Nobuntu a cappella ensemble sings, dances, serves asambassadors of Zimbabwean, ‘mbube’ musical cultures
If you don’t know much about Zimbabwe, its culture and music, Nobuntu wants to change that. The world’s only female mbube a cappella quintet is on its second American tour, and by December, will have brought its unique sound and universal messages of respect, love, peace, hope and “everything that’s good” to nearly 20 U.S. states.
It’s an educational program but one that is also full of heart and motherly love, says Duduzile Sibanda, who has sung with Nobuntu since its inception in 2011. “I must say we are cultural ambassadors,” she says. “If you come to our shows you will learn a lot about where we come from, our type of music, why we do this music that we do. We spread a lot of messages through our music – messages of love, messages of peace.
“We are advocates of so many things. We stand against abuse – child abuse, especially as mothers and as women, as well. There’s a lot that one will benefit from our music because we are deliberately a cultural and traditional group, too.”
On Nov. 13, Nobuntu will share those messages and their fusion of gospel, Afro-jazz, traditional music from Zimbabwe and their own new mbube music at Central Baptist Church, 300 N. Roan St., Johnson City, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Whether in Europe, America or their homeland of Africa, Nobuntu presents “… a vibrant and stunning performance full of sparkling energy,” says the Sunday Times of Passau, Germany.
In Florida on the group’s first U.S. tour last fall, Nobuntu’s “… rich voices and exhilarating rhythms, both physical and vocal, poured out from the stage to enchant a near-capacity crowd,” says the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune.
Nobuntu also provides a relatively new sound in Zimbabwe, where mbube music was long only sung by men, a tradition that started during colonization when men who were working in the mines, away from their families, Sibanda says, gathered to sing after a long day of toil.
The Chronicle in the vocalists’ hometown of Bulawayo, where mbube is prevalent, said Nobuntu “has managed to defy all musical odds by holding fort in a male-dominated field.”
“People are really interested in seeing a female mbube group, though it was hard for us when we began, because you know how people are when something is new or different,” says Sibanda, a self-taught singer. “They are like, ‘Oh, we’re not sure about this.’ But, it’s been six years and we are doing very well, and we’re very welcomed, as well. So it’s a very great experience – this journey.”
Also on this journey are Joyline Sibanda, Zanele Manhenga, Thandeka Moyo and Heather Dube.
The group lives out its message of love, as its members, although hired through auditions, have grown to love each other over their years together. In September, The Chronicle said Nobuntu has “been more in sync on stage than ever” as this rapport has grown.
“We are not just five people who come together for work,” Duduzile Sibanda told The Chronicle. “We are now more of a family and we know each and everyone’s characteristics, struggles, fears, what they love and the like. I think that is what makes us so in harmony on stage because we’re in harmony off the stage.”
Nobuntu’s singers share not only the common bond of womanhood and musicianship, but also a common vision for the ensemble and faith to see them through these globe-trotting journeys of back-to-back shows, so distant from their homes and families. “We always take our faith wherever we go,” Sibanda says. “That’s who we are. That’s who makes us.”
Additionally, the ensemble’s mission – using music as an important vehicle for change, one that transcends racial, tribal, religious, gender and economic boundaries – propels them onward.
Although much of Nobuntu’s program is in language perhaps foreign to audiences outside of South Central Africa, Sibanda says music transcends all barriers, including language.
“People will get a program that includes what each song we will perform means,” she says. “But I believe that music is a universal language. No matter what language it is, it somehow communicates with you in a certain way. Each person will have a translation of their own, emotionally. Because this is music, it communicates to everyone.”
The Johnson City program will include a mixture of a cappella songs from Nobuntu’s three albums, including the most recent CD, “Obabes BeMbube” (“Babes of Mbube”), of new mbube music they wrote themselves. Traditional instruments and dance, too, are essential to Nobuntu’s performances.
“Dance is very important [to our shows] because in Africa you cannot sing and not dance,” Sibanda says in hushed tones. “It’s taboo … You cannot do that.”
The Nobuntu package is well-rounded – universal and timely messages, cultural immersion, music, dance and emotional connections.
“I think it’s important for us not only to be able to celebrate the culture here in our region, but also to celebrate the culture and arts and music from other parts of the world,” says Anita DeAngelis, director of event-sponsor the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU. “You don’t have to know the language to appreciate this music.”
Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors 60+ and $5 for students of any age with ID.
For more information about Nobuntu, visit https://nobuntu-music.com/.
For information about ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or to purchase tickets, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587). Follow the Martin School of the Arts @artsatetsu and on Facebook.