Dance or cry to this beautiful album, Majurugenta reminds us of Mozambique's challenging past and shows off the work of a phenomenal saxophonist
It is fair to say that my music taste has evolved a great deal over the course of the last two years. Yet, like a connoisseur of a fine wine who still has a soft spot for own-brand supermarket grape juice that they loved as a child, my favourite instrument before this wacky ride was and remains the saxophone. No matter how much I sing the praises of a West African kora, an Armenian duduk, or an Indian sitar, nothing will quite make me feel the way a saxophone can. Majurugenta is littered with some an incredible saxophone throughout and yet, though beautiful in sound, each toot contains within it an echo of heartache and pain.
“With a great ear capable of meshing these distinct sounds and styles together, Ghorwane prove themselves to be more than worthy of your time.”
Exacerbated by the politics of the Cold War, over a million people died either fighting or from starvation during the arduous 16-year-long civil war in Mozambique. Rather miraculously, against this backdrop Ghorwane were formed. Why this is surprising is not just that a band of such immense talent was created under such difficult circumstances, but one that put themselves at significant risk through challenging political and social issues of the day through their cutting lyrics. Rehearsing and playing on borrowed equipment, often getting electric shocks from their microphones, the group’s dedication to their craft is evident from their music, not only acting as public servants speaking truth to power, but also demonstrate the value of perseverance of a passion as their talent is abundantly clear to all who listen.
Whilst in the UK at the 1991 WOMAD festival, the band recorded Majurugenta live in the studio as part of that year’s Real World Recording Week. Mozambique's first President, Marxist leader Samora Machel, gave the group his blessing in 1985, enabling Ghorwane to feel more comfortable to release their most cutting work to date, Massotcha, written by vocalist and saxophonist Jose ‘Zeca’ Alage who attacked the military for failing to fulfil their duties within the lyrics. However, this short-lived love affair with the Mozambican authorities that afforded them protection soon ran out after Machel’s untimely passing. Suddenly their opportunity to play freely had been significantly infringed upon.
The complaints the band had about the civil war could still be felt well after it came to a close. Left completely poverty-stricken, the country inevitably saw an increase in crime. Not even a year after foreign influences of the Soviet Union and South Africa withdrew support for each side, the streets of Maputo were not a safe place to be. The aforementioned Alage was beaten to death by someone who wanted to steal his new shoes. Alage’s murder hangs over the legacy of the band, and his influence on the group is impossible to escape when listening to their debut album. The entire record is packed with lush saxophone work but his solo, particularly on the title-track really stands out. Not only was Alage clearly a great lyricist and composer but his ability on the saxophone is truly second to none. My favourite track is the opener Muthimba, and within seconds one can get an idea of Alage’s skills.
The album is a great piece in its entirety but some highlights include Xai-Xai and Sathuma. One aspect of the album which I find particularly admirable, given the post-colonialist context in which the band were formed, is that their music is representative of their political history. Marrabenta music is a reflection of Mozambique’s colonial past as it is laced with the influence of fado, yet its rhythm is unique and distinct enough to separate it from their Portuguese overlords that it still contains a Mozambican twang to it. The album itself, although characterised heavily by the Marrabenta genre also has elements of imported genres from other parts of Africa, most notably Congolese soukous and French Antillean zouk music. The latter is somewhat surprising due to Mozambique’s geography in East Africa, however, it demonstrates a link between the Lusophone countries such as Cape Verde where zouk music travelled to and was popularised. With a great ear capable of meshing these distinct sounds and styles together, Ghorwane prove themselves to be more than worthy of your time.