In the autumn of 1998, I had the opportunity to visit Africa. Specifically, I participated on a trip arranged by PAND (an artists’ organization for peace) to Mozambique, spending most of the time in the capital, Maputo. Among other things, we saw a local dance group. Eduardo Durão was a musician and composer working with the group.
I knew of Durão, who had worked with jazz musicians, and timbila music was already something I had great interest in. Later, in his home, I had my very first opportunity to hear timbila music live. I was very lucky: old master players from Zavala were in Maputo for a performance, and that evening I heard a fine home concert in Durão’s backyard. We also experimented playing together and greatly enjoyed that. It was the first time my saxophone improvised with a timbila band.
Since Eduardo Durão is also a timbila maker, I asked him to make a sanje (alto) instrument for me. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity to see how a timbila was born. In Eduardo’s yard, there was a huge pile of wood. With those, he started to build an instrument. The timbila was later sent by air to my home — the first of its kind in Finland. From that day on, I have spent many hours on this timbila studying the structure of the instrument in detail. I must, however, admit that I have not actually practiced playing with it — it seems my saxophone is enough for me!
In the spring of the year 2000, the flooding in Mozambique changed many schedules, including ours. I had gone there to record timbila music, but the plans had to be put off. We made the Mozambique Relief benefit CD instead. Last autumn (2000), I went to Mozambique for the third time, and was finally able to produce two CDs of timbila music for the Naxos World label, the first being the Venacio Mbande Orchestra.
Durão lives on the outskirts of Maputo, far away from high blocks of flats. Maputo — formerly called
Lourenço Marques - reminds me of some South American cities. In older buildings you can see styles similar to those in other former Portuguese colonies; one example that comes to mind is Brazil. In the suburb, near Durão’s home, the view becomes more African. Most houses are built of brick or clay, and they are very close to each other, only separated by narrow corridors. Children play among the chickens in many yards. In his backyard, Durão reveals the secrets of timbila music to his young trainees; the walls of the surrounding houses nicely resonate with their music making. It was also in his backyard that we rehearsed the music of this CD.
For rhythm section on some of the pieces, Durão invited electric bassist Filipinho and Celso Paco
with his drum kit to participate. Both of these musicians work in many formats in the Maputo region.
Jowo, Estevao and Wetelene, who are timbila players, had been invited to the occasion from Zavala. I had met Jowo in 1998 when I visited Durão for the first time. For this occasion, Durão had made a few new timbilas, which were tuned up. The tuning itself was performed by cutting some wood away from the slats of the instrument. When the rehearsals started, neighbours peeped out curiously from their doors. They often stayed there to listen to us all through the rehearsal. Our small concert gave them some pleasure from the daily routines.
Recording engineers Eugene Pretorius and Kevin Starbuck first worked with us on the Mozambique
Relief project, and they had come from Johannesburg with the same 24-track digital studio system equipped van. To our luck, we were allowed to use the large stage of Cine-Africa as the place for recording. Cine-Africa is a theatre where they show films, present concerts and other cultural activities. We set up a studio there on three evenings, recording first the orchestral parts, and later the singers. The last evening of the singers’ recording slipped to the small hours of the morning.
Then, we finished the recording in Johannesburg. Together with Peter Pearlson, we mixed the album in Radio Park’s fine M2 studio. Radio Park Studios is owned by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and it is technically state-of-the-art with the ability to handle up to 48 digital tracks.
The Chopi people’s mbila, singular for timbila, is a unique instrument in the music of the Bantus of the Southern Africa continent. The xylophone and marimba are Western variants of this remarkable instrument, born much later than their timbila ancestor. The timbila uses heptatonian tuning, whereas most African xylophones have either hexatonian, pentatonian or even a smaller tuning scale. The timbila was mainly planned to be an orchestral instrument; it may, however, be used to play solos too.
In the beginning there were five different types of instruments: treble (Cilanzane or Malanzane), alto (Sange or Sanje), tenor (Dole or Mbingwe), bass (Debiinda), and contrabass (Gulu or Kulu). Every instrument has its own rôle in the orchestra, but nowadays tenor is no longer used. Treble is also rare. The orchestras I have seen have had alto, bass and contrabass instruments. The alto, Sanje, usually has between fourteen and eighteen notes, the most common being one with sixteen notes. Sanje is the solo instrument of an orchestra. The bass, Debiinda, usually has ten notes, and it is used as accompaniment. The contrabass, Kulu, has either three or four notes, and its rôle is to give a buzzing rhythmic support to the ensemble.
