NDILIMANI’S INDEPENDENCE FLAME STILL FLICKERS
WHILE many liberation movements’ cultural troupes have died natural deaths with the arrival of independence, the Ndilimani Cultural Troupe still remains a force to reckon with and has gone semi-commercial in order to remain top of the game.
The band’s manager, Jessy Nombanza says that throughout the band’s three decades of existence it has played an important role in the promotion of the ruling Swapo Party values and ideals to the masses through drama, cultural plays and music.
“We are not shy to be associated with the mighty Swapo Party and our relationship with the mother body will continue to improve and be maintained forever.”
On the first of October this year, Ndilimani celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“If you look around, many former liberation movements did not manage to keep and maintain their cultural troupes, but most had them in exile, so the fact that Ndilimani is here is an achievement for all patriotic Namibians,” says Nombanza.
Ndilimani is one of the oldest cultural troupes in the country, formed and established in 1980 in Angola at the Lubango Military Headquarters of the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) under the leadership of the late Peter (Ndilimani) Nanyemba during the height of the liberation struggle.
According to Nombanza, the Swapo leadership deemed it fit to establish a band that will sing powerful revolutionary songs to combatants for inspiration and encouragement.
Recalls Nombanza, “The original band was made up of only soldiers, some of whom included comrades Cheetah, Pamo, Katuna and others. But before Ndilimani came into existence there was a small band called The Young Genera tion.”
The band is named after the late liberation war hero Peter Nanyemba who used Ndilimani as his war front trademark.
Prior to 1984, the band was only called Ndilimani and it was when the leadership decided to include civilians in the ranks band that the name Ndilimani Cultural Troupe was adopted.
Nombanza narrates how the leadership decided to include traditional groups, poetry and choir within Ndilimani.
“After these changes, the band started participating in world cultural festivals, first in Libya and the then USSR and to other eastern and Scandinavian countries and the USA. Without necessarily abandoning the original aim of the band, the new role became representing the Swapo movement and the people of Namibia at international events.”
The cultural songs were revived from local Namibian languages and this strengthened the popularity of the band among exiles.
Later, the Swapo Party leadership decided to bring in two musical instructors from Congo Brazzaville to train the band members in the Rhumba genre, music arrangement and choreography. One of the two instructors was Papa Francois Tsoubaloko who is now a lecturer at the University of Namibia.
The troupe yielded many well-known musicians among them the late Jackson Kaujeua, Ras Sheehama and Banana Shekupe.
Nombanza now leads the group after joining the band in 1986 upon completion of his studies in Czechoslovakia.
“While studying in Europe, a Swapo official visited our school and he came with a cassette containing Ndilimani songs. I liked it very much and since I was a self-taught guitarist I told my colleagues that once I am done with my studies I will join Ndilimani,”he narrates.
However he only had a few months’ stint with the Troupe and was sent for military training in Lubango in 1987 and later posted across the border in 1988.
“I was based at the North Eastern Front and got involved in the April 1989 battles at Onkwiyu yaMashimba.”
Later, Nombanza was repatriated to Namibia in July 1989 and coincidentally caught up with Ndilimani in Oshakati during one of their early performances. The comrades did not hesitate to invite him back.
“I was lucky, when I heard Ndilimani was coming to Oshakati. I went there and my comrades recognised me, so they invited me to Windhoek in August and that was how I rejoined the band.”
In his view, Ndilimani shares a rich history within the country’s protracted liberation struggle dating back to its formation in 1980, as a revolutionary music band.
“With such a rich history, Ndilimani successfully staged performances at Swapo campaign rallies as well as accompanied Namibian leaders like the Father of the Nation, Dr Sam Nujoma and Hage Geingob on important missions abroad.”
According to Nombanza, the main aim of Ndilimani during the period of 1989 up to independence was to educate the masses and inspire them with invigorating songs that kept the flame of the struggle burning with revolutionary lyrics and powerful rhythms.
However, soon after independence new circumstances and realities started to strike the band with the Swapo leadership encouraging the group to find ways to become a viable commercial entity able to sustain itself.
“In the beginning it was quite a challenge, at the time the band had about thirty members which technically meant that if we were to pay these individuals a monthly salary of, for example, N$ 1000 we would have needed to generate more than N$ 30 000 a month, besides other expenses.”
Because the band could only give members small allowances, it underwent a period of skills drain, with members leaving for greener pastures.
“This skill drainage was so serious that by the time the first elections in independent Namibia were held in 1994 only six out of the 32 members of 1989 were left. By then the new band manager, Papa Francois Tsoubaloko, decided to hire Ndilimani’s first recruits in an independent Namibia: two ladies and one man.”
When Tsoubaloko left Ndilimani in 1995 to teach music at UNAM, the late John Nghatanga replaced him as band manager.
Nombanza describes the period between 1990 and 1999 as quite testing for members, but they managed to pull through and released four albums. In 1991, Ndilimani released Spinola 1; in 1992 they released Ngatwane, in 1993 they released Africa We Don’t Want The Danger and in 1999 Osire was brewed.
In their songs, Ndilimani aim at countering cultural imperialism which, according to Nombanza, is alarming in Namibia with some radio stations playing more than 60 per cent of foreign songs.
“We also expose lies that some disgruntled politicians try to spread about our leaders and our mighty Swapo Party. We will continue exposing their lies without fear or favour.”
Ndilimani now has its own recording studios and resorts under Kalahari Holdings, and according to the manager, the band has had its storms and is now on its way to become one of the successful bands in Namibia.
Nombaza says that the new album, Ndilimani Culture Troupe-Volume 8 due to be released anytime soon will be a hit. The album will be released before the regional and local council elections scheduled for November 30th. It is a 12 track master-piece, with a song featuring Founding President Sam Nujoma and a tribute song to the late Jackson Kaujeua.
At its 30th anniversary gala dinner to celebrate its journey, the group received pledges of more than N$100 000.
Speaking at the fundraising gala dinner in the capital the group’s patron and Secretary General of Swapo, Pendukeni Iivula -Ithana said when Ndilimani Cultural Troupe was formed it only had rudimentary instruments and as a result the Founding President, Sam Nujoma, took it upon himself to mobilise funds and support around the world for Ndilimani Cultural Troupe until it acquired modern instruments.
It was with the same instruments that Ndilimani mobilised the people of the world to rally around the cause of Swapo, she said.
Their last international tour was in Zimbabwe, 2006, where the group left a huge mark when it performed at a music gala to celebrate that country’s 26th independence anniversary.
Popular not only for its songs eulogising the party leadership but also for its female waist-wriggling dancers, the group had recorded songs for influential people beyond the country’s borders, such as the late South African musician Lucky Dube and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. PF