Timbila Miquel Bernat


March 2013

“TIMBILA’S (NON) NOSTALGIC FUTURE” - Once upon a time there were the timbilas... A text by Miquel Bernat (Drumming)
Just like in many other ethnic cultures from the world, but mostly in Africa, the music is functional, that is, part of the day to day life. This means that different music practices exist only for specific tasks like honey recollection, grind and pound of the grain, hunting, etc. Consequently, when these tasks no longer exist, the music that was linked to them tends to disappear. "Timbila" is the generic name given to a specific ensemble of musical instruments of the xylophone family, built and performed by the Chope ethnic group from the south of Mozambique. The word also designates the orchestra of timbilas, whose name varies depending on the register and function that it performs inside the formation: Chilanzane, Sanje, Debiinda, Chikhulu. The first known records about this instruments and their music are from the 16th century. These are through the letters that a Portuguese Catholic missionary wrote to his colleagues in India and in Portugal, making references to the particular mastery and sensibility of this people, and to the their exuberant and complex performances of music, dance and poetry. Later on, ethnomusicologists observed, recorded and analyzed the Chope musical tradition and their instruments. International recognition of the Timbila comes in 2005, with the approval of the application to UNESCO's Oral and Immaterial Heritage of Humanity. In the specific case of the timbila, besides the decreasing number of performers and the lack of young people interested in these practices, there are also fewer and fewer makers of this instrument. After doing several field-work trips to Mozambique, some members of Drumming-GP conducted by the timbila player Matchume Zango have acquired, little by little, a set of instruments to complete an orchestra: one Chikhulu (bass), two Dbindas (baritones), two Sanje and two Chilanzane. Therefore Drumming-GP is the second existing timbila orchestra outside of Africa (the other is in The Netherlands). We learnt some of the most representative traditional music of the Chope culture and we came to the conclusion after analyzing this music, that the structural complexity and refinement of the timbila repertoire is analogous to the occidental tradition. It revealed many important questions in relation to the creative process and the assimilation of the music in the different cultures, something that connects us to the cultural background of humanity. So, we started to perform their music in Europe, mostly in Portugal and Spain, becoming ambassadors of these instruments and of their music to European audiences. Thus we can considerer the Drumming-GP as a refugee, a resistant satellite to the degradation of those cultures: an entity of nostalgia of the announced lost. We also raise some research questions, which may be solved via creative practice: - What would happen to these particular traditional instruments (timbila orchestra) if they were to be exposed to Western creative thinking? - Can our logical/ Cartesian mind find a new musical meaning for this kind of typical African way of performing and living music? This path led us to commission contemporary composers to explore the sound possibilities of this orchestra, trying out and creating pieces that would surely open up a whole new palette of music expressions and resources. Not only are we keeping a tradition alive but also giving birth to a new hope, a new change and one future to be redefined. We have started this in our acoustic program “Orquestra de Timbilas”.