Timbila’s heptatonic scale means that an octave is divided into seven roughly equal intervals. In his studies in the 1940s, musicologist Hugh Tracey noticed that the Chopi tuning is almost identical with that of Njari, the thumb piano, of the Karanga tribe. The Chopis and the Karangas of Zimbabwe were separated by some five hundred years ago, but their heritage is genetically the same.
The most important part of the instrument, the slats that make the sounds, is made of wood from he
Mwenje tree. These trees are becoming scarce because of over use and it is difficult to find them near the coastal region anymore. The wooden slats are later treated with fire to cure them. Another important part of the instrument is Matamba, which is the hollowed hard shell of a certain wild fruit. The resonators that are characteristic of this instrument are made by drilling a hole in the shell. The hole is then covered with a membrane. The resonators are attached to the body of the instrument using beeswax. The resonator is carefully tuned with the slat, and the membrane gives the timbila its typical buzzing sound. Thanks to the resonator, the sound of the instrument is strengthened and lengthened. The parts of the instrument are put together with leather bands and pieces of wood, without any metal parts or glue. It is a real masterpiece of ecological handicraft.
There is a theory supposing that these marimba-type instruments would have found their way to Africa along the trade routes from Indonesia, evolving into the Gamelan. The island of Madagascar off the coast of Mozambique also has its own marimba tradition. Father Andre Fernandes, a Portuguese missionary, wrote the first known historical note about the timbila in Mozambique in 1560. Around 1530, the first of the many slave ships left Africa for South America and this might also explain why the marimba is now so commonly used there.
Eduardo Durão Lamussene main timbila and main vocal (composer)
Rolando Alexandre Lamussene rhythm timbila and backing vocals
Amor Lamussene Mahuaia timbila and backing vocals
António Alexandre Lamussene percussion
Estevão Namburete Nhacudima rhythm timbila
Wetelane Mussungunhe Nhamahango lead timbila
Felisberto Jowo Lichene bass timbila
Bernabé Fundy percussion
Arnaldo Jargue Nhassengo percussion
Celso Paco drums on tracks 2, 5, 8, 9
Filipinho bass guitar on tracks 2, 9
Virginia Munguambi vocal
Carolina Muholovi vocal
Eero Koivistoinen soprano and tenor saxophone tracks on 2, 5, 9
Seppo Kantonen synth on tracks 2, 8, 9
Eduardo Durão Lamussene
When Mozambique became an independent country, Durão was able to concentrate on music, and in 1979 he became a charter member of the National Association for Song and Dance (CNCD). Today he is the Musical Director of the association. In 1990 Durão founded a school for traditional Mozambique music. On the curriculum are lessons for performing as well as instrument-making. In addition, ballet productions at the CNCD have been invited to perform in several African countries, the former Soviet Union, Europe and Brazil. Each time, Durão has led the troupe abroad, and in the last few years Durão has paid three visits to the United States. In addition to Portuguese, Durão speaks three African languages, Changana, Ronga and Bitonga.
So far Eduardo Durão has made only one record under his own name, for the Globestyle label in 1978. In 1992 he played on Peter Giger’s jazz timbila record. In addition to timbila music, Durão is eager to experiment. Timbila tradition meets with modern times on this recording in different combinations. Durão has some jazz experience from his work with Giger — he even played at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Masso a Ticerto and M’Tshitso are instrumental pieces and they represent the traditional style. Sindatana and Tcigogorolo have the largest instrumental combinations on this CD. Besides the timbila group, singers and percussion, there are drums and an electric bass. I play the saxophone and Seppo Kantonen the synthesizers. On this CD, Eduardo Durão can be heard as a composer, timbila player, singer, and occasionally percussionist.
The style represented by Durão can be characterized as city timbila. His compositions often have the form of a song, with the lyrics playing a significant rôle. These songs tell of topics that are important for the community. At the same time, they maintain traditions that are still highly prized.