Pan-African sounds come to Warren

An ensemble called one of the most exciting bands to come out of Africa in the 21st century will play a free concert on Friday in Warren.

Mokoomba is a six-member group from northern Zimbabwe that has performed in more than 40 countries on five continents since winning the Music Crossroads Inter-regional Festival Competition in Malawi in 2008.

The local performance is being presented by the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County with support from Huntington Bank, the Martini Martin Arts Trust, the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra, Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority and Any Given Child.

William Mullane, who is on the board of the Fine Arts Council, said he was talking with Gordon Wean, board chairman of the Raymond John Wean Foundation, who knew someone working for the booking company for Mokoomba that was looking for a venue in northeast Ohio for the group.

“We started talking about it and said, ‘Why don’t we do it?,” Mullane said. “They are such an interesting band, and given their trajectory, I don’t that we’d be able to get them in the future.”

The group has played such prestigious music festivals as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and WOMAD festivals in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

According to its website, the group’s name stems from the deep respect that the Tonga people have for the Zambezi River and for the vibrant life that it brings to their music and culture. The group’s lyrics are written and sung primarily in Tonga but the music is a blend of pan-African cultures and also draws on such diverse influences as rap, ska and Afro-Cuban music.

A New York Times review of the group said, “It’s guitar sounds are a Pan-African blend, drawing on the thumb-pianolike guitar picking of older Zimbabwean pop, on the lilting rumba of Congolese Soukous and hints of rock. It was topped with chameleonic vocals of Mathias Muzaza, who moved from a smooth croon to rasping, riveting incantations.”

“It’s interesting what’s happening in pop music in Africa and, by extension, Europe,” Mullane said. “Because we’re not on either coast, this is the kind of act that normally jumps over us.”

Mokoomba has released three albums — “Kweseka” (2009), “Rising Tide” (2012) and “Luyando” (2017).

“Luyando” is described as a departure from its earlier work with its raw, more acoustic sound that is rooted in the musical traditions they grew up hearing in Victoria Falls.

The group will do a workshop today with students from Inspiring Minds before Friday’s performance at Warren G. Harding High School’s cafetorium.

“We can seat 1,000 at the cafetorium,” Mullane said. “I hope to see at least 600 to 700 people there.”

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