On September 15, a collection of disparate instruments crowded the Berklee College of Music Lawrence and Alma Berk Recital Hall’s stage. A group of jazz instruments stood on the left, a rock band setup occupied the right, and a collection of African drums dominated the center. Though the hall appeared to be set for three separate bands, Kina Zoré was the only group to grace the stage. Such an unusual juxtaposition of musical styles may not seem conducive to a harmonious performance; however, this combination is the definition of the style of music that the band plays.
Consisting of eight musicians from all around the world, Kina Zoré plays Mozambican Afro-pop, a genre defined by its synthesis of multiple instruments and styles. On Thursday, the band performed at Berklee for percussionist Judith Soberanes’ senior recital—a requirement for all seniors at the college. The band members are as diverse as the equipment they use; playing instruments from the trombone to the congas, and hailing from places as disparate as Los Angeles and Sudan, the band’s members merge elements of their diverse backgrounds and experiences and include various musical styles in their work.
Though the members of Kina Zoré self-proclaimedly coalesce under the genre of Afro-pop, the term is not much help in defining their musical style. An amalgamation of a number of genres—including jazz, blues, salsa, R&B, and even rock—Afro-pop encompasses music from the entire African continent. Though each country, region, and language—of which there are over 3,000—possesses its own type of music, Afro-pop uses traditional African rhythms and lyrics and melds them with Western sounds. The resulting Westernized sound creates a universality rare in many other genres.
Although sung in Ronga, a Mozambican language, Kina Zoré’s lyrics combine with a hard-hitting trumpet, smooth saxophone, tension-building bass, and native Cuban conga. The mixture creates a tropical atmosphere, which is then infused with a riffing guitar and techno-inspired keyboard melodies to form a sound that—although an arrangement of various facets of music—is similar to American popular music of today. Their music showcases the revitalized saxophone, as does Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” or Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger;” employs a synthesizer on the melodia, similar to works by familiar artists like Lady Gaga and T-Pain; and share tropical roots with artists like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj as inspiration for their music. Though its lyrics are incomprehensible to most people in the United States, Kina Zoré proves that the rhythm, melody, and pitch of the song can play a big role in the music’s global connectivity and expression.
Although only two of the band members are from Africa, all eight in the ensemble have a deep respect for and interest in African music. Soberanes, of Chiapas, Mexico, loves the flexibility of the genre. “We can mix a lot of styles. We have the freedom to explore different styles in music and use electronics to synchronize everything,” she said. Not only does Soberanes love the liberty of the Afro-pop genre, she also identifies with African music: the instruments of Africa and Mexico are similar—the conga she plays is from Cuba and the djembe is of African descent, and there is a similar tropical quality present in music from both areas of the globe. This further signifies Afro-pop’s global influence and charm through its evident relatability to a myriad of cultures, genres, and countries.
Helder de Sousa Tsinine—the affable leader of Kina Zoré—composes the songs, taking immense influence from his roots in Mozambique. Tsinine came to the United States in 2007 to attend Berklee. Growing up in a musically inclined family, Tsinine used music as a positive inspiration during the strife in his homeland. From 1977 to 1992, Mozambique was overcome by a civil war that directly affected his family and, now, his music.
Tsinine’s upbeat music possesses an ulterior motive—a self-proclaimed “consciousness-raising” that lifts it past generic Afro-pop to music with a message. Tsinine introduced a song, titled “Va Gumulelana,” meaning “stop the war so that the children can grow in peace.” Another of the band’s songs, “Mupfana,” was dedicated to children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. Tsinine uses his country and personal history as material and projects his beliefs, desires, and memories onto his lyrics. He thus allows Kina Zoré to extend its cultural dialogue past performing music and deliver a hopeful and political message. “Our next song is called ‘Tshova Nholo.’ This means ‘never give up in life,’” he said toward the middle of the set. “Whatever you do, just follow your heart and never give up.”