Mathew Tembo

  • Graduate Student, Ethnomusicology
  • Director, Afropop Ensemble

I am an ethnomusicology doctoral candidate. My research interests focus on the impact of the 1990s Zambia’s economic liberalization, and globalization on Zambian-Pop. My first musical experiences began in 1994 when I sang in a band called Afro-Vision. I studied Music Education at Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce in Zambia majoring in classical piano and later studied Bachelors in Primary Education with a bias in Music at the University of Zambia. An active musician while in college, I played in popular reggae bands in Zambia, including the Bantu Roots, and in my own band which later came to be called the Dark Black. I then went on to study World Music Performance at the renowned School of Music at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL in the United States of America where I graduated with a Masters in Music in May 2013.

Alongside my scholarly work, I maintain an active performing career, touring and recording music all over the world. I have shared stages with acts such as Oliver Mtukuzi of Zimbabwe, Mulatu Astatke and Mahamud Ahmed both of Ethiopia, Michael Rose, Steven Marley, the Skatalites, and Third World of Jamaica. I was awarded best Afro-fusion for the song “Nandunge” from the album, Anthem, my first album to feature Zambian traditional instruments, at the 2008 Born and Bred Awards in Zambia. I have headlined at festivals such as Millpond 2014 in Bishop, CA, 2014 Umoja Festival in Pittsburgh, PA, and the 2015 Levitt Amp Sheboygan Music Series in Sheboygan, WI. I also have had an opportunity to direct two documentaries on Zambian music. The “Sing Our Own Songs” and “Music of the Bwile People” published in 2007 and 2015 respectively.

Originally a reggae singer only, I began playing Zmbian-Pop after an eye-opening experience while touring Europe in 2004. When I was doing a presentation about the music I played then at the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the professors from the conservatory questioned why I played reggae and not African music when I was from Africa. From that experience, a whole new world of musical possibilities came to life for me. On return to Zambia that same year, I began a self-taught exploration of traditional African instruments such as the silimba(a home-made marimba), kalimba (mbira/thumb piano), and kalumbu (a one-stringed instrument). Incorporating the use of these instruments into my original compositions, I sing mostly in Chinsenga (language of Nsenga people) and Chichewa (music of the Chewa people).