By Alex Gwaze (Researcher)
For as long as I can remember the Djembe Monks have always been “on tour”. Over their 8-year career the band has released 3 albums and travelled across Zimbabwe (and as far afield as Maun, Botswana, for the Okavango Delta Music Festival). Although they are not yet international globe-trotters like their counterparts, Mokoomba, they are part of the travelling trinity of local troubadours known as MAD: an abbreviated reference to Mokoomba, Amy and the Calamities, and Djembe Monks. More and more people are streaming, downloading or sharing music online, so “touring is important for today’s artists because it is the best way to make money and is nearly guaranteed to make you more than streaming or merch sales”. Very few Zimbabwean musicians know the value of being on the road in this digital age; they are more concerned with releasing a track (.mp3) and a music video (on YouTube) to gain likes, views, and plays for those sites – yet their wallets remain regrettably empty. Even the so-called-biggest-band-in-the-world, the Rolling Stones, still tour, despite a combined age of 294 years – and beloved folk-rock genius, Bob Dylan, began his Never-Ending Tour on the 7th of June, 1988. Furthermore, Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “On The Run II” tour grossed over US$250 million worldwide in 6 months. To put this US$250 million figure in perspective, Beyonce would need twenty billion plays on Jay-Z’s own music streaming site Tidal to amass the same earnings. So, these Bulawayo boys are headed down the right path.
In Zimbabwe, the Monks are a local hit and the launch of their own self-titled craft beer with the River Brewing Co in Victoria Falls, is a testament to their hard work, faithful fan base, and local relevance. According to the Monks’ percussionist Emmanuel ‘Rootz’ Nkomo, “Zimbabweans travel far and wide fending for their families in lands miles away from home. So, music travels without passports and we are sharing our experiences on how it is to be Zimbabweans through music”. The Monks music always reflects their constant motion. Some might refer to them as a Tribal house band, but to me they are a band on the move in all the right ways – The Travelling Men. But for those who have never seen them live, you are probably wondering –
AG: Who are the Djembe Monks?
DM: “Djembe Monks are a collective from Bulawayo. We combine African primal sounds with electronics to create house / techno and afro fusion”.
*Established in 2011 the band is made up of Emmanuel ‘Rootz Kolossal’ Nkomo, Ngqabutho ‘Slimzar Wa Africa’ Ncube, and Khotso ‘Torture Drum’ Nare.
AG: What does the name Djembe Monks mean?
DM: “Djembe is an African drum we identify with. It’s the foundation of our initial experimental stages and the first instrument we ever owned and played. We actually developed the name Djembe Monks from there – plus our meditative sound and intense ritualistic drumming. Today the name speaks to our collaborative efforts; Slimzar Wa Afrika in the DJ Section and Khotso Seromola and Emmanuel on the ethnic percussions. Our oneness is informed by our common love for contemporary music, ancient sounds, and folklore passed on from generation to generation”.
AG: So, what do you think is the future of traditional music amidst a contemporary scene populated by Hip-hop, Trap, Afro-pop, and House?
DM: “Hip hop, Trap, Afro-pop, and House are all modern mixes of traditional sounds. Sounds keep evolving all the time – that is the mystery of music. You might think the Monks are all traditional and stuff, but we are already in the future”.
AG: As an instrumental band and frequent collaborators, what skills have you learnt that aid you in translating your ideas and intentions to your collaborators?
DM: “Just listen. Listening is the most important part of collaborating”.
AG: Who are your greatest musical influences?
DM: “Mostly African artists, some international. Specifically, Bundu Boys, Youssou N’dour, Sekouba Bambino, Ray Phiri, Sankomota, Assam Thiam, Afrika Revenge, Black Coffee, Cool Crooners, Mokoomba, Salif Keita, DJ Fresh, Pablo Fierro, Boddhi Satva, Kususa, Mackay Brothers, Enoo, Gregor Salto, Da Capo, Jonathan Kaspar, Mann Friday, Diamond Musica, Revolution. The list could go on”.
AG: Zimbabwean music does not seem to be popular outside of the two Rivers Zambezi and Limpopo. Yet American, Nigerian, and South African music is; what’s the problem?
DM: “A lot of products from Zimbabwe, other than music, are not popular right now. We just have to be as authentic as possible and continue making our music and perfecting our craft. They will come to us on their own. Give it time”.
AG: You guys are “always” on the road performing live, what is your favourite experience so far?
DM: “Performing on the Hidden Rock in Juliasdale, Nyanga with Mokoomba”.
*Along the way, the Monks have also shared the stage with Amy and the Calamities, Fiddlelicious, Gemma Griffiths, and Rob Burre – just to name a few.
AG: Finally, do you guys have any life-altering tips for musicians you would like to share?
DM: “Practice. The more you practice the closer you get to #perfect”.
Editor’s Notes, Further Reading, and References:
There is a growing need for entertaining local artists to take to the stage. This will curb local promoters’ reliance on international and regional performers to draw crowds. But in order for this proposition to flourish, musicians really need to hone their live performance skills. Furthermore, in addition to touring, local venues must offer musicians residency gigs. “Residency at a local venue allows an artist to perform on a regular basis at the same venue. This gives local acts a great way to ‘stretch out’ musically, build a more loyal fan base, and get some weekly or monthly financial relief.
[i] Why Touring Will Be Your Biggest Source of Revenue In: www.medium.com Available at: https://medium.com/bandbasher/why-touring-will-be-your-biggest-source-of-revenue-2464fd47b655 (Accessed on 24 June 2019)
[ii] Bryan Rolli (2018) Beyoncé And Jay-Z’s On The Run II Tour Grossed More Than $250 Million In: www.forbes.com Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrolli/2018/10/24/ beyonce-jay-z-on-the-run-tour-quarter-billion-gross/#16c3c0e9511a (Accessed on June 24, 2019)
[iii] Tidal is rated 2nd as the highest paying site for streaming and pays $0.01250 per stream.
[iv] Jonathan Mbiriyamveka (2018) Djembe Monks to tour Botswana next month In: www.southerntimesafrica.com Available at:https://southerntimesafrica.com/site/news/djembe-monks-to-tour-botswana-next-month (Accessed on June 25, 2019)
[vi] Chris Robley (2016) Turning your residency into a fan ritual! In: www.diymusician. cdbaby.com Avaliable at: https://diymusician.cdbaby.com/musician-tips/6-keys-good-residency-gig-musicians/ (Accessed June 25, 2019)
All images supplied by Djembe Monks