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African Legends


By Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs
Published November 14, 2006

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, Ghorwane suffered personal setbacks, including deaths within the group. Yet they 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.

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. They pull from music such as marrabenta, an urban genre that developed in Maputo and relies on guitar and percussion, and xigubu, a drum-based chant. They compose music in their native languages.

During the ’80s, Ghorwane was known for their sharp political commentary, and state police regularly attended the band’s concerts to monitor lyrics. In 1985, though, they received the blessing of Samora Machel, who had led the country to freedom in 1975 and ruled Mozambique until his suspicious 1986 death.

After Machel’s death, the group had a harder time, both politically and personally. In 1987, for instance, the government held their visa, making it impossible for them to play at a European music festival. In 1990, though, they were able to participate in the WOMAD music tour. That gig led to a recording contract for 2000’s Majurugenta. Then Ghorwane’s saxophone player, Jose “Zeca” Alage, was killed shortly before their European tour. The group’s leader, Pedro Langa, was murdered in 2001.

The ups and downs took such a toll that some wondered about their survival, but the 2005 release of Vana-Va-Ndota suggests the group may see brighter days. They are truly like their namesake, the lake that never dries.

Recommended Recordings

Majurugenta (Real World)
Kudumba (Piranha)
Vana-Va-Ndota (Milan)