Tremendous Show from Zimbabwe’s Nobuntu

Inventive performances: from Zimbabwe, Nobuntu’s music ranges from traditional Zimbabwean songs to Afro-Jazz to Gospel (Photograph courtesy The Bermuda Festival).

The opening Act Friday night was the 2019 winner of the Heather Nova Singer/Songwriter competition, Hana Bushara, accompanied by Derek G. Simmons.

With guitars and djembe, the sound was a relaxed cross between Sixties folk narrative songs with hints of Afro-Latin.

Bushara’s voice was bluesy with fine articulation and a well- controlled tremolo at the end of phrases. The set contained three of her original songs including Putting the Paper Down Never Stopped Bad News and Delight, and finished with the Gloria Gaynor number from 1978, I Will Survive.

The stage was discreetly lit, with several Shona sculpture works on display as the Zimbabwean a cappella quintet Nobuntu quietly took their positions.

Their sound was mesmeric. It was a unique, contralto blended unison, its richness the result of years of discipline and training.

The language was Ndebele and together the music and lyrics encompassed the whole gamut of human emotion.

Integral to the performances were dance movements with hands, wrists, arms and subtle footwork with white boots under capes.

Minimalist drumming, tambourine, shaker and hand piano (mbira) work provided the rhythmic framework and other items included fly whisks used to emphasise gestures.

Standout performances were songs celebrating the transformative power of music (such as Cula) punctuated by birdsong, dance and soaring gesture, songs of despair and tragic suffering (Moya Moya) where a woman laments her inability to have children.

There are songs of victory (Impi) and of celebration of their singing style, (Mbube) pioneered by the Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1980s, songs of worship (Uthixo) which included sudden, surprise stretches of absolute silence, and the fascinating Nobuntu click song.

There is also a wholly Africanised, emotionally overwhelming Amazing Grace.

And just as we rose to our feet to applaud farewell to these incredible singers, Nobuntu returned and sang Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, a fitting finale to this unique show.