TIMBILA blazes ecstatic African rock with an East Village edge. The trance of African spirit possession merges with the trance of free-spirited head-bangers. The surreal buzzing beauty of timbila (Chopi xylophone, Mozambique) and hypnotic dream melodies of mbira (Shona thumb piano, Zimbabwe) soar with stinging guitar riffs and sassy celestial vocals in grooves that are deeply funky, fierce and danceable. No other band sounds like TIMBILA.
Timbila started when Nora Balaban met Banning Eyre and Dirck Westervelt in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998. Balaban was there studying mbira and timbila with masters—Tute Chibamba in Zimbabwe, and Venancio Mbande in Mozambique. Eyre, a writer and radio producer with public radio’s Afropop Worldwide, was playing guitar with Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, Zimbabwe’s top traditional pop band. Eyre had previously lived in Mali, jamming with The Super Rail Band, Sali Sidibe, Toumani Diabate and others. Westervelt, a pianist, banjo player and bassist, had joined Eyre on both expeditions.
Reunited a few months later back in New York, Balaban and Eyre began performing their own arrangements of mbira music, under the name Glamour Boys. The group evolved with the addition of Westervelt, and later drummer Ed Klinger, and singer Louisa Bradshaw. Klinger and Bradshaw both came from rock backgrounds, but Klinger proved a natural at adapting African rhythms, and Bradshaw at harmonizing Balaban’s vocal melodies to create a signature vocal sound. When Balaban brought in the other-worldly jolt of her timbila, the sound coalesced—and Timbila was born.
With their collective experience in so many realms of music, the musicians of Timbila can cover a stunning span of sonic ground: spare, ethereal mbira and vocal pieces; small ensemble music with light percussion and acoustic guitar; and then the full-on electric attack of the 5-piece band. In addition, the group works with two extraordinary African dancers. Rujeko Dumbutshena honed her moves back home in Zimbabwe, and her American career has brought her all the way to the cast of the Broadway show, Fela! choreographed by Bill T. Jones. Shea Ryan has worked with Dumbutshena since Timbila formed, and together they create totally original, high energy choreography to the band’s repertoire, the perfect movement foil for Timbila’s one-of-a-kind sonic blast.
Nora Balaban- timbila, mbira, vocals
Louisa Bradshaw- vocals
Banning Eyre- guitar
Dirck Westervelt- bass
Ed Klinger- drums
Rujeko Dumbutshena- dance
Shea Berry- dance
Wooden xylophone of the Chopi people of Mozambique. Unique, buzzing sound produced by spider webs (or cow stomach membrane) stretched over gourd resonators. Uses non-Western tuning, one reason why TIMBILA is the first band to blend it with rock ‘n roll.
Thumb piano of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Used for traditional spirit possession ceremonies. Creates beautiful polyphonic music that has also possessed many Westerners, including the members of TIMBILA.