Mulonga 2019 : A Radio Bridge across the waters and continents

Since 2007 some independent radio initiatives in Austria are supporting the set up and running of Radio ZONGWE FM, the first community radio station at Sinazongwe in the Zambezi Valley on the Northern shore of Lake Kariba. Last year the Sinazongwe community joined efforts with the Sinazongwe District Council to erect a new building for the station on the hilltop overlooking the Lake - still called The Big River or Mulonga in ChiTonga language and tradition. Facilitated by a crowdfunding campaign on the Austrian side the necessary financial resources were made available for the relocation of the radio station from rather cramped conditions at Sinazongwe Basic School in May. This move was organised by the ZONGWE FM team led by the station manager Mr Kennedy Kein Kambole and supported by two radio experts from Austrian Free Radio B138 Kirchdorf - Mr Mike Schedlberger and Mrs Tanja Landerl - and their Zambian counterpart Mr Kayula Faith Mulenga.

The new location of the Community radio station ZONGWE FM is now providing for a far wider outreach throughout Sinazongwe district and other areas along Gwembe Valley and as far as Choma and Monze up on the plateau. Especially important is the wider coverage for the Tonga community who has been divided since the 50ties by the building of Kariba dam. The new Radio connections should enable the community to revive old bonds and forge new linkages across the waters especially with the Tonga people living across the lake in Binga and adjacent districts in Zimbabwe. They are already hailing the new opportunity for better information and communication within the community and with abroad.

When the Acting Chief Mr Thom Chiyumbabeenzu invited a delegation from Austria-Zimbabwe Friendship Association AZFA to attend the memorial service for the late Chief Sinazongwe in July who passed on in December last year we took it up not only to pay respect but also as an opportunity to commemorate his legacy. The late Chief David S. Siantami has always been a strong supporter of ZONGWE FM and was - as a member of Maliko Budima cultural group - actively involved in our cultural exchange programs. For instance he led a strong ensemble of Maliko to celebrate the opening of Tonga.Online computer labs in Siachilaba and Syanzundu on the Zimbabwean shore in 2004 and took part in a joint Simonga-Maliko ensemble at the grand Parade in the context of the European Cultural Capital in Linz 2009. The Austrian delegation to the memorial service in July consisted of the chairperson of AZFA, Mr Peter Kuthan, the radio activist and photographer Mrs Petra Moser and the sound artist and composer Mr Wolfgang Fadi Dorninger who has done some recordings of Simonga-Maliko walking and performing during the Parade at Linz 2009. Fadi has consequently done a number of remixes of this recordings of Tonga music at different occasions and artistic sound installations in Austria since.

To attend the memorial service for the late Chief together with his family, dignitairies and the whole community was a deeply touching experience for us revealing the vibrancy of Tonga music and culture. More than a dozen Budima groups performed in big sound clouds swirling the homestead and village for three days and nights. It was not only an expression of sorrow and sadness but also a cheerful celebration of the late Chiefs legacy. Therefore the decision to link this sombre occasion with a Parade from the Lwiindi grounds to the village centre and further uphill to the new radio station was greeted with enthusiasm. Simonga and Chief Siachilaba were keen to take a leading role seconded by the local group Maliko and performing all the way up. On site at the new studios another artistic bridge across the waters was set up by the exhibition of photographs "Recalling Siachilaba" showing pictures taken by Siachilaba women about their daily life and chores. This exhibition has been shown at the National Gallery in Harare in 2015 and at different places in Austria thereafter but never in the Gwembe Valley yet. There were long queues of visitors and villagers outside the radio station eager to have a look at the exhibition and the studios where five Chiefs from both sides of the river Mulonga have been interviewed by Mr Kennedy Kein Kambole stressing the relevance of this new bridge of communication for the Tonga community on both sides of the lake.

Alongside the memorial service Fadi gave a workshop on sound recordings and sound modulations for eight radio announcers (4 female 4 male) from ZONGWE FM. The workshop has been winding up with a presentation of all participants what they have learned and come up with composing and remixing their own recordings. The set up of this presentation in the evening at the jetty along the shore of the lake was somehow magic especially when the waters of the Big River Mulonga reflected not only the sounds but also the light of the rising full moon. We called it "Mulonga is talking again".

Now, on the 15th October we will set up a similar sound installation along the shores of the big river Danube here in Linz / Austria with Fadi presenting the outcome of the Sinazongwe workshop. This time the PA system and sounds will be floating on board of the vessel "Donaubus" under the big Nibelungen bridge crossing the river Danube in the city center of Linz. We will see if the Danube will "talk" also reflecting the sounds from afar and connect with the Zambezi, at least spiritually. Afterwards we will reflect and review our journey to Sinazongwe further with photos, videos and another sound installation at the Stadtwerkstatt venue nearby, the home base of Radio FRO, the sister radio of ZONGWE FM.

This event is also perceived as a "Tribute to Keith Goddard", our dear friend who passed on ten years ago after his return to Zimbabwe from the Parade in Linz, a project he has conceptualised and organised together with us. Keith has been the key person to introduce us and many more Austrian artists and musicians to Zimbabwe's rich cultural heritage especially Tonga music and culture. To honour his legacy we will conclude the event with "The Monolith", a composition Keith has done with his Austrian counterpart composer Klaus Hollinetz as part of the "Six Reflections" on Tonga music in 1997.

We are very grateful to all the individual donors, partners and sponsors who contributed to this cultural exchange and to the Radio bridge across the waters and continents, THANK YOU - TWALUMBA!

Special thanks go to Acting Chief Mr Thom Chiyumbabeenzu and to the station manager Mr Kennedy Kein Kambole for their leading role and to our partner PANOS in Lusaka for the guidance and support rendered in this endeavour.

A video documentary about the set up of Zongwe FM in 2007:

A video report by Mike and Tanja about the relocation of Zongwe FM in May:

Petra Moser's Photo blog about the Journey in July:

A special feature by Fadi on Radio FRO and DorfTV Fadimat going Mulonga 2019:

Update back in Linz: Floating Sounds between Zambezi and Danube:

Listen to recordings of a live performance by Wolfgang Fadi Dorninger on board of the "Donaubus", a boat usually carrying people (and bicycles) between Linz and neighbouring Ottensheim but for this special occasion floating under the Nibelungen Bridge in Linz on the evening of 15th October.

Fadi presented the outcome of the Review//Mulonga2019//Remix project with details about the participants and their sound compositions interspersed with the heavy noise from above when the tram passed the bridge.