Conservation Music Galvanizes Mambanje, Zimbabwe to Support Conservation
In early September, Conservation Music (CM) headed to the Mambanje village of Zimbabwe for the next leg of Expedition #K2K. We were invited by the African Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF) to build awareness and conversation within the community by focusing on deforestation, poaching, and ABCF’s Mobile Cattle Boma Initiative throughout the creation of this month’s eco-educational music production, “Hayilondo Teni Nyika Yedu” meaning “Let’s Conserve Our Nature.” As the project developed, we integrated the musical talent of several local villagers and students from the primary school’s marimba band. Check out more of CM’s stories and videos on National Geographic’s OpenExplorer platform. If you would like to contribute to Expedition #K2K, please visit our Patreon page, where you can schedule monthly donations of any amount.
The immersion into the small, isolated community of Mambanje was a sure change from our previous month spent in Livingstone, Zambia. Our travels in between took us over the iconic Victoria Falls bridge, into forests of Baobabs and through the gateway town of Dete, leading us to Mambanje and the Main Camp of Hwange National Park. Without stores, petrol stations or grocers in sight, we settled into the small community of which we called home for the next month. We were housed in teachers’ cottages at the Mambanje Primary School, allowing the crew to rest off the journey and prepare for the next day’s village council meeting.
The following morning the community welcomed CM as we introduced the movement and detailed our specific plans in the village. Many intrigued musicians connected with us, stimulating the process of finding collaborators for this month’s eco-educational music production. We first linked with a local singer named Tatenda, who also goes by Tormeta. He then introduced us to his grandfather, Machaingwe, who hadn’t picked up a stringed instrument in years, yet was able to surprise the crew with his highly skilled talent once we handed him a guitar. The engagement we were seeing already was extremely positive and free-flowing, all good signs for this month’s production.
That afternoon, the village Lion Guardian Polite showed us the mobile bomas, which are movable shelter systems used to prevent cattle hunting by lions and hinder the ensuing human-wildlife conflict. The mobile bomas hide cattle from being in plain sight of predators, while also reflecting moonlight to discourage the predators’ approach. Since the animals are kept inside the bomas, their concentrated presence benefits the land by breaking up compacted soil and fertilizing it with their urine and feces while restricting grazing to one area at a time. The bomas are systematically relocated throughout the land, leaving behind fertile plots while tending to new ones. After Polite showed us the bomas, he lead us to a nearby kraal, a traditional wooden shelter system. These are unfortunately more transparent and accessible to predators. Without local grocers, the community relies heavily on their livestock and local food sources, making these shelter systems a very important life aspect. Unfortunately, cattle attacks from large predators lead to reactions of poaching, which is an issue that we are trying to highlight and further develop solutions to. Learn more about the importance and effectiveness of ABCF’s Mobile Cattle Boma Initiative.
Connecting with Mambanje’s Primary School
Before heading back to the village to write the song, we headed to Main Camp Primary School in Hwange National Park to visit the student marimba band. To our surprise, the five youths in the band had already started composing a rhythm and melody, which we used to form the skeleton of our eco-song. The Marimba band played their parts individually, allowing us to record pieces to bring back to the village to compose further. Before heading back, we gave a short presentation to explain the CM movement and the power that music has to help change the world.
Developing an Eco-educational Song with Local Musicians
Back in Mambanje, we started piecing together the song’s structure with Machaingwe on guitar and bass, then conducted a series of meetings where we further composed the lyrics with Tormeta. Local teacher Rebecca helped us with lyrical translations so that Tormeta could hit every major theme of the song, allowing him to develop very memorable and relatable lyrics. In no time, we had tracked the rhythm, lead, bass guitars, a Zim dancehall riff, and drums played by Polite’s wife Zanele. The song was naturally developing into a high-energy, locally styled composition.
