Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro-Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse.

Label: Lion Songs.

Nowadays, not many bands stay together for twenty years. Even some of the biggest bands only stay together long enough to releases four or five albums at most. They’re the lucky ones, as many bands only release one or two albums before calling time on their career. By then, they’ve realised just how difficult it is to make a living out of music nowadays. 

Especially, through album sales, which once proved one of the most lucrative sources of income for bands. Not any more, as an album is no longer the cash cow that it once was during the late-sixties and seventies, which was a golden age for music. Sadly, these days are gone for good and bands are having to readapt. Those bands that readapt, stand a good chance of enjoying a degree of longevity in the modern music industry.

New York based Afrodelic band Timbila must be doing something right, as 2017, marks their twentieth anniversary. Timbila were formed in Zimbabwe in 1997, when expat Americans met and started to fuse Zimbabwean and Mozambican music with East Village rock. They’ve continued to create this captivating combination of disparate musical genres ever since. It’s allowed Timbila to carve out their own niche in New York vibrant music scene. 

Still Timbila found time to collaborate on an album with one of the leading lights of the Zimbabwean music scene, Chartwell Dutiro. The maverick mbira player has been a star of the world music scene for many a year. He too, found time in his busy schedule to collaborate on an album with Timbila. The collaboration between Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro began in 2013, and four years later, Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse was recently released. This long-awaited and much-anticipated album showcases the combined talents of Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro.

The Timbila story began in 1997, when vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nora Balaban met guitarist Banning Eyre and bassist Dirck Westervelt in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1997. They were all from different backgrounds, but shared a love of African music.

Nora Balaban explained that he was a veteran of CBGB’s punk and San Francisco’s worldbeat scene in the eighties. He had travelled to Zimbabwe to study two indigenous instruments under master teachers the Harare. Gradually, Nora Balaban was mastering the  mbira and timbila, which was a Chopi xylophone. However, Nora Balaban wasn’t the only one with a passion for African music.

So was Banning Eyre, who was a writer and producer for public radio’s Peabody Award-winning program Afropop Worldwide. He hd travelled to Zimbabwe in 1988, to undertake some research for the Afropop Worldwide program. One of the musicians Banning Eyre interviewed was Chartwell Dutiro. The two men got on so well, that they spoke about collaborating in the future. 

By then, Banning Eyre was playing guitar, bass and Westervelt banjo with Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited, who were Zimbabwe’s top traditional pop band. His trip to Zimbabwe was a fruitful one. Not only had it furthered his musical career, but introduced Banning Eyre to Chartwell Dutiro and Nora Balaban

It turned out that Banning Eyre and Nora Balaban had much in common, and soon became friends. The two American expat musicians also decided to make music when they returned home.

That was where Banning Eyre and Nora Balaban met the other future members of Timbila, including percussionist Bill Ruyle, who had been seduced by Zimbabwean music. When Bill Ruyle met Banning Eyre and Nora Balaban, he played a drums, a myriad of percussion and tabla. Another addition to Timbila’s ranks was Louisa Bradshaw, a vocalist and actress. She was joined by Rima Fand violinist and vocalist, who can play a variety of different music, ranging from Balkan music to the old-time music of yesteryear. Rima Fand completed Timbila’s lineup, and a musical adventure that has already lasted twenty years, began.

Soon, it became apparent that the members of Timbila were perfectly suited musically as they seamlessly combined Western and African instruments and music when they play live. Audiences watched on as blistering guitars join the buzzing beauty of the timbila and hypnotic dreamy melodies of mbira. They soar above the arrangement, where they’re joined by ethereal, celestial vocals, that fuse ancient Shona and Chopi melodies with contemporary harmonies. Often the vocals are layered as Timbila combine southern African spirituality with expressive and emotive pop. Meanwhile, Timbila have locked down a groove that ranges from fierce and funky to dance-floor friendly. By the end of a gig, every member of Timbila have played their part the band’s sound and success.

Especially guitarist Banning Eyre and Rima Fand who came alive when they improvise. Rima Fand responds to the melodies that emanate from the mbira and timbila, and embarks on yet another musical adventure. So does Banning Eyre, as his fingers fly up and down the fretboard, as he unleashes searing, scorching guitar licks. They’ve been part of Timbila’s potent and heady musical brew for twenty years. This has won them friends at home and abroad.

