Zimbabwe’s most celebrated young band Mokoomba is back with a new offering: Luyando. ‚Luyando‘ means “mother’s love” in Tonga, a language that is spoken by the original inhabitants of the Zambezi Valley of Southern Africa. But beyond the dictionary definition, Luyando goes to the heart of Mokoomba‘s music. Lyrical and beautifully breezy, Luyando is also a spiritual journey into the heart of Zimbabwean society, culture and tradition. 

On Luyando, Mokoomba modified their rock-band oriented line-up to record a more raw, acoustic album. The songs are rooted in the local traditions and life in their hometown of Victoria Falls, a town on the Zambezi River named after the spectacular waterfall. The Zambesi River touches 5 African countries, and serves as a melting pot for diverse cultures as visitors from all around the world come to see Victoria Falls. The word mokoomba means deep respect for the river; thus the name chosen for this group of energetic young musicians, whose shows reflect that energy in contagiously joyful performances. When they first hit the music scene their blend of traditional rhythms and contemporary Zimrock took the world by storm. Mokoomba brought a unique flavour to a scene that was dominated by sungura, reggae and dancehall, urban and afro jazz bands at that time. 

On Luyando, Mokoomba digs even deeper into their heritage, taking us on a journey into the disappearing world of cultural traditions that used to be at the heart of Tonga and Luvale society. There are the cautionary and instructive tracks like Njawane, which advises young hunters how to act when faced with a dangerous lion. The haunting Kumukanda is inspired by a Tonga initiation ceremony that the band experienced together as teens; and Mabemba speaks about the traditional values of the Tonga people. But the album also offers some lighter, playful songs like Nyaradzo, a song of cheeky courtship. Love of family and country are carried deep in the work of Mokoomba, thus Kulindiswe is a personal lament on the time spent away from family, and Kambowa builds a melody and a structure based on traditional drumming and singing that develops into a powerful articulation of the pain of loss and longing for home. One of the most beautiful songs on the new album is Mokole. Mokole means water in Ndebele, and speaks to not only the beauty of Victoria Falls but also to the importance of the river and its water as a life giving force. 

While Tonga dominates as a language of composition and the native language of most members of the group, the songs are sung in at least three other languages: Shona, Luvale and Ndebele. Most members of the group are ethnically Tonga, one of Zimbabwe‘s (and Zambia’s) smallest ethnic groups. The history of the Tonga is crucial to Luyando and central to this album is their song Kambowa that speaks of a key moment in Tonga history, the traumatic displacement of the Tonga from their ancestral lands to make way for the Kariba Dam. By this act the Tonga were stripped of their homeland and cut off from their ancestors. The state never paid reparations and ironically today most Tonga still live in poor rural areas waiting to be connected to electricity. 

While broadly accessible and engaging, the songs in Luyando are also deeply responsive to today’s Zimbabwe. This album is a quest for the wisdom of tradition and history as well as insight and solace amid contemporary crisis. At present Zimbabwe is polarised in a state of uncertainty and turmoil, with poverty on the rise. Political battles pit long time president Robert Mugabe and his supporters against a growing opposition, in the process wreaking havoc with the lives of the most vulnerable instead of providing much needed solutions. At such a time, Luyando becomes a space for sanity and reflection that Mokoomba as a band and as citizens are creating for themselves, a place that everyone who aspires for a better future is welcome.