Saturday, May 4, 2013

More Examples Of The Zimbabwean Song "Gwabi Gwabi"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series on the Zimbabwean song "Gwabi Gwabi". The title of this song is widely and incorrectly given as "Guabi Guabi".

Part II of this series provides additional information about this song, and features information and additional examples of "Gwabi Gwabi".

Click for Part I of this series.

Part I of this series provides information & comments about and examples of Arlo Guthries' performances of this song. Guthrie is credited with popularizing the song "Gwabi Gwabi" (using the title) "Guabi Guabi" in the USA and in other parts of the "Western" world.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

From “Origins: Guabe, Guabe / Guabi", posted by MikeofNorthumbria on 12 Jun 00
"Guabi Guabi can be found on a field recording collected by Hugh Tracy in the mid 1950s. It was released on a Decca 10" LP called Guitars of Africa. I don't know if there have been any re-issues since. Jack Elliot and several other folkies used to play this tune in the '60s. A version of it was printed in Sing Out magazine round about then.

According to the sleeve notes on the Tracy recording, the singer (and presumably composer) was George Sibanda, who came from the country now known as Zambia*, but once called Northern Rhodesia. The song is based on a children's game - one child hides something behind his/her back and invites the other child to guess what it is (apparently "Guabi" means "Guess").

The lyrics, more or less phonetically transcribed, go like this:

Guabi guabi guzwange, lay tombyami

Laleng kambi, shu yantanda (2x)

Nizabu tengi, la ma banzi,

Izu wiji, lay banana! (2x)

Any Swahili* speakers out there who can give a translation (and correct my spelling)?
Besides being a pretty little song, "Guabi Guabi" also features a nice bit of guitar-picking...
*BIG CORRECTIONS – The African nation is Zimbabwe and not Zambia and the language in the song is Ndebele and not Swahili.

Example #1: Chuzi Mama Gwabi Gwabi from Wait A Minim! (1966)

WaitAMinim, Uploaded on Oct 26, 2011
Chuzi Mama Gwabi Gwabi, from the Original Broadway recording of

Wait A Minim! (1966)
"Gwabi Gwabi" begins at .037.

Here's information about that musical revue from!:
"Wait a Minim! (1962-68) was a musical revue conceived by Leon Gluckman, with original songs by Jeremy Taylor, and a collection of international folk music arranged by Andrew Tracey. Many authentic instruments were played to accompany dances and pantomimes satirizing the national characteristics and political and social eccentricities of many different countries. The only spoken words were when the cast was introduced, and in the South African scene where apartheid was ridiculed."

Example #2: Alastair Moock - Guabi Guabi

steveide59, Uploaded on Mar 3, 2010

Rose Garden Coffeehouse, Mansfield, Mass., Feb. 27, 2010. For more videos, photos and articles, visit
Alastair Moock correctly credits this song’s composer [George Sibanda], the nation from which it comes [Zimbabwe & not South Africa] and language [Ndebele and not Zulu or Swahili]

Moock also got the song's story right [A man teases his girlfriend by hiding something behind his back, saying "Guess what it is.]

However, this commenter wrote that the performer spelled the song wrong.

ntandoyenkosi sibanda, 2012
"The correct spelling is Gwabi gwabi"
Notice that this commenter has the same last name as the "Gwabi Gwabi"'s composer, George Sibanda. This probably mean that this commenter is Zimbabwean and might even mean that the commenter is related to that composer. By the way, ntandoyenkosi sibanda wrote this same comment on several videos or sound files of this song.

Example #3: Peter Lang / Guabi Guabi/ Live April 2008

Peter Lang, Uploaded on May 18, 2008

Live at the Dakota Jazz Club , Minneapolis, with Dave King (The Bad Plus), Joe Lang, and Jonathan Thomas.

This Zulu folk tune was originaly recorded by South African George Sibanda in the 1948. Sibanda became one of the first Pan-African music stars. The song illustrates the relationship between blues and its African ancestory.
Copyright 2008
Here's a comment from this video's viewer comment thread:
Mduduzi Michael Ncube, 2012
"Not South African but Zimbabwean ,not Zulu But Ndebele"
This commenter wrote this same comment on several other videos or sound files of this song.

Example #4: Guabi Guabi


ksorel1968 Uploaded on Mar 24, 2011
A baby dances & sings to a recording of the song "Gwabi Gwabi" (given as "Guabi Guabi”)

EDITORIAL COMMENT has a sound file of "Gwabi Gwabi" that is sung by George Sibanda, who was the first person to record it. I very much regret not showcasing the audio of that song. However, I have chosen not to embed or link to that sound file because it includes photographs of topless women. I've made that decision because it's my hope that this post [corrected word added June 16, 2017] will be used as a supplemental resource in schools, and public schools in the USA, at least, would disqualify this post because of those photographs.

That said, here are selected comments from that sound file's viewer comment thread:
"Ukungazi kufana lokufa. This is George Sibanda 1942. He is the first Zimbabwean international superstar. Some of his songs were done by the Beatles. He is still popular in Sweden today. Many bands play his songs today...
-yizo4sho, 2010

This is a Zulu folk song lol, Arlo by no means did it first.
-shakinthembones, October 2011
It also a Ndebele folk song
-08736409, October 2011

Thanks to George Sibanda for introducing the song "Gwabi Gwabi" to the world. Thanks to all those who are featured on this post, including the commenters who I have quoted and the authors of online post about this song.

Thanks to the producers of this sound file and these videos and thanks to their YouTube publishers.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Hi there... stumbled onto your blog again doing research for a song I wanted to record. You might also want to check out the version I learned it from, Taj Mahal's, from Shake Sugaree, his children's record. Taj, whom I find normally to be quite astute, not only gets the title wrong (Quavi Quavi), he incorrectly identifies it as a fruit seller's song from 'Senegambia.' Imagine my surprise when I found Sibanda's version on the 'Origins of Guitar Music in Eastern Congo and Northern Zambia.' Otherwise it is, of course, a delightful recording.

    Thanks for another great article,

    Dan (lonesome d string band)

    1. Hi Dan!

      Thanks for your comment. I glad stumbled on this blog again. Why not favorite it? :o)

      Yes, I'm aware of Taj Mahal's rendition of this song.

      Unfortunately, it's not uploaded to YouTube yet.

      ...So much music. So much fun discovering and [re]experiencing it!

  2. Hello!

    I've had a digital copy of this song for a number of years, and it had no title or artist on it, so I knew nothing about it. I finally transcribed it close enough to end up here – thank you for such a thorough history! The story about Arlo Guthrie's "interpretation" is fascinating.

    For what it's worth, the version I have is by Jim Kewskin and Fritz Richmond:

    Your blog is a fantastic resource. Thank you for all your work!

    1. You're welcome, anonymous. I appreciate your comment.

      Here's a hyperlink to that version of "Gwabi Gwabi":

  3. You wrote: "I have chosen not to embed or link to that sound file because it includes photographs of topless women" Well, I've seen that video and I really think you're being unnecessarily prudish here, but, in any case, FYI, there is now another video of that song on YouTube without the topless women for you to link to or embed. Check it out...

    1. Thanks Anonymous for a link to that sound file.

      I don't feature videos of topless woman on this blog not because of prudishness but because I want to better ensure that the blog posts might be used as supplemental resources in United States' public schools and after-school centers.