New music from acclaimed artist and composer Bob Holroyd on Real World X.
Fri, 23 July 21
Released 04 July 1993
In the hot and dusty Gaza Province of Mozambique there is a small lake called Ghorwane that never runs dry even in the hottest season. In 1983, a group of young musicians, most of whom were born in Gaza, took on the name Ghorwane as they launched their musical career. Today they are one of Mozambique’s most respected bands. Ghorwane deliberately chose to base their music on traditional Mozambican rhythms while avoiding the idea of a folkloric ensemble. At a time when most established groups earned a living by imitating visiting foreign artists, this approach came as a revelation. The injection of life they shot into the stagnant music scene, and their subsequent success, have inspired other bands to take the same route.
During their first interview for Radio Mozambique in 1984, Ghorwane were asked why, as young people, they hadn’t formed a band that played fashionable Western funk? Guitarist Roberto told them that they aimed to be original. Why, the interviewer asked, did the group appear to be so happy when the themes of the songs are so often sad? Roberto’s response was “ If our stomachs were transparent people would be able to see the contents. We transformed our sadness into happiness.” He added, “The reporter was worried about transmitting the interview, but he did.”
The band are noted for the political and social criticism in their songs which has put them, inevitably, at loggerheads with the government from time to time. They have mirrored the frustration of their people at the continuing war, however righteous, that was grinding deeper into despair day after day, year after year. Vocalist David recalls, “The security services, boefs, often attended our shows with instructions to listen closely to our lyrics. What saved us was that, in 1985, Samora Machel (then President of Mozambique) declared that ‘It’s prohibited to lie in the People’s Republic of Mozambique’ and he used us as a positive example of this. He even called us ‘diplomats in Xangana’.”
Mozambique’s eastern coast is fed and watered by the Indian Ocean. Inland it shares its border with Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and, critically, with South Africa. It is one of the poorest countries in the entire world. In 1975 Mozambique became a people’s republic under a Marxist-Leninist government led by Samora Machel’s Frelimo movement. South Africa’s response was to promote guerrilla warfare, directed specifically at the people of Mozambique and carrier out by Renamo (bandidos armadas to the people), in a attempt to destabilise the country.
In October 1992, the Fremilo government and the Renamo guerrillas finally agreed to a piece settlement after two years of negotiations. It is estimated that one million lives were lost as a result of the war and its scars remain throughout the country. This CD, recorded in 1991, reflects the sad reality of this war.
Many people are aware that the country was at war but remain ignorant of the ways in which the Mozambican people suffered. When I visited the country in 1990 and 1991, the effects of the war were everywhere. The shops were largely empty and the streets were full of children.
These were the street kids, Moluences, children who had either lost their families or had been turned out because their families could no longer afford to support them. They survived by begging in the streets. Seriously maimed people were everywhere; the direct cause was the war (landmines were a favourite Renamo weapon), sometimes it was bad or non- existent medical treatment for relatively minor ailments. There were regular shortages of every kind, and people were used to climbing twenty flights of stairs during power cuts and always leaving the bath full to survive the times when the water stopped. More often than not, Renamo sabotage was to blame.
For David it became a choice between the army and Ghorwane. “I was in the army in Nampula Province, and during my leave I went to Maputo. I joined Ghorwane after arriving in Maputo and decided not to go back to the army. Unfortunately our first concert was filmed and a month later the ‘moving camera’ went to Nampula and showed the footage of our gig in Maputo. My army chief ordered that the film projector be paused so he could confirm that it was me, and then he ordered my immediate capture. Happily this didn’t happen.”
Ever since the group got together, Ghorwane has had to battle against the prevailing conditions to make its music, and its message, heard. The musicians’ struggle is seen as an example of dedication in their own country and an example for Western bands who talk of having “had it hard”. This commitment has yielded support in unusual ways.
