Just before Ramadan commenced, I spoke with a group of North African women about the effects of substance misuse in the community and the importance of early intervention in mental health prevention for adolescents and adults. These communities are busy organising themselves to improve their health and social outcomes, I absolutely commend them for their robust social cohesion. Below is their warm feedback to my session:
Dear Dorcas Gwata I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your time and experiences to raise the awareness of our community on the prevention of drugs and alcohol abuse on Tuesday evening.
It seems everyone I talk to wants me to express appreciation for your inspiring presentation and information.
Your ability to present the subject in such an interesting way produced one of the most memorable evenings in our group’s history.
I would like to invite you for a second workshop after Ramadan (IN Shaa Allah) to meet more young people.
Thanks again for a truly memorable evening. We hope you can join us again.
Thank you to my colleague Manni Ibrahim, whose grassroots work and commitment to community cohesion is beyond remarkable.
There’s a new band on the London music scene, and it goes by the name CHIMOIO. Infused with the African marimba and sweet nostalgia of a place they call home, CHIMOIO is a southern-African fusion band with cultural roots in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with a Brazilian flavour for added spice. This distinctively multicultural group produces melodic tunes with pulsating rhythms on the marimba. Getting to know the band after their debut show at Hootananny Brixton gave me a sense of how much they want their audience to enjoy their music, but also get meaningful messages across.
In one of their songs “Let Freedom Reign”, they explored topics of freedom, equality and sustainability, exemplifying through the work of Nelson Mandela and Nobel peace prize winning environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai. The particular mention of Zachie Achmat in one of their verses, the Treatment Action Campaign co-founder, struck a chord with themes of HIV/AIDS activism in South Africa. The pandemic has left an indelible mark on southern-Africa and this strongly comes through in this group’s storytelling.
CHIMOIO focuses on telling their stories, what they have seen and what they hope to see in this world, and the heart of the group is the band’s soprano marimba and mbira dzavadzimu player – Otto Gumaelius. He was born and bred in Botswana and started playing the Zimbabwean marimba in 1998 at the age of 11. Oddly enough, it was only when he moved to Sweden in 2003 that Otto got to delve deeper into southern-African ethnomusicology – learning from many wonderful visiting teachers in Sweden, as well as on various study trips to Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.
The idea to start up a band had been on Otto’s mind from the time he first moved to London in 2010. Finding a committed team, however, had proved to be a very difficult task. Fortunately, in the summer of 2015, he met two former marimba players (Nothando and Dalia) and he approached them to ask whether they would be up for starting a band which would have marimba at its core. They started developing songs they had written, adding vocals, mbira, hosho, bass guitar and drums, and soon the team grew into the lovely melting pot of cross-cultural diversity it is now.
‘Ubuntu’ is a song that demonstrates that diversity with verses in Zulu, Shona and Tswana, where the band highlights the southern-African philosophy of Ubuntu. They chant “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which loosely translates to “you are who you are because we all are”, with backing vocalist Heidi Sincuba leading the song. A South African born visual artist and designer, Heidi adds warm vocals to the ensemble and says she benefitted from being raised in a musical family. She spent 5 years in the Netherlands before moving to the UK 4 years ago, and brings that wealth of culture into the band dynamic.
Nothando Ndebele aka NoTTy is Zimbabwean by birth but a Londoner by life. She plays the baritone marimba in the band and remembers her days playing marimbas passionately back in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She had not touched a marimba for nearly 15 years until Otto reined her back into the passion and expressed his desire to start this ‘band-with-a-difference’ now known as CHIMOIO… How could she say no. Earning whilst doing something you enjoy thoroughly is essential, but more importantly is playing songs that are very carefully thought-out and convey messages of struggle, nostalgia, freedom and fun.
CHIMOIO’s song “For a better life” depicts the familiar struggle that most people go through to survive, including victims of war. With the rhetoric of refugees risking their lives to survive, this points out how current and relevant this band is. “Promise” was another politically-motivated song that hailed the power of personal agency to be free from all forms of oppression. Its rousing chant of “hiya-hiya honde” brought to mind the solidarity of harvest time activities in Zimbabwe, as this song was sung in the not-so-distant past among reapers in villages across the country.
Although strong on their symbolism, their repertoire was full of fun songs like one of their Tswana songs “Dineo” which featured a ‘Mbakumba’ dance-off between Otto and Dalia – the mbira nyunga-nyunga player and lead vocalist. Filled with authentic traditional Zimbabwean dance moves and great tongue in cheek humour, it was a great show of technique and showmanship. That was their final number but the crowd wanted an encore from the group. Their high-energy song “Makoti” was played and the crowd was on their feet enjoying he wedding vibes it brought. CHIMOIO is a definite hit for functions such as weddings.
