Ndilimani: last liberation war troupe standing
The Founding Father and Former Namibian President, Dr Sam Nujoma, describes Ndilimani Cultural Troupe as a source for Swapo Party’s morals.
Nujoma, who features on the group’s ninth album, played a vital role in 1980 when Ndilimani was formed in Lubango Military Headquarters under the leadership of the late Swapo secretary of defence, Peter Enias Nanyemba.
The fact that Nanyemba, considered one of Swapo’s People Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN)’s most brilliant military strategist, meant that the group had a pivotal role to play in the struggle for the liberation of the country.
Ndilimani means dynamite. The group then took the late Nanyemba’s combat name. Nanyemba died in a car accident in 1983 in Angola.
At the time, the group did not have sophisticated instruments, apart from bits and pieces. But Nujoma came to their support by acquiring modern instruments.
With the liberation wars fought on four fronts – political, diplomacy, military and cultural – the group was very instrumental and active in mass mobilisation.
Apart from enchanting the masses in Swapo camps, the troupe also took to the international stage where just like ANC’s Amandla Cultural Troupe – Ndilimani informed and educated the people about the problems, trials and tribulations of living under apartheid.
With the music filtering through back to the then South West Africa (now Namibia), Ndilimani’s songs spurred on the generality to leave the country for the liberation struggle.
One of the group’s favourite destinations was Scandinavia where tours were taken in the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR); Norway and the United States of America.
Although most founding members of the group have since passed on or left the band, Ndilimani is still going strong as the only surviving liberation war cultural troupe.
One of the Ndilimani Troupe members who left and made it big on his own is Ras Sheehama, whose classic song ‘Cassinga’ is about the massacres at Cassinga.
Sheehama joined Ndilimani in 1988 after he had gone into exile in 1979 staying in refugee camps in Angola and Zambia.
He honed his musical career during his time in refugee camps and before the formation of Ndilimani.
The height of his musical passion came between 1984 and 1988 when he was in Nigeria and came in contact with the late Nigerian highlife musician Fela Kuti.
Sheehama joined a school band in 1986 during which time he also did a demo tape for Cassinga on a reggae tip.
When he returned to Angola, Ndilimani had been formed and he became a member but would do his own stuff backing it with an acoustic guitar.
He was still with Ndilimani when he returned to Namibia in 1989 for the Swapo election campaign.
He, however, went solo in 1990 and was signed by Paul Joubert Music with whom he recorded three albums, which spawned hits.
Being one of the few recorded artists, Sheehama curtain-raised for the late Lucky Dube, Ismael Lo, Manu Dibango, Brenda Fassie and Salif Keita. He also toured UK and Cuba.
It goes without saying then that Sheehama’s conscious lyrics come from the background he had from Nigeria and Ndilimani Troupe.
When the group celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2010, Nujoma said Swapo was proud of Ndilimani because the group made them proud.
“Ndilimani was the source of our moral. Its songs kept the moral of the combatants of the PLAN, very high. As Commander-in-Chief of PLAN, I know that very well.
“We had other songs that our combat units at the fronts composed.
“That is why we were able to defeat the Boers at Cuito Cuanavale together with the Cuban Internationalist Forces and Angola’s FAPLA forces.”
President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who attended the group’s 30th celebrations, said the troupe’s revolutionary lyrics and powerful rhythms encouraged his generation and the generations that followed to fight for Namibia’s national independence.
“While entertaining the gallant sons and daughters of Namibia, who left their beloved country to join the liberation struggle abroad, the Ndilimani Cultural Troupe also served, through their music, to motivate and educate Namibians both at home and abroad, on the essence of attaining our freedom and independence.
“Their inspirational music fuelled the insatiable hunger for freedom in the majority of Namibians, encouraging many brave sons and daughters of Namibia to join the struggle and make great sacrifices for our freedom and independence,” President Pohamba said.
He also said it was in part because of the wonderful artistic performances of the Ndilimani Cultural Troupe that thousands of Namibians flocked to the Swapo Party events to listen to their leaders while at the same time enjoying good music and the inspiring messages that come with it.
The former Swapo secretary-general, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, who also spoke during the group’s 30th gala dinner said that Ndilimani should live on.
“We cannot allow Ndilimani to be extinguished from Namibia’s political and cultural landscape. It has played an immense role during the difficult years and hence more reasons for it to forge ahead,” Iivula-Ithana said.
Today, albeit the changed line-up, Ndilimani is still giving the spirit of hope not only to Swapo but Namibia.