“During the teachers’ strike the riot police appeared with lots of violence. I was a teacher on strike and I was walking with a guitar on my back. A policeman stopped me, and instead of beating me, he started smiling and said, ‘Pass on, my friend’.”
Ghorwarne rehearse and play on borrowed equipment and hustle free rehearsal time in a Maputo recording studio, which is where I first heard the band perform. I would hang out with them there, waiting for all the band members to show up, often after a hard day’s work. No government enterprise schemes, sponsorship or record company advances here. Rehearsal facilities were far from perfect. Roberto gives an example: “It happened often and still happens that we get electric shocks microphones, so by experience we always maintain a certain distance!. They would work through their set for hours and afterwards we would go for a beer in a local café or meet up with friends in one of the few local clubs, like the Costa do sol on the beach.
Saturday afternoons at the Costa were “The Jazz” sessions, essentially jam sessions where all the local musicians and cooperants, international aid workers, would chill out. Saturday night was Brazilian night, which is not as strange as it may appear as Mozambique, like Brazil, is an ex-Portuguese colony. The club stayed open until everyone was totally danced out, around 4am. You could get a full meal, meet friends and wind your waist all for an entrance fee of about five percent of the average London club night. Ghorwane’s guitarist, Tchika, was a regular at the Costa and seemed to know everyone. They in turn all knew Ghorwane.
There are no pop stars in Mozambique in the Western sense – dripping with jewellery, expensive cars, houses and groupies. Ghorwane commands the respect but nobody has cash in Mozambique. They couldn’t sustain superstar lifestyles of their favourite Western musicians even if they wanted to.
Over the years Ghorwane has built its reputation by playing hundreds of gigs all over the country and has taken part in benefit projects and international festivals. The band has gigged in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Portugal, North Korea and in the UK.
Ghorwane has recorded over thirty songs at Radio Mozambique’s 16-track studio which up until independence in 1975 was known as Radio Portugal, “broadcasting from the province of Mozambique”. The station records local bands, broadcasts the tapes then complies the local “Hits Parade” on the strength of listener response. It’s no place for a band to get rich.
Mozambicans enjoy imported rhythms, especially Zouk and Soukous alongside the home-grown: Xigubo, Mapiko, Muthimba, Tufu, Muganda, Makwayela and, best known internationally, Marrabenta. Those different styles can be recognised in the music of groups like Grupo RM, Orquestra Marrabenta Star, Eyuphuro, Grupo Makwayela dos TPM, Orquestra Duráo and Ghorwane. Ghorwane touch down on all these styles explaining, in part, their national popularity. They deduted in the UK at the 1991 WOMAD festival in Morecambe and recorded this album live in the studio as part of that year’s Real World Recording Week.
In April 1993, Ghorwane acquired a new lease of life and energy when they registered as a co-operative.
Tragically, this was also the month that Ghorwane’s saxophone player and composer, Jose “Zeca” Alage, was beaten to death in a notorious section of Maputo. His murder casts a terribly sad shadow over the otherwise exciting event of the release of this, their first album for Real World.
Zeca saw his music as part of the struggle. He was a fighter for peace who “would like to make music as a weapon against injustice and was without feeling that our continent and our country are victims.”
The new album features four of his tunes, including the title track on this album, Majuragenta.
One of Zeca’s best known tunes was Massotchua in which he leaves the following question hanging in the air: “What a strange war it is that uses weapons more expensive than sacks of rice?” The war is over but the struggle continues, unfortunately without Zeca, one of Mozambique’s finest warriors.
It seems a minor miracle that music this good should be produced in a country battered by civil war The Guardian (UK)
Subdued percussion, mild-mannered guitar, smooth vocals and delightfully floating saxophone. Folk Roots (UK)
The albums title track, which refers to a fashion style, is equipped with the kind of captivating guitar lilt that would put much Western dance music to shame. New Internationalist (UK)
Released 20 May 1990
Released 13 March 1995
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