Dalia Majongwe showed us her moves but getting to know more about her backstory allowed me insight into CHIMOIO lead vocalist and nyunga-nyunga mbira player.
“Sharing our culture allows the world to see what life in southern-Africa is like. We warn each other of future calamity in the lines of ‘nhemamusasa’, we sing of not forgetting the orphaned child in ‘Semolebale’ and encourage valuing child education in ‘Dineo’. We sing about real life and hope our songs inspire people.”
Dalia started her musical journey in high school and played in a marimba band throughout. She was born and bred in Zimbabwe and has lived in London for 10 years but is still connected to life back home.
“We’re taking a stance with our music. Like in Madmen, we are against the devastation that war brings to children and innocent civilians in hospitals. We hope our declaration for ‘no more shooting and fighting’ can echo far enough to reach the places where decision-makers are and effect change.”
Gui Carvalho brings the fusion to the band with his Brazilian roots and pulses his rich cultural experiences through his imaginative bass lines. He spent a long time in Mozambique engaging with the culture and enjoying the music the region has to offer. He has been in different bands in Brazil but CHIMOIO is his first London band, which he describes more as family. Chad Pitt-Murphy completes the backline with is his skilful rolls and Chimurenga-style hi-hat pronounced lines. He has been on the London circuit for a good amount of time and he brings the London feel to the band.
“As performers, entertainment is always a high priority, but equally so is educating and enlightening people; sharing our history; giving those going through low moments hope that there will be a better tomorrow; and reminding people that human existence is interconnected, and kindness and compassion must always be at the core of our daily lives.”
I returned home, again. The raw emotions that stir in you when you return to that homeland that we so miss in our everyday diaspora lives. I returned to find the old and familiar, unfamiliar yet somewhat familiar, in a shadowy way; people resembling themselves, graves, old towns, bottle stores, villages and those African smiles. The emotions always complex and intimate.
Dr Kate Adams and I carried out our health training programs in Harare and Bulawayo, and as if the higher powers were watching, we earned ourselves an invite for lunch at the grand British Ambassador’s residence in Harare. Our own British and African time keeping values were in constant collision as we rode public combis from one hospital to the next, an experience worthy of a novel in itself. When I arrived back on the host island, I casually invited Catriona for fundraising drinks at my place in London. I did not expect the Ambassador to say ‘yes’ to my proposal, so when she did, I panicked.
A whole Ambassador, not ‘half Ambassador’ as West Africans would put it, a whole British Ambassador to Zimbabwe was coming over for drinks! What on earth would I serve and how could I possibly match the service that we had been given when we had lunch at her residence in Harare?
I soaked and fussed over my Mopani worms which had been flown in from Bulawayo, so much so that my plan to make peanut butter rice completely flopped. Dalia Majongwe played us soft mbira, Philani A. Nyoni’s books drew many eyes. As fate would have it, it was the 28th of April 2016, 400 years to the date since the passing of William Shakespeare. Back home, in Bulawayo, Philani was launching his third book, Mars His Sword which contains 308 Shakesperean sonnets. My fellow Zimbabweans living here in Brian Chikwava’s Harare North, danced away, Dr Knox Chitiyo jazzed us up with his guitar, whilst Nothando laid out her colourful handmade Southern African jewellery which the Ambassador later indulged in.
Ambassador Catriona Laing is a solid and grounded woman, and it’s wonderful to observe women rising and commanding roles at this level. Hers though can not be an easy role, but if I was to choose the right diplomat to negotiate the Zimbabwe – Britain agenda, it would be Ambassador Laing. That she had taken time to engage with the Zimbabwean Diaspora in the UK speaks to her commitment to the country, its people and development.
We huddled in my North London pad, a group of Zimbabweans and lovers of Zimbabwe in conversation with the Ambassador Laing and each other. Catriona tucked into some food, a glass of wine and listened. She was one of us. I loved that she understood Zimbabwe, its complexities and challenges. Of course she understood Zimbabwe, with previous stations in Afghanistan, Kenya, Sudan, Botswana and Somalia, Catriona Laing understands all too well that any coherent development needs to rise above the rhetoric and focus on the issues that foster development for the country.
I was reminded of a recent moment when President Barak Obama warned the British that if they left the European Union, they will be relegated to the back of the trading queue, a comment the British did not stomach well. This Ambassador understood African’s desire to self sustain, even in the face of its ills and challenges.
