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Nobuntu (Tswarelo Mothobe)

Author: Becca Vaclavik

Meet Zimbabwe’s Mothers of Mbube

Award-winning all-female Zimbabwean a cappella group Nobuntu is set to return to Macky Auditorium on Nov. 2. 

The word “Nobuntu” is a Ndebele language mash-up. In Ndebele, the prefix “no” means mother. It’s paired with “ubuntu,” a common word in many southern African languages. While ubuntu has no direct English translation, it serves as an umbrella term for all the goodness of humanity. Ubuntu encompasses kindness, respect, love, and humility.

Nobuntu, then, means “mothers of ubuntu,” says group member Duduzile Sibanda.

It’s a powerful identity to carry and one the women of Nobuntu take very seriously.

“At first, we didn’t realize how heavy our name is and the weight it carries. When we started traveling, sharing our music, sharing our story, we realized we were carrying it like it was our own. It is our own. A mom births, a mom takes care, and carrying that weight befits us.”

The ensemble has served as an early pioneer for women in its traditional genre of mbube. Mbube is a bass-heavy a cappella genre that is typically dominated by male singers, like the internationally famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo. 

Nobuntu, of course, has added its own style and flare to the genre, and not just through gender. The ensemble’s harmonies and music selections borrow influences from American gospel and jazz, western television, and music from other African regions and cultures. The group has paved the way for other women eager to break into the genre.

But their shared goal to care for their community infuses their work off-stage, too.

The women of Nobuntu have used their platform to support philanthropic initiatives focused on other women and girls. They host “Sisterhood Talks” to mentor up-and-coming female artists, teaching others the lessons they learned the hard way.

“When we started, we had no clue howsoever how to handle ourselves as Nobuntu. We were touring all over the world and doing everything.”

(Their solution? Assigning each member duties based on personal strengths. While Duduzile handles publicity, Thandeka Moyo serves as stylist and costume designer, Zanele Manhenga handles stage production, and Joyline Sibanda takes care of the finances.)

Perhaps more critical, however, is the group’s work to cover basic female needs. In 2018, Nobuntu began to launch pad banks across Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. These banks provide free sanitary wear to women and girls. The earliest banks focused on fellow artists in rehearsals, and now the group plans to expand to schools and underserved communities.

“Working for girls is where our heart is,” says Duduzile.

Kindness, respect, love, and humility. Nurturing ubuntu. 

“Something that I always say to people and preach about where we come from is that we know ourselves. What we are simply doing is taking [our identity] out of Zimbabwe, Africa, to the world.”

Nobuntu performs at Macky Auditorium on the Artist Series on Nov. 2, 2023. 

The performance is proudly sponsored by the Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS), which is partnering with CU Presents to celebrate the richness of African and African American arts and culture.