project like Ulethu and DeSolo B. I feel we enjoyed the experience because production gave us an opportunity to learn another skill and the freedom to shape the project.

Considering the pandemic, how does your song “Manina” reflect your emotions and experiences regarding the loss of a loved one during those challenging and dark months?

The song “Manina” is the first song in which we incorporated English as a tool to communicate.

We felt that the story of the pandemic affected many people around the globe and many can relate to the metaphor of loved ones being washed away and disappearing to a place unknown.

It captures the sadness and grief and also evokes comfort and remembrance.

Tusona is enriched by some amazing collaborations as well. One example is the Ghanaian highlife outfit Santrofi. How did you collaborate with them, and how did their sound complement yours?

We are huge fans of Santrofi and we met some of their band members while we were attending the ACCES Music Conference that was being held in Ghana just before the pandemic.

They have a really powerful brass section and we asked them to collaborate with us and they added a lot of punch to our tracks.

How do you relate to the Harare and Zimbabwean music scene? Is there any up-and- coming musician/band you would like to suggest to us?

Harare has a vibrant music scene and we have a consistent presence and support. We are also starting to get a lot of local airplay and topping some radio charts which is awesome for us.

There are a good number of emerging bands that are creating really good music and are also great performing live.

Examples are acts like Bryan K, Gwevedzi, Mbeu, Mwenje Mathole, Iyana, Djembe Monks, Flying Bantu, Nasibo, Silent Nqo, Mwendamberi and Tamy Moyo to mention a few.

In less than two months’ time, you will be in the UK once again, performing at Womad after 10 years since your last appearance there.

How do you prepare for such a big festival? What are you looking forward to, and what do you hope to share with the audience?

We are happy and excited to be coming back to the UK and to Womad, we had such a wonderful time and reception, the last time we performed there.

We are looking forward to presenting our new tour repertoire that we have been working on for the past few months and it will incorporate tracks from our new album Tusona (Tracings in the Sand) that will be out on all platforms on the 7th of July, 2023.


Mokoomba's brand-new album, Tusona: Tracings in the Sand, is out now via Outhere Records. 
You can listen to it and get your copy HERE

To launch the new release, the band has also embarked on an Euro tour with five UK stopovers scheduled for the end of July. 

Here are the dates and venues:...
• Tue 25 July - The Jazz Cafe, London 
• Weds 26 July - Opera North, Leeds
• Thur 27 July - The Apex, Bury Saint Edmunds • Fri 28 July - WOMAD Festival, Charlton Park • Sat 29 July - The Cornish Bank, Falmouth


Photo ©: Kundai Taz