Analyzing Iconic Guitarist Oliver Mtukudzi’s Drummer, James Austin Manyungwa

Combining the traditional Jit, Tsotsa, and other rhythms of Zimbabwe, the late Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi’s style could only be defined as distinctly his own. And beyond being an ideal showcase for his unique music, his legendary early-’90s release Shoko features James Austin Manyungwa on drumset laying down tight and fascinating African/soul grooves throughout.

The three-against-two hemiolas felt in many of the 12/8 rhythms of Shoko help to push the music along, keeping it danceable yet elusive. And the 4/4 examples apply subtle beat displacement ideas that every funk drummer should stow away in their bag of tricks. Let’s dive in.


“Bvongodza Muto”

On this track, which is listed in the liner notes as having a sped-up Jiti-Tsotsa rhythm, Manyungwa anticipates the snare drum and mixes in a nice hi-hat syncopation over a solid four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern. (0:06)

This great fill breaks away from the 16th-note flow and opens things up a bit. (3:30)

“Mwana Asingacheme”

The minimal bass drum pattern and wide-open third beat on this “bump” groove create a soft bed for the guitar and Hammond organ. (0:11)

“Ndiri Bofu”

Every third measure of the song is a break from the regular rhythm. As the song develops, Manyungwa experiments with different ways to fill the space. Our example begins with the one-bar break, followed by the primary groove of the piece. (1:20)

Here are two more interesting ways that the previous break is played. Exercise 5 demonstrates a figure at the 2:17 mark, while Exercise 6 begins at 3:01.


Hi-hat placement and dynamics vary throughout this groove, which is a fusion of two Jiti beