1997: Tonga Composition Project

Six Reflections on Valley Tonga Music & surrounding Projekts

To date, Valley Tonga music remains virtually unexplored by researchers and is generally unknown outside the Tonga area. Hugh Tracey, the famed Afroethno-musicologist, was invited to the Gwembe Valley for ten days in 1957 by the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum,"to record some of the music of that section of the Valley Tonga tribe which will be forced to leave their riverside homes when the water of the Kariba Dam begins to rise next year, 1958."


Even Tracey, backed by 30 years of recording and analysing music in sub-Saharan Africa, was puzzled by Tonga nyele. He describes it as "a loud and cheerful noise devoid of any melody with everyone, men and women and children shouting, singing, and whistling as they shuffle to the impulse of the drumming." Elsewhere, he says "the tuning of the horns seems to be entirely haphazard and is controlled by the fortuitous length of the horns employed." Later, as the first tentative steps towards making sense of the music, he recorded both the tuning of the horns, their order of appearance and the rhythms of the drums. But Tracey was in the Valley for ten days only and so the work of bringing understanding of Tonga music to outsiders has been left to others. Tracey left a legacy for the Valley Tonga of 72 fine recordings.

The strangely contemporary sound of this ancient music has now caught the attention of six "progressive" composers from Austria, Zimbabwe and South Africa, each of whom has tried to make sense of the nyele by writing creative responses to its remote sound world.

Peter Androsch: Binga Music, for 2 asynchronous CD-players and 8 speakers.
Keith Goddard/Klaus Hollinetz: Wounded Earth and The Monolith derived from field recordings made in the Binga area combined with the nyele-horn composition, Toende Tukalime, by Tonga composer, Peter Mwemba.
Klaus Hollinetz: Untitled, an electro-acoustic installation for eight speakers. Lukas Ligeti : Stories of the Unknown, an extrapolation for electronic drum kit.
Werner Puntigam: Mo(ve)ments #1, an interactive sound image for 12 trombone voices recorded on 12 tape recorders.
Denzil Weale: Untitled, an Afro-Indian jazz-derived work built out from different simultaneous bpms (beats per minute).

Photographic Installations

Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber, two installation artists from Austria, are to provide a visual commentary to the composition project which will be displayed during performances of the Six Reflections on Tonga Music. Their presentation includes some of the photographic work of Ilo the Pirate who was in the Kariba area shortly before the flooding.


Ilo the Pirate is one of Zimbabwe's most distinguished photographic artists. Few people realise that he spent time in the Zambezi Valley documenting aspects of Tonga cultural life and the building of the dam shortly before the flooding. Ilo's photographs will be on display at Gallery Delta and L'Alliance Francaise during the Nyaminyami celebration. and samples of his work have been included in the Bitter and Weber presentation.

Binga Residency

The six composers involved in the composition project, will come to Zimbabwe in mid-July and spend time with the Valley Tonga in Binga, playing their music and learning about Tonga music in a professional cultural exchange.

Educational Programmes

The composers will spend time in schools and other educational establishments, talking about their music and the technology required to produce it.

Dates for the Composition Project Presentations:
Tuesday 6 May: Premiere at the Offenes Kulturhaus, Linz, Austria.<
Saturday 26 July: Bulawayo Art Gallery, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Thursday 7 to Saturday 9 August: Gallery Delta, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Friday 15 & Saturday 16 August: Johannesburg, South Africa.