Dancing with the Diaspora

Marrabenta Festival :


Marrabenta the musical symbol of Maputo is enjoying a new golden age with three generations of musicians supported by a year-long festival initiative.

Rocking the beaches of Maputo 2017

In Marracuene the festival starts with the traditional music and drums. The marrabenta festival combines with local businesses in various areas of Mozambique who provide facilities for the festival as it passes through. These facilities remain for a month after the festival for the local community to use. The festival is also linked into a permanent marrabenta studio in Maputo that puts out several albums a year. The studio has the intention of building audiences for marrabenta music. Even older musicians who didn't have a band, were recorded and produced and then made popular through album launches and features on marrabenta compilations. The live recordings of the festival will be mixed and mastered into a compilation album. And the compilation for the ten years of marrabenta music will be released on the 25 th of June, independence day, with an all-day event in Maputo.

The major attraction is the festival on Costa de Sol beach of Maputo which combines exclusive showcases where audiences enjoy the water, the sun and the music all at the same time, and a massive free concert sponsored by national television, which attracted 35 000 people.

Stewart Sukuma says,

Marrabenta was born in the 50s as a peri-urban dance rhythm. Then it became a music rhythm. Since then a lot of musicians have been marrying with this rhythm. It is a national rhythm born in the Maputo province.

Marrabenta is a symbol. It is one of the facts that unite people and brings people together, musidcians from different generations. Who come to see it and dance. It is a very vibrant kind of music. Colourful and all the stories around the marrabenta is about the daily lives of the people. Problems like domestic fights. You have beautiful stories and also talking about problems, Marrabenat for us is almost everything. All my music there is a little bit of marrabenta in it. The others I do is entirely marrabenta.

The festival is a place once in a year the producers bring all the marrabenta musicians, together, and the other musicians who are influenced by marrabenta. We are all trying very hard to keep it going because we need this festival.

This is the right place, close to the beach. People can enjoy a lot of things at the same time. They can enjoy the festival, the water, the sun and the music. Next year should be the same place Costa de Sol, as long as we have the responsibility to clean everything after the concert. We have to be responsible.

I am in the middle generation. We have the new generation. I am the middle generation and we have the older generation. For 3 days we are going around to Marracuene, Maputo, Gaza sometimes, we have been performing in Beira at the festival. The 3 generations are melting together. A couple of bands have joint ventures. Marrabenta is a unity music that puts the generations together, not only musicians, but dancers and people who do theatre pieces …

Interview Paulo “Litho” Sithoe

There was a gap in Moz in terms of Marrabenta. Marrabenta is one of our symbols. When I finished my studies and trainings I came back to Mozambique and was with a friend of ours and said, what can we do about this? We started very simple in joining a heritage celebration in marrabenta into a music event that upgraded to the marrabenta festival. Now it is a music festival and the main style is marrabenta. We started to preserve the marrabenta music, bring back the musicians; everyone we have grown up listening to and bring them back to the stage. In the beginning we started like that. And then we upgraded the performances doing collaborations mixing ages and styles. When we did 5 years we start bringing an international act to the festival – the most influential musiciansfor the marrabenta in the golden ages 70s, 80s. People who did a lot of collaborations from SA, Angola and Brazil – they came here to recreate what it was.

I have all the possible support from minister of tourism and culture. This is a new challenge, creating an environment like this: first one on the beach and first one of this size. 3 day event with one free event and two paid. We build a relationship. We build a marrabenta studio in Maputo. We build it to crate the audiences to bring the musicians back to the stage with good live performances. Even older musicians who didn't have a band – we put them there. We do album launches, we do marrabenta compilations. The launch of the event is a main event at the beginning of the summer. We launch different albums. The sound engineer Phillip is recording the musicians. We record live and do albums for them. Each of those albums we take one song and do a compilation. The compilation for the 10 years will be released on the 25 th of June, independence day.

Marrabenta? It is confusing people with the new urban music of Moz. The range of marrabenta is so big. There is a lot of influence of other types of Mozambican music. That makes it difficult to define. But it also makes it possible to have a large spectrum of musicians at the festival.

This is our last destination. We start with the free train that goes for one hour from downtown Maputo to Marracuene. It is 1000 seats free train. When we arrive there we have the local business in Marracuene that build their own infrastructures. And we have a stage there and all the facilities and it stay until now. And then we come back here. If we join what is happening there and here it is a lot.

