Musically speaking, Mozambique is probably best known internationally for the unique timbila xylophone music of the Chopi people. But ask residents of Maptuo or Pemba or any of the nation's other big towns what kind of music they prefer to dance to, and the answer will often be marrabenta.
Marrabenta is the rough and tumble urban dance sound that originated in the country's capitol, Maputo (then called Lourenço Marques) in the 1950s. It was a fast-paced, guitar-driven sound often played on homemade guitars that were played so hard that the fishing-line strings snapped ("arrabentar" is Portuguese for "to break," and this is where the music got its name). Marrabenta incorporated a local folk rhythm called the "Majika" into its mix, as well as sea-born foreign sounds like calypso and Angolan pop that were often heard in the port of Maputo.
Like Angolan pop music, marrabenta also played a role in the struggle for independence from Portuguese rule, as well as the ensuing civil war afterwards. Early on, marrabenta groups drew the ire of the colonial authorities simply by singing in African languages, instead of the state-approved tongue of Portuguese. Though the civil war that began in 1975 lasted almost three decades, and eventually wiped out the local music industry, its early years also coincided with some of the finest marrabenta yet recorded. Mozambique's most popular band, Orchestra Marrabenta Star de Mocambique, continued to record and broadcast from the state-controlled radio station in Maputo, even as South-African sponsored RENAMO fighters terrorized huge swaths of the country.
With the end of the civil war in 1994, Mozambique slowly began to rebuild its civil infrastructure, and by the end of that decade, the irrepressible sound of marrabenta had returned. First came the Mabulu project, which paired young singers and rappers with veteran artists such as singer Lisboa Matavel, which was soon followed by a re-emergence of former stars, including Mingas and Wazimbo, both former singers with Orchestra Marrabenta Star. More recently, veteran band Ghorwane whose founder was murdered during the civil war also re-emerged on the national stage. While Orchestra Marrabenta Star has also reformed and is performing under a new name, ensuring that the durable marrabenta sound once the music of struggle and civil war will become the soundtrack to Mozambique's quiet reconstruction. Tom Pryor