Despite my apprehensions, the night went well, we laughed, the drinks were drunk, dirty dishes pilled in the sink. In the hangover of the previous night’s hustle and bustle, too worn out to clean the place I allowed myself to hope, that Zimbabwe still had friends, and most of all children, ever as resilient as the granite walls for which she was named. Maybe there is a design to all this madness, perhaps we left so that we would know what we miss most about our homeland, to know what to want, and what a better Zimbabwe looks and feels like.
Thank you to all those who attended and gave so generously
Money raised from our fundraising event goes a long in developing further health training programs in Zimbabwe.
Director of Tribal Sands
ZHTS Trustee www.zhts.org.uk
After a morning of delivering our mental health training at Ingutsheni, we toured some of the hospital wards. Ingutheni is not largely different from most of the large mental health hospitals that I have seen in Sub-Sahara Africa.
We viewed the male forensic ward, home to about 45 patients. The nurses were incrediably welcoming and willing to share their experiences of working in a forensic unit.
‘The TV is broken, it has been broken for sometime, so the patients now go to bed at about 6pm’ the Ward Sister told us.
‘When the TV was working the patients were more interactive and had a lot more joy in their lives’ she added.
‘When Manchester United was playing Arsenal, you could hear the patients cheering from a far’ now they sit around with not much to do’ the sister told us.
And for this group of patients, the diffrence between therapy and a moment of happiness was defined by a TV.
I looked at my collegue Dr Kate Adams, our eye contact immediately said we had to do all we can to get the patients a TV.
Soon after we met Mr Nyasha Chibvongodze, CEO of the hospital, a warm gentle man who welcomed us to the hospital.
‘Thank you for this great partnership’ he said.
With that sentence he sealed a friendship and partnership that left us wanting to engage more and more in mental health training in Ingutsheni hospital.
After two weeks of deliberations and consultations, we received kind donations from our fellow Trustees at ZHTS. A few days later we recieved pictures of the TV perched in the patients leisure room on the male forensic ward.
When all is said and done, its not the size of the wallet that matters, its the size of the heart. There is a shared sense of joy here, the patients get to watch and debate football scores, I sleep better knowing we are making a diffrence all be a small diffrence in health developments in Zimbabwe.
Thank you kindly to:
Dr Virginia Dube Matron at Ingutsheni
Mr Nyasha Chivibvongodze CEO Ingutsheni Hospital
Dr Brighton Chireka (Trustee ZHTS)
Dr John Cookson (Treasurer ZHTS)
Dr Kate Adams (Chair of ZHTS)
Florence Nightingale Trust
Director of Tribal Sands 2016
Progressive discussion on the role of child labour on Africa’s development on Talking Africa, Resonance Radio 104.4FM, London this week. The broader issues are poverty and child marriages which affect children’s development and education. Not all labour is bad, I argue that resilience observed in Africans today is borne from hardships and positive cultural and social roles instilled from an early age.
On my recent visit to Zimbabwe, I was interviewed on ZiFM Radio Station. I discussed the role of the Diaspora in scaling up health training in Zimbabwe, the ground breaking work of the Friendship Bench Project, our teaching programs in Chitungwiza and Ingutsheni Hospitals, and lessons that the UK can learn from low income countries like Zimbabwe. Here is my discussion with Larry Kwirirayi of ZiFM:
Thank you to ZiFM for providing me with a platform to discuss this important work and for their continued support.
Thank you to Florence Nightingale Foundation Trust.
Thanks to all the amazing and hard working health care professionals
Thank you to our charity Zimbabwe Health Care Training Support for their commitment to health care development in Zimbabwe.
Thanks to Drs Dixon Chibanda and Melanie Abas and the entire Friendship Bench team for years of great partnership, I truly love work with you guys
Thanks to my clinical supervisor, Dr Tami Kramer, CAMHS Consultant Psychiatrist. I learnt from the very best.
‘I have brought your insects’ a ‘murungu’ friend of mine recently told me on his return from Africa. The thrill in my heart, the party in my mouth! Mopani worms are a vegetarian delicacy in Southern Africa, they are known to feed on Mopani treesScientifically known as the Imbrassia Belini is a largecaterpillar of the Gonimbrassia beeline species.
I love serving maponi worms when ever I have a fundraising event. The worms often go well before the beef and the chicken, symbolising how much people miss home. My home sick friends usually throw in long winded stories of how much they disliked these in their childhood, and now they relish in them like long lost Diaspora’s longing for a piece of Africa.
