May 15, 2013
After a much needed 3-month break to regroup, I’m back with a number of posts either completed or in the works. So, stay tuned and keep checking in – the ES Facebook page is also back in action.
Starting off this flurry of activity is an intense, trance-like guitar and vocal piece from what was once Portuguese East Africa, now the present-day Republic of Mozambique. Under Portuguese rule until independence in 1975, Mozambique is known for several singular types of music, among the most well-known being the timbila music of the Chopi people, played with mbila xylophones, and the urban music known as marrabenta.
Like its neighbor South Africa, Mozambique is a large country with many musical styles, cultures, and influences. Very little has been written about traditional Mozambican records made prior to independence and the 45 rpm era – although, one major and unsurprising exception is the writing and recordings made by Hugh Tracey. Tracey’s recordings of Chopi timbila performances, for example, are renowned, and many of them have since been lovingly reissued on Sharp Wood CDs. He wrote a book about the music of the Chopi which sadly remains out of print, as with many of his other publications. Lesser known are the tracks Tracey recorded by the Tswa people, and the amazingly beautiful “sambas” and “rhumbas” by groups of musicians from Manjacaze.
Also lesser known are the host of guitarists and singers who played what was then known as “Portuguese Shangaan guitar” – the hard edged style that would eventually become known as marrabenta, usually played in the southern regions of the country. The Shangaan are a sub-group of the Tsonga people, though “Shangaan” is also considered a variant name for the Tsonga language. And the word “marrabenta” actually derives from the Portuguese word “rebentar,” which means “to break”…as in, these players are playing their guitars so hard and for so long, that they’ll break the strings!
For the Gallotone label, Tracey recorded many excellent guitarists and singers who played this proto-marrabenta music, mainly in the 50s, and some have found their way to CD. But other South African commercial labels also recorded “Shangaan guitar,” and those have been lost to time for the most part. I cannot determine exactly when this style first appeared on disc, but I am guessing by the late 1940s there were several Tsonga/Shangaan guitar discs in circulation.
This obscure track dates from the early 1960s, sung by the “Virgin of Mozambique,” a woman named Rosa D. Mataveia. It was issued on the USA label, which was a South African label in the Gallotone family. I could find nothing on her history or background, but if this is all she left us, then we can still be thankful.
Label: USA (South Africa)
Catalog Number: USA.187
Matrix Number: ABC.19648
For more early Mozambican guitar, definitely check out Forgotten Guitars from Mozambique on Sharp Wood (from original tapes). Opika Pende contains two cuts from 78s (Disc 4, Tracks 4 & 11), and so does The Secret Museum of Mankind (East Africa, Tracks 2 & 18), as well as the Musique Populaire Africaine CD on Buda Musique (Tracks 1-2). And check the Sharp Wood CDs for additional Chopi, Tswa, and other Mozambique field recordings by Tracey.