One of the proposals from the municipality is we need to switch how this thing is; join the craft area and the fish market. So we will not need to have a lot of food facilities here. We are going to upgrade what is happening at the fish market and the craft market together. We will see all the public facilities like toilets and tap water installed in this area. This year we are using portable ones. – Next year it won't be. There was no electricity in this area. Because of the festival we brought it across the streets. Now there are lights here.

The vision is to create a prime tourist destination in Moz. So that you can have a live experience of the best of Mozambique: through the train to Marracuene to see something more deep in the soul of Mozambicans. And in Marracuene the festival starts with the traditional music and drums and everything. Until you arrive on the stage: from traditional drummers to marrabenta music. I want to do the best of Mozambique which is beautiful beaches, food and good music that can make you want to come to Moz.

Festival Producer DJ Bob said,

I booked my first live acts in Pretoria in 1989, when i was managing Ed's Easy Diner...In 1991 i moved to yeoville, and did the same there, booking (mostly) Jazz Acts like Johhny Fourie, Zim Ngqawana and Greg Georgiades and hanging out at Rumours a lot! I then opened a venue, "Mojo's" in Orange Grove in 1993 so that my friends and i could "listen to the music we liked". I was 24.

Then in 1995 I opened 206Live, and things really got messy. In 1997 i started working with OppiKoppi and this led to many other things. I started a small booking agency in 2001 and was always doing events and throwing parties. So i guess i never saw it as a career, i was just having a good time, seeing how long my friends and i could "listen to the music we liked". We still do. And i have not had a day job since 1989.

In 2001 we hosted a 206 Party in Maputo with 340ML and a bunch of 206 dj's. We also played Tofo, Inhambane. At the same time i met Litho, who was working as a sound engineer and he was the key to many future events we did in Moz. I then brought him to SA to work at the OppiKoppi festival with us. This festival really gave him the chance to see what is possible, and he then returned to Moz on a mission. He met many people and built up reliable contacts in SA and started buying gear in SA, everything from speakers, turntables and tents were moved across the border by any means possible, often with hilarious results. We were just "winging it" in the early days...But over the years Litho's company has become a reputable force in Sound, lighting, staging and event production in Moz.

Litho builds bridges in the music community and is always pioneering new ways of doing things and new collaborations in music. His company acts with integrity, which is very important, as Mozambican people are righteous like that, and don't stand for no bullshit. Your reputation is everything. The Marrabenta festival revived a dying form of traditional Moz music 10 years ago. Every year, they continue to bring in new and young artists who manage to incorpoarte a Marrabenta sound into their music. At the same time, the festival continues to honour the elders, and every year the lineup changes and different collaborations and ways of presenting the Marrabenta are introduced, keeping the music fresh and alive. The thing with Marrabenta is it is enjoyed by everyone, from kids to grandparents, Jazz lovers, Hip Hop heads and Rockers. It is a happy and vibrant music that speaks to the people and what the festival does is make it accessible to all the people of Moz, not only those who can afford a ticket (every year there are free concerts in addition to ticketed events). There have been years where we have takebn the festival up country and inland, setting up a stage in the middle of the bush and playing to a few hundred people. There have been really special shows.

I helped Litho conceptualize and launch the festival ten years ago, but really it has mostly been his baby. Over the years i have been employed as a consultant and manager, roadie, chef, Sound engineer, driver, and whatever else it takes to keep the Marrabenta train moving.

South Africans should get over themselves and cross the border more regularly. It is cheaper than going to Cape Town, and there is so much to see and hear in Moz. And it is everywhere, the art and music is not hidden in hallowed halls and auditoriums, it is on the street, loud and proud. And the vibe is generally festive and very happy. Bands are always well received in Moz. Contrary to popular belief, there is a thriving Rock, Hip Hop and electronic music scene in Maputo as well. South African promoters should embrace Moz music, there are a lot artists that could do really well here, except SA audiences have never heard their music. Many SA musicians have collaborated successfully with Mozambicans already...Never mind that there are many Mozambicans living in SA that will support such initiatives.

© 2018 African music, writing, philosophy and multi-media creations Struan Douglas
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