Photo by Christy Dickinson.
On Friday, October 19, I had the privilege of experiencing the infectious joy of five women from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Duduzile Sibanda, Zanele Manhenga, Heather Dube, Thandeka Moyo, and Joyline Sibanda together are the vocal ensemble, Nobuntu. They are on their second tour across the United States and this time they traveled to the Midwest region. I visited for a day as part of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota engagement of them support by the Arts Midwest Touring Fund. Additional stops of their tour supported by this program included the University of Minnesota in Morris and Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
Mbube music is typically sung by men and many may know it from the well-known ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. These women are the first all-female Mbube group not only in their country but in the world. Their name Nobuntu is from an African concept that values humbleness, love, purpose, unity, and family from a women’s perspective. Their repertoire is a fusion of traditional, Afro Jazz, Gospel, and Crossover with minimalistic percussion and some dance.
I had the opportunity to observe their community activity with members of the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. During this hour-long visit, they spoke about their country, culture, and their music. They sang some recognizable songs that the audience knew including “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that was by The Tokens in the 60s, as well as Mbube version of Amazing Grace. They spoke about the British colonization of their country and how children learn English starting in first grade with 16 official languages spoken throughout their country of over 16 million people. This intimate discussion with these older adults even ventured into marriage and bridesmaids as one of the ensemble members will be marrying soon and they will all be her bridesmaids. Check out this Facebook video posted by Tanya Gertz, Executive Director, Fine Arts Programming.
At the public performance, the ensemble appeared in Ndebele attire and their joy continued to spread across the audience as they shared their beautiful voices. They sang songs that were sacred to their culture and ones that were of encouragement and motivational. Some of the songs featured the Nbebele language which consists of clicking sounds and they got the audience to join in as well.
Their latest album, “Obabes Bembube” translated as Babes of Mbube is a celebration of them as the first female ensemble sharing this music across the world.