If any band is the personification of tenacity, it has to be Ghorwane, the dance band from Mozambique. They were formed in 1983, just eight years after the southeast African nation was liberated from Portugal. By then, though, the country was embroiled in a civil war that lasted until the 1990s.
As the political situation was resolved, the band suffered other, more personal setbacks. One prominent band member was murdered in 1993, and another was killed in 2001. Yet the group carried on. Just like their namesake, a small Mozambican lake that never runs dry, Ghorwane’s creativity has flowed in the best and worst of times.
Now Ghorwane has released Vana va Ndota, (Milan), its title roughly translating to sons of an important person.
The band, which is based in the nation’s capital of Maputo, includes nine members: Roberto Chitsonzo, who sings and plays rhythm guitar; David Macuácua, also on vocals and percussion; João Carlos Schwalbach, on keyboards: Julio Baza and António Baza, both on trumpet, Pedro Rijo, on saxophone; Lote on bass; drummer Paíto Tcheco; and percussionist Enrique.
Their dedication to their art, and their willingness to use it to speak out on the situation in their country, has made Ghorwane one of the most influential bands in their country, and in the region itself.
“Ghorwane is one of the best urban dance bands coming out of traditional roots,” says music producer and writer Evangeline Kim. “They were really well known for their political and social criticism.”
Most of the new album’s 13 songs deal with the rigors of life in Mozambique. In “Vana Va Ndota,” the title cut, Ghorwane sings about the dissolution of a family after a father’s death: “Sons of (an) honored man, will seem like the offspring of a big rat after his death…I saw a lot of people crying at my father’s burial…I heard the sound of the ropes as they lowered my father’s coffin into the ground.”
“Xindzavane” reflects on the past of wars and droughts, while on the softer side “Beijinhos”—kisses in Portuguese—is a musician’s plea to his lover: “What is mine is yours but remember, I am a player. I give you kisses, honey. Who else will if you leave me?”
Schwalbach says the album reflects the “whole lifetime of the band. We did not get together to compose songs for a new album,” he said. "Bear in mind that the band is 22 years old with only two albums internationally available. There is a lot of material the band has already to record new albums.
We wanted to include old songs from our late colleagues Zeca Alage and Pedro Langa, and old and new songs from Roberto Chitsonzo. So, this album is a reflection of all these 22 years of work. And we are composing lots of material, too.”
Even though Ghorwane is an urban band, the group members stay close to their roots, which draw from the rhythms and languages of the ethnicities in Mozambique. Schwalbach said the group pulls from music such as marrabenta, an urban genre that developed in Maputo and relies on guitar and percussion, and xigubu, a drum-based chant. He added that the mix of music they hear in Maputo also inspires the group. Plus, the band members represent the ranges of cultures and languages found in Mozambique, and they compose music in their native languages.
All these things shaped Ghorwane’s music,” Schwalbach says. But none seem to have shaped it as much as politics. In the 1960s, when many other African nations gained their independence, Mozambican guerrillas were fighting their Portuguese colonizer. Freedom finally came in 1975, and with it, the ascendancy of a Marxist government led by Samora Machel and the FRELIMO party (Liberation Front of Mozambique).
Machel’s government supported the African National Congress. It also allowed rebels fighting against white rulers in South African and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to operate training camps in Mozamb