Someone who had heard about Timbila was Zimbabwean mbira player Chartwell Dutiro. In 2012, it was announced that Timbila were about to collaborate on an album with Chartwell Dutiro, who was one of the leading lights of the Zimbabwean music scene. 

Chartwell Dutiro grew up in rural Rhodesia, which in 1980, became known as Zimbabwe. By the age of four, Chartwell Dutiro started playing the mbira. From playing in his village in Southern Rhodesia Chartwell Dutiro began playing at ceremonies conducted by a local. However, this was just the start of a long and distinguished career.

Later, Chartwell Dutiro graduated to performing and recording with one of the biggest names in Zimbabwean music, Thomas Mapfumo The Lion of Zimbabwe. Chartwell Dutiro also played alongside Blacks Unlimited. However, recently, Chartwell Dutiro has divided his time between his solo career, teacher and as a bandleader in his adopted home, Britain. 

By then, Chartwell Dutiro was one of the leading lights of Zimbabwean music, and a star of world music. He’s a talented instrumentalist who is blessed with a deeply soulful voice. Chartwell Dutiro puts them to good use when he delivers traditional Shona songs which feature distinctive arrangements. The songs range from innovative to inspirational and allow this gifted storyteller, who also happens to have a wry sense of humour, to take listeners on what many critics describe as an  unforgettable musical journey. However, this is only part of the Chartwell Dutiro story.

Chartwell Dutiro has also spent much of his career collaborating with other artists. He’s crisscrossed the world collaborating with many different artists on a variety of projects. Each and every one of these projects are different, with Chartwell Dutiro flitting seamlessly between musical genres since he met Banning Eyre in 1988. 

Twenty-four years later, in 2012, came the announcement that Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro were to collaborate together on an album. A year later, and the project that lead to the album Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse began in 2013. At long last, Banning Eyre and Chartwell Dutiro were collaborating together, twenty-five years after they first discussed the possibility.

It took four years before Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro had completed and released the album. However, when Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro were looking for a title to their first collaboration, the paid homage to one of the staple foods of Zimbabwe, the sadza. This lead to Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro naming the album Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse. 

This collaboration between Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro is no ordinary album. Instead, Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse is an ambitious double album, which provides a showcase for both sides Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro. On the first disc Sadza, Timbila back Chartwell Dutiro as he delivers new interpretations of seven ancient Zimbabwean songs. Then on the second disc, Chartwell Dutiro takes charge of production as Timbila work their way through eight of their own productions. These two tracks allow Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro to showcase their considerable skills.

Disc One-Sadza.

Chakwi opens Sadza, and finds Chartwell Dutiro delivering an impassioned vocal as he deals remembers the hardships brought about colonialism. This gives way to Bukatiende, a poignant song, that deals with the hardships of life in Zimbabwe during Zimbabwean liberation struggle. Sadness fills Chartwell Dutiro’s voice as he remembers those who were lost during this struggle. Then on Taireva, it’s a case of I told you so, as Chartwell Dutiro recounts how he told the subject of the song that if he didn’t mend his way he would end up in trouble. This Chartwell Dutiro recounts has sadly, come true. Soon, it’s all change.

The tempo rises on Chikende, which is an energetic dance. Before this dance participants apparently eat Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse, which is supposed to be a Shona speciality. However, on the album, Chikende is a joyous call to dance, with Timbila providing the backdrop for Chartwell Dutiro’s scatted vocal. After that, Chartwell Dutiro rings the changes again.

The mbira, timbila and harmonies accompany Chartwell Dutiro’s heartfelt vocal on Chinyan’anya which describes a ritual ceremony, where the participant calls out to their ancestors. Baya Wa Baya is ancient war song, where members of Timbila accompany and augment Chartwell Dutiro on the most soulful song Sadza. Nyuchi closes the Sadza and its mesmeric and understated backdrop provides the perfect accompaniment as Chartwell Dutiro accompanied by Timbila’s vocalists sing of the paradox that is life. Chartwell Dutiro tries to reconcile why life is  a mixture of joy and sadness, and hurt and happiness. As he does, he calls out to the ‘protectors’. It’s thoughtful way to end Sadza, which features one of the leading lights of Zimbabwean music as he showcases his soulfulness and his talents as singer, songwriter and musician.

