Since crossover hit ‘Messe messe’ with Dutch house DJ Gregor Salto, Zimbabwean Afro-fusion band Mokoomba has been taking the world by storm. But whenever they play their other hit single, ‘Njoka’, singer Mathias Muzaza relives a very sad story from home.
Mokoomba has been touring all over the world, performing at popular music festivals such as the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). On stage lead singer Mathias Muzaza gives it his all, every chance he gets.
When the band from Victoria Falls performs their track ‘Njoka’, nothing gives away the sadness that inspired the song. In the group’s mother tongue Tonga, the song title translates as ‘snake’.
“‘Njoka’ is a true life story about my best friend Condowe,” says Mathias. It begins when Mathias and his friend were being initiated. Following the traditional customs, the teens were brought to a secluded area far from their hometown. “When we arrived, the big dalla explicitly forbade us to wander off into the bush”. But as boys will always be boys, they defied the traditional elder’s advice and the group of youngsters set out to discover the bush.
“All of a sudden we saw a snake. I told my friends to kill it, otherwise it would kill us. But Condowe said no. So we left it.”
With increased confidence, the boys ventured out the next day for a second time. “And again we saw the snake. But what we didn’t know was that there were two snakes. When Condowe tried to avoid getting bitten by the one snake, another came from behind and struck him.”
Mathias started to cry and scream for help as his best friend was fighting for his life in the middle of the bush. “I didn’t know what to do! Eventually I went to get help, but it was too late.”
The boy who did not want to hurt a snake the day before, had now been bitten by one. The njoka killed Condowe.
Washing with blood
Witnessing the death of his best friend was just the starting point of Mathias’s traumatic ordeal. “The elders were furious! As punishment I had to wash my body with Condowe’s blood.” Next, he was separated from the group who continued on with the initiation rituals. “I was left alone in a hut. I had no idea how long I was there.” It could have been days or weeks.
After he was finally allowed to return home, he continued to be haunted by the image of his best pal. “I even see him in my dreams. For sure, he’s coming in my sleep.”
To deal with the traumatic event, Mathias decided to pour his heart out in a song. In one of the lines, he sings “Nasala negaine mama nasala nega ine” which means “I’m left alone mama, I’m left alone”. Even today, he feels that his friend left a void that no one can fill.
The one thing that seems come close to filling this gap is music. “When I perform ‘Njoka’ on stage I feel my friend’s presence. I feel as if he’s on stage with me and this gives me energy. That’s why ‘Njoka’ as a song is so dear to me; because it’s a true life story.”