Nobuntu, an a cappella female quintet from southwest Zimbabwe, will perform twice—on Oct. 22 and 23–at Silver Spring’s Cultural Arts Center (CAC) as one of 25 stops on their first North American tour.
The ensemble’s name “is an African concept that values humbleness, love, purpose, unity and family,” said CAC Director Siobhan Quinn. The young women sing a combination of traditional Zimbabwean-rooted music, Afro jazz, gospel and crossover in Shona and Ndebele, the country’s two main languages. Simple percussion on traditional instruments and dance movements accompany the performance.
“I wanted to bring the group here to Montgomery College because so many of our community members are having difficulty with the current political and social atmosphere,” Quinn explained. “The CAC program is designed to spark conversations about our similarities and differences in culture. With 180 countries and countless cultures represented at the college, it’s really important to connect with one another and value each other’s contributions to our cultural tapestry.”
Nobuntu’s performance is part of the CAC’s Main Stage Guest Artist Series, which Quinn said, “brings in cultural groups from around the world” for all ages and “explores world cultures, joins us together. It is intended to give us a respite and sense of unity during a time when our communities might feel disjointed or even fractured.”
Quinn noted that Nobuntu’s second show, on Monday morning, also coincides with the goals of two of the CAC’s three secondary series: Behind the Curtain, which focuses on “performance, participatory and process of artistry,” and Journeys and Voices, which presents “panels and speakers telling the story of who they are and their journey.” Quinn herself is a lifelong performing artist and musician who as CAC director, has been booking these series since 2011.
The five women of Nobuntu, who range in age from 27 to 31, all grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, and connected through 10th District Music, a music production house, record label and recording studio Director Dumisani Ramadu Moyo founded in 2003 to showcase Zimbabwean music.
Now acting as Nobuntu’s artistic director and international tour manager, Moyo’s own background is in Imbube, a form of a cappella sung by men in Southern Africa. He credits the performances by all-female a cappella groups from other countries he saw at festivals and on tour as the source of his “idea of putting together a group of five women from my city (and) country singing a cappella, which is rooted in our traditional folk and gospel music.”
Moyo brought the five women of Nobuntu together in 2011. He knew them from other traditional dance groups and bands or met them as backup vocalists in studio sessions for music he produced. “Most were already kind of established artists in their own right locally,” he said. Once assembled as a group, Movo guided Nobuntu’s members “to create their image,” work together as a team and prepare to ascend to the international stage.
Distinctive about Nobuntu is “what they have achieved so far with the kind of genre of music which is not so popular back home amongst young people,” Moyo said, explaining that the genre’s lack of popularity is because “the music is based on traditional folk music and doesn’t have modern instruments in it.” Despite local radio rarely playing Nobuntu’s music, however, “quite a lot of people appreciate this kind of music and when Nobuntu holds a concert, you see them coming to the gigs in numbers,” he said.
The Nobuntu musicians, said Movo, “enjoy their work and put a lot of energy in what they do. For me, personally, it’s humbling to see something which started as a vision growing to a bigger thing and touching lives through their music. They are good at composing and arranging their music. And, of course, “They are unique in the sense that they are the only female a cappella group from Zimbabwe performing professionally and internationally.”
Nobuntu, which has produced two albums, “Thina” (2013) and “Ekhaya” (2016), was nominated for the Best Musician of the Year at the Zimbabwe International Women Awards in 2015. In addition to shows in their native land, the women have performed in concert halls, theaters and festivals in Europe.
Zanele Manhenga, an alto singer-songwriter-poet-mbira player who has been singing since age 10, comes from a musical family and has a certificate in musicology. “I love music that speaks to my heart and soul,” she said.
Heather Dube—musician, songwriter, dancer and percussionist (drums, shakers, mbira)—also comes from a musical family, but has no professional training. “It’s an inborn thing,” she said. “I love to perform Woza Ngane because it talks about women being abused in marriages and it’s a cry for all mother’s aunts, sisters to take a stand against women abuse.”
Thandeka Moyo, a singer-songwriter and hosho player, said, “I have not studied professionally, yet (have) been driven by passion and nature.” Duduzile Sibanda started dancing and singing at age 12 “Music is my life,” she said.
And Joyline Sibanda, a bass singer-songwriter, session musician and djembe drummer whose musician grandmother taught her a lot about music, began singing early at church and family gatherings as well as her school choir “I enjoy performing Afro ethnic music because it’s the kind of sound I am used to,” she said. “It always fascinates because each time I perform it, I learn something new.”
“We are so excited as this will be our first time to be in New York,” Sibanda said, pointing out that it “is one the places we always see on TV.” They might not have seen Montgomery County on TV, but that audience, too, she said, “should expect a great Southern African experience.”
Nobuntu will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, and 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, 7995 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring. Tickets are $25; $20 for students and seniors, $15 for Montgomery College students, faculty and staff, and $10 for children. Call 240-567-5775 or visit http://mcblogs.montgomerycollege.edu/cac. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.