Via their powerfully original music Monoswezi unite the sounds of their various homelands: they marry Scandinavian minimalism and jazz with the looping riffs of traditional music from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Creatively they carve a musical link that not only sounds entirely new, but crosses the oceans, eschews politics and embraces wholeheartedly the values of crosscultural collaboration.
Hallvard Godal can be heard throughout the album contributing brightly toned saxophone riffs that echo his jazz background and his African inspirations in equal parts. His technique here is almost completely free of vibrato, creating a clean, unadorned sound that locks in perfectly with the struck aesthetic of the mbira – an instrument that produces sound as metal stakes attached to a wood board are hit and released. On other tracks, including ‘Xtimela’ and ‘Kuenda Mbire’, Hallvard picks up his clarinet and induces a chalky sub-tone that balances beautifully with the percussion and melodious vocals. He explains that his use of the alto clarinet on ‘Kalahari’ was intended to sound like a desert flute. On this track, Hope plays her mbira and Calu sings on top in Ronga, his Mozambican mother tongue.
Under sponsorship from the Norwegian government, back in 2008 Hallvard lived and worked for a year as a musician in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique. It was here that he began to jam with local musicians, testing the waters of collaboration. He moved back to Norway, and formed Monoswezi with Putte Johander on bass and Erik Nylander on drums and percussion. The ensemble was later enlarged with the addition of Zimbabwean mbira player Hope Masike and vocalist- percussionist Calu Tsemane.
Now the band are based in Oslo and regularly tour Europe, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Monoswezi’s public presence is increasing all the time, as more and more people catch on to their excellent eclecticism. The band has even been interviewed for a feature on for Zimbabwe Air’s in-flight magazine – that’s Monosweszi at 30,000 feet!
The Village is a collection of rearranged traditional songs, most of which are Zimbabwean in origin. What the band prize about Zimbabwean music is its inherent openness. The music typically features looping cyclical riffs that lock down solid rhythmic patterns. Hallvard speaks of the value of tradition in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, whereby it is not seen as static, but as something to be adopted, adapted and revolutionized. In conversation, he repeatedly described the music as ‘strong’, a term that communicates well the steady, circuitous nature of the music. It is an idea that has been a source of interest for other composers, including minimalist maestros Philip Glass and Steve Reich, whose parallel influence can be heard on works such as the cell-like track ‘Metal Drum’. Here, mbira articulations and steely percussive hits on cardboard and old kitchen pots throb relentlessly under eerie-sounding woodwind and bells. The atmosphere conjures up the same spooky, anticipatory feeling as Glass’s Glassworks or Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood.
Hope Masike, who can be heard playing mbira and singing throughout the album, is a remarkable musician, trained in traditional music, jazz, dance, and more. Not only can she interlock tight rhythms while singing with a smooth unforced voice, but she is one of a relatively small number of females who play the mbira. Following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Stella Chiweshe, Hope plays the instrument – which has historically been male-dominated – with pride. And rightly so, as it is her steady hand that anchors Monoswezi’s signature rippling texture. Hope commonly plays the mbira nyunga nyunga or mbira dzavadzimu.
In live performances, Monoswezi prize the role of improvisation highly. Although the recorded versions of their songs follow an intended structure, you can hear hints of their loose, creative streak via the extracurricular sound effects added into many of the tracks. The opening song, ‘Hondo’, includes high-pitched metallic sounds, a barely heard trembling flute and wandering, distant sax lines. The lurking sounds add to an uneasy atmosphere, perfectly suited for this traditional song, which recounts war. On ‘Nhemamsasa’ you can hear random jangling bells embellishing the loose, flowing texture created by accelerating mbira and a meandering soft sax. The comforting, free-flowing feel created here is again a form of word painting, linking back to the song’s original meaning. The title translates as ‘Temporary Shelter’, and the subject of the song encourages listeners to retain a sense of optimism and dignity despite the hardships of life.
This interactive, playful approach is also directly manifest in some of Monoswezi’s repertoire. The songs ‘Mapfunde’ and ‘Matue Tue’ are both based on play songs – the former is Shona (Zimbabwe) and the latter Ronga (Mozambique). Hope mentions that, in her youth, she didn’t have the chance to play with videogames or watch TV, but instead made fun with songs and dances. Her youthful celebratory approach can be heard in the joyful tone of both songs.
Monoswezi enjoy breaking boundaries, another of which is that of the audience-performer. During live performance they craft an atmosphere where there is little distinction between the two groups, and enthusiastic members of the crowd often join in the music-making – their music is collaborative in every aspect. Listening to the quirky cool sounds on this collection, the Monoswezi brand is set to expand even further afield, and who knows where their next experiment could take this back-bendingly flexible band…
For videos, further information and more
Hope Masike vocals, mbira
Calu Tsemane vocals, percussion
Hallvard Godal saxophone, clarinet
Putte Johander bass
Erik Nylander drums, percussion
Recorded and mixed by Karl Strømme, Dynalyd Studio, Oslo, Norway
Mastered by Sofia von Hage, Stockholm Mastering, Sweden
Monoswezi would like to thank: Brith Løkken and Kulturskolen i Fredrikstad, Xavier Samito Tembe, Nqobile Khoza and Karl Strømme.
Sleeve notes by Rachel Jackson
Coordinated by Brad Haynes
Front cover image licensed from Corbis Images Ltd
Back cover image courtesy of Tatenda Gomo
Photo of Monoswezi courtesy of Lars Halvorsen
Design by Brad Haynes
01 Hondo (music trad, words Hope Masike) /
02 Ndinewe (Hope Masike) /
03 Kuenda Mbire (trad, arr Hope Masike/Monoswezi) /
04 Mapfunde (trad/Hope Masike) /
05 Kalahari (Hallvard Godal) /
06 Heya! (Hope Masike) /
07 Nhemamsasa (trad, arr Hope Masike/Monoswezi) /
08 Xitimela (João Cabaço, arr Monoswezi) /
09 Matue Tue (trad/Calu Tsemane, arr Calu Tsemane) /
10 Metal Drum (Calu Tsemane, arr Monoswezi)
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The album code is : ODI3001943