Environmentalist and Bio-Diversity groups argue that this is the way we should be eating, mopani worms are healthy, easy to source and consistent with our cultural norms, a fair enough that might be good antidote to the rising levels of pot-bellies associated with the growing African middle class who seek indulgent meaty eating.
Mouna Karray’s art sits within the intimate space of the Tyburn Gallery in Central London. Her art captures fascinating images of bodies enslaved in white sheets, randomly yet strategically placed in desolate places, embodying a silent resistance and a desire to be heard.
In her collection ‘No body will talk about us‘ Karray takes us on a road trip to her south western roots in Tunisia, travelling on dusty lands that reveal images of a lifeless desert that once was and is now no more. The viewer’s attention is arrested by body movements that occupy enslaved and entangled spaces pushing against confinements that remind me of the history of the African slavery. The strong images are haunting, laborious, and perplexing. Masculine bodies linger in desolate, dusty spaces revealing a people’s resilience that has as much potential as the poverty that surrounds them. I am reminded of my travels in Northern Ethiopia and Egypt. In her first UK solo art show, the artists shares a collection that has long been in the making, with its first residency at the Dream City Biennial of Contemporary At in Public Space in Tunis in 2012.
On the opening night of the collection, the artist’s warm introvert character is observable, Karray is reserved and shy, her conversation is whispery, the depth of her personality played out in the drama that she creates in her art work.
Oh, but the world will talk about Tunisia, a country that gave birth to female artists and allowed them to flourish because that is the right thing to do. A country appraised for its reasonable stability even after Arab Spring waves.
On the opening night, I strike a conversation with a Tunisian woman who sheds light on the country’s history. It is said that the Tunisian first President, Habib Bourguiba, who fought against French colonialism focused on women’s emancipation, health and education and in doing so fostered an educated nation that is today proud of its identity. When Bourguiba died, he did not have a house or a car in his name, which speaks to his dedication to the country and public service, a rarity in our modern days. Tunisians have always had a light take on the role religion in their everyday lives, she adds.
With this historical background of equality, Tunisian women therefore played an equal role in the Tunisian revolution. Women were very much visible in street demonstrations, many occupying high level positions in law and journalism and therefore shaping the Tunisian narrative of freedom and equality. This stability however remains very fragile in the wake of new global threats.
Mouna Karray’s art speaks to the hard issues encompassing our everyday lives and reveals the variances that are possible within a nation. She is busy shaping the Tunisian narrative, whilst shedding light on that, that has been forgotten. This collection is as much about the everyday lives of the people of south west Tunisia, as it is about her journey, and with each image she seeks to remind us again and again of the social and cultural values embedded in her fellow Tunisians.
Through Karray’s art, we learn so much about her country Tunisia, and that a country’s history and progress is best measured by its progress in women’s development and freedom of expression through art.
I am grateful to the Tyburn Gallery and to Ms Ihsen Fekih for her insights onto Tunisian history and to the artist, Mouna Karray for allowing us into her artistic space.
Published with permission from Mouna Karray.
The Tyburn Gallery features work by African artists
The gallery is located in St Christophers Place, London
I viewed Michele Mathison wonderful art this month at the Tyburn Gallery in London. Mathison’s work reflects by his own migratory experience, he was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in South Africa and lived in London for sometime before returning back to South Africa. His art weaves through his own cultural, political and social observations.
Mathison impressively captures the history of the Zimbabwean birds. The solid, erect and imposing birds stand out as one walks in the Tyburn Gallery. The birds were of significant importance to Great Zimbabwe ruins. They were constructed from granite blocks and to this day still stand towering tall over the Great Zimbabwe ruins, capturing the history of the Shona people.
In the ‘Plot’ theme, Mathison draws us into a conversation of art through a marvellous field of maize, the nation’s staple food which are a regular sight across the country. Strategically placed, the metal pieces of individual maize make for an imaginary field. The viewer is drawn into the field which reveals the struggle for life, land and migration in the continent.
In the The ‘Lost Ground’ the artist reflects on labour and resilience evident in laboring communities. The wide cast gypsum reveals markings made the tools such as ‘badza’ hoe and shavels. The red earth strongly reminded me of the red fertile soils I have seen in Uganda and Tanzania. One is mesmerised and at times lost in thoughts in visualizing the labourers who work so many hours often just to get to the next meal.
I was throughly impressed by Michele Mathison’s work, the artists captures the history and the daily challenges of the people well and the issues are as relevant today as they were many years ago.
The Tyburn Gallery features work by African artists and I think I have found a new home.
The gallery is located on
St. Christopher’s Place