Disc Two-Mouse.

Walking The Pink Fire opens disc two, Mouse and straight away, Timbila are showcasing their inimitable genre-melting sound. They fuse Zimbabwean and Mozambican music with East Village rock and Eastern sounds to create a rocky, soulful, mesmeric and otherworldly track. It sets the bar high for the rest of Mouse. 

This includes My Heart Is A Real Thing which is based on  Shanje, which is a traditional mbira song. Against the understated arrangement, Nora Balaban’s beautiful heartfelt, vocal takes centre-stage and features Timbila at their most soulful. Bones is also based on another mbira song. Nora Balaban delivers another deeply soulful vocal, while the rest of Timbila create a six-minute, genre-melting epic where the music of two continents combines seamlessly. Just like the two previous songs, Toita Seiko is based on a mbira song. However, this time, the arrangement is much more subtle, and featured traditional instruments, percussion  and an acoustic guitar. They provide the backdrop for the vocals that soar above the arrangement becoming part of this beautiful ballad. Soon, it’s all change.

Kachoo was based upon a Chopi timpila piece, and straight away, sounds quite different to the previous songs. As the arrangement  meanders along, a myriad of traditional and modern instruments provide the backdrop for Nora Balaban’s vocal. It’s soulful, impassioned and full of emotion as this genre-melting track reveals its secrets. So does Kiss Kiss Abyss, which is based on a mbira song. It features a soul-baring vocal from Nora Balaban, while the rest of Timbila showcase their versatility and considerable talent during this enchanting song. This continues on I’m Gone, which is also based upon a Chopi timpila piece. Later, Nora Balaban’s tender, emotive vocal enters, adding the finishing touch to the song. Closing disc two, Mouse, is Winter To Spring which is based on a mbira song. Nora Balaban’s ethereal vocal plays a starring role, and is one of the best on the album. The rest of Timbila a mesmeric backdrop to her vocal, and later, add harmonies on what’s one of the highlights of the album.

Timbila have saved one of the best until last on Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse, which is the perfect introduction to one of top American Afrodelic bands. They’ve been together since 1997, and the release of their long-awaited and much-anticipated collaboration with Chartwell Dutiro is the perfect way to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro seem to bring out the best in each other on Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse, which was recently released by Lion Songs.

Disc one finds Timbila accompanying Chartwell Dutiro as revisits  seven songs from Zimbabwe’s musical past. His interpretations veer between joyous to heartfelt and impassioned to poignant and tinged with sadness and regret. Some of the songs look back at Zimbabwe’s history, while others revisit the country’s traditions. The result is a captivating collection of songs, that are the perfect introduction to one of the leading lights of Zimbabwean music, the maverick mbira player Chartwell Dutiro. However, this was only part of the story of Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse.

The second disc introduces the listener to the inimitable sound of Timbila as the New York based Afrodelic band Timbila fuse Zimbabwean and Mozambican music with East Village rock. Timbila showcase their unique genre-melting sound on disc two.  Straight away, it becomes apparent that Timbila is a hugely talented band, with musicians who are able to switch between and seamlessly combine disparate musical genres.

While all the members of Timbila are talented musicians, the band has their very own secret weapon, vocalist Nora Balaban. Her vocals play a big part in the sound and success of Timbila, as she breathes meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Timbila has been fortunate to keep hold of Nora Balaban, who wouldn’t be out-of-place fronting a much bigger band. However, having spent twenty years with Timbila, Nora Balaban must enjoy fronting one of America’s leading Afrodelic bands who showcase their considerable talents on their new album Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse.

For Banning Eyre, the release of Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse is a dream come true. He first met Chartwell Dutiro in 1988, which was when they first discussed working together. Little did they realise it that it would be twenty-nine years before their collaboration would be released. 

By then, Banning Eyre had been a member of Timbila for twenty years, while Chartwell Dutiro was one of the leading lights of the Zimbabwean music scene, and divided his time between his solo career and working as a bandleader and teacher. During those twenty-nine years, neither Banning Eyre nor Chartwell Dutiro gave up on their dream of collaborating on an album. That dream came true recently, when Timbila, and Chartwell Dutiro released their ambitious, genre-melting double album Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse which is beautiful, captivating and thought-provoking.

Timbila and Chartwell Dutiro-Sadza With The Head Of A Mouse.

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