As we moved into the recording phases of the production, we worked with Machaingwe on both the guitar and bass pieces. Despite his 20-year absence from stringed instruments, writing and recording with him was a breeze. Tormeta joined his efforts as they collaboratively worked out the keyboard recordings for the Zim dancehall bridge. Zim dancehall is a popular local style of music that utilizes upbeat percussive elements and synthesized leads, with heavily auto-tuned vocals. With the music flowing, it was finally time to record Tormeta’s vocals. A local family graciously shared their homestead with us, so that we could record in a quiet setting. The peaceful experience was followed up with sharing some tea and bread.
Over the next few days, we continued to meet with other community members, who contributed backing vocals to the track. A few students added vocals for the chorus and an exciting dance performance, which we filmed for the music video. We prepared for the next coming days, which were set to be full of location video shoots throughout the village and surrounding areas.
Filming Location Shoots to Highlight Local Environmental Issues & Solutions
We kicked off the location shoots with Tormeta by heading to a nearby dried river bed within a heavily deforested area. We continued to film Tormeta’s parts in front of a few riverside gardens, which we included to highlight the illegal practice and how it leads to soil erosion. As we moved along, we captured more shots in the nearby mobile bomas. A few exciting final additions to the video were filmed during our visit to Hwange National Park, where we were able to shoot amazing footage of elephants, giraffes, baboons, kudu, wildebeests, and lions. Our focus for the day was on obtaining footage of lions, which we were graced with towards the end of our time in the park. On the way out we came across a pride of about fourteen lions lounging in the middle of the road. This wildlife footage is an essential aspect to our music video as key points in the lyrics pertain to pressing human-wildlife issues. We ended the location shoots on a high note and headed back to the village to wrap up our project so that we could screen it to the community prior to leaving.
Community Screening & Educational Discussions
With the song and video finalized, we held a community event consisting of several live performances of the song, integrated community discussions on the topics, and a debut screening of the music video. The crowd continued to expand throughout the night, as the music lured in members of the community and created a platform for conversation on conservation, health, and other sustainable development priorities. We were extremely pleased with the turnout and interaction from the villagers as they asked questions, learned, danced, and sang along.
Instead of leaving on the scheduled departure, we surprised the community by staying for an additional day. This impulsive decision led to a few amazing developments, as we recorded several more musical contributions from community drummers and a mbira player. Our additional time in the village also granted incredibly empowering interviews with Polite, Machaingwe, and Tormeta. The month spent in this village, and amongst these beautiful people, was a success as we brought together people from all over the world to learn, discuss, and take action on our shared environmental problems.
After our extended stay, we departed from the village and headed to the city of Maun in Botswana to visit with old friends and take part in the Okavango Delta Music Festival. Our time in Maun is set to be a week long, before heading off to start leg eight of Expedition #K2K in Harare, Zimbabwe with the one and only Oliver Mtukudzi.
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Expedition #K2K is our third iteration of long-term fieldwork, and it is by far the most exciting. To learn more about CM, and to stay connected throughout the mission, please subscribe to our Newsletter below, check out our blog on National Geographic, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. For live updates from the field, be sure to check out our page on National Geographic’s newest digital journalism platform, OpenExplorer. If you would like to contribute to Expedition #K2K, please visit our Patreon page, where you can schedule monthly donations of any amount.
This post was written by Charles Ross for Conservation Music.
About Conservation Music
Our Musical Nonprofit For Conservation
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Conservation Music is on a mission to produce and promote musical media that educates listeners and viewers in conservation and sustainability, with an emphasis on rural developing communities, and to serve as a platform for similar efforts. Currently, the organization primarily collaborates with musicians throughout Southern Africa, catalyzing songs in local genres and local languages regarding local conservation issues in countries like Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, and more.
About the Editor
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After years of soul-searching and months in the African wilderness with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, musician and geographer Alex Paullin combined his foremost passions and founded Conservation Music, a non-profit aiming to foster a global culture of sustainability using music as the messenger. Throughout his life, he aims to expand the Conservation Music movement globally, in hopes that his lifetime will see and hear songs of conservation being sung throughout the world.