“Tambo Tambulani Tambo, Tambo Tambulani Tambo, come one, come all to Nanhimbe village, join in with the Tambo Tambulani Tambo festival… celebrating cultural diversity – in Portuguese, in Makua, in Maconde, in Shangana, in Swahili – music, theatre, dance, films, poetry, drama, story telling, rap, rumba, drumming, arts and crafts, comedy, singing – from Mozambique, from South Africa, from Zimbabwe – Tambo Tambulani Tambo, there’s food, there’s beer, come one, come all along, we want to see you there, join in, bring your songs, your drums, your poems,Tambo Tambulani Tambo, Tambo Tambulani Tambo…..”
We are crammed into the back of an open truck, a motley crowd, with a loud hailer being passed from one language speaker to another as we drive along the glittering sea coast at Pemba, with its multitude of massive shining baobab trees.
We are in northern Cabo Delgado province, not far from the Tanzanian border and a regional flight of two hours and twenty minutes away from Maputo. When I think that’s the same as going from Rome to London, I realise how huge this country is!
The village festival has been going on a few days already, and we are on the way to see the islamic Damba song and ‘kneeling’ dance at the ancient Paquitequete mosque.
This was the last big push to get the crowds to the Tambo festival over the last weekend, and they sure flooded into Nanhimbe, hosted by the local Tambo Tambulani Tambo theatre group whose women organised, cooked, acted, sang, danced, fixed tents, removed burrowing bugs from our feet, and did pretty much everything else except the sound and light technicals. We got to know them quite well that week.
Only a 15 minute walk away from Nanhimbe village is the sandy coast road that stretches along the vast but secluded Pemba bay on the otherwise tempestuous Indian Ocean.
Here there is an ever lengthening string of South African owned beach side holiday homes whose inhabitants have never heard of Nanhimbe – a nondescript village, invisible 51 weeks of the year within the shade of its huge leaf- laden mango and cashew trees, where people are dirt poor, but where creative talent and the urge to share it are rich and vibrant.
What a feast of culture it was!
We English ladies were among the small handful of non-Africans staying at the camp.
We could hear drumming until 2 am, and then again from 6 or 7 am onwards. It was even too quiet to sleep after a week of such loud lullabies, especially the rumba, which the men dance in long lines into the early hours, shaking their shoulders in amazing sync… it’s indescribable.
The other traditional dance – most involving impossibly gyrating of hip joints and shaking of the behind – is clearly learned by both boys and girls almost from birth. We witnessed hundreds of 5 to 10 year olds in their raggedy clothes already accomplished in these sexy dance movements.
There were several didactic plays about HIV/AIDS, a terrible scourge in this country, but the humour injected makes the message really memorable, including for the small children, many of whom are being raised by grandparents in common cases where both parents have died of AIDS. [There are currently about 40,000 small children in Moz who have been on retroviral drugs since birth when they caught HIV from their mothers].
The Mapiko dance was performed a few times. It’s a frenzied response by young girls and boys dressed in beads and tassles, to the Portuguese tyrant and spirit who wears a conquistador style mask and costume and whose dance movements are jerky, weirdand scary.
There was a great choral threesome called Noma (mouth) that was playing early one morning loud on CD, an amazing sound that flowed into everything like a huge tide. Mbila, the metallic ‘thumb piano’ was played a lot, at high volume, with other percussion. Constantine, inseparable from his home made banjo, sang scurrilous songs that got everyone in stitches. A group of rehabilitated ex-prisoners, including two disabled men (one from polio, one amputee) made fantastic traditional music and hilarious comedy acts in between songs.
A fire was often built after dark to warm up the skins of the drums (to make them more resonant), and for people to warm themselves during the screening of films about art and disability and agriculture. One night there was a big session round this fire, free space where anyone could get up and do something. Many kids got up and told jokes and stories in their various languages and there was poetry, story telling and songs.
Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the stage and other shows run mostly at night because my camera charger disappeared somehow in Maputo and the spare camera could not take flash/night pix…. I can only try to describe them but the images live on in my head.
I’ll say more about this northern province in a future blog post.