The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Gonora Sounds
Hard Times Never Kill Jim Hickson , January 19th, 2022 09:53

Daniel and Isaac Gonora (and band) bring the sunshine sound of Zimbabwean sungura

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen Daniel Gonora and his son Isaac play before. A video of them busking in Harare has been bouncing around social media since about 2016, usually without credit. Surrounded by an attentive crowd, Daniel, sitting low and with eyes closed from blindness, plays an intricate piece on an electric guitar through a strained amplifier while Isaac, then only twelve years old, shows his energetic mastery of the groove on a beat-up drum set, all rounded off by the infectious refrain of “Go bhora!”. That video blew up, racking up over ten million views. Now, six years later and with a full band and a real drum kit, Gonora Sounds – as they are known – have their first album of spicy and sunny sungura music.

Sungura is a distinctively Zimbabwean style with international roots. It combines Afro-Cuban, Congolese, Kenyan, and South African musics with unique Shona and Ndebele rhythms and flair from Zimbabwe. The style enjoyed a brief period in-vogue in the UK in the late-80s-early-90s, but it’s now rare to hear overseas, even within the ‘world music’ sphere – so it’s very refreshing to get an all-new album of modern sungura in 2022.

Hard Times Never Kill begins with Daniel and Isaac playing their famous ‘Go Bhora’ – one in a great lineage of Zimbabwean football songs – before moving on to an acoustic solo track with Daniel showcasing the impressive technique of playing melody, bass, and rhythm parts all at once. It’s not until the fourth track that we get the full force of Gonora Sounds, including an extra guitar, bass, and backing singers, and that’s when the sun really comes out. Sungura has this ability to bring the summer, no matter when you hear it. The shimmering electric guitars, bounding bass, tight harmonies and the gruff but passionate voice of Daniel Gonora all give this album a light, carefree, and joyous feel. It’s perfect for evoking a beating sun and the fragrance of baking grass, and as the style is based around circular chord sequences, it all feels as if it could spiral on and on into infinity.

The rest of the album keeps up that same vibe (although it’s sadly not infinite). Although occasionally straying a bit too close to generic Afro-rock, the group still manage to keep it all on the right side of the classic sungura sound before mixing it up a bit on the final track. A guest spot from gospel vocal quintet Vabati Vajehova, with soothing harmonies accompanied by hosho rattles and Daniel’s guitar, ends the set with a lovely, warming “amen”.

From a blind father and his young son playing for spare change to a full international release via a viral video, Hard Times Never Kill represents a big step in the great story of Gonora Sounds. And what a treat it is for us to see that sungura is alive and very much kicking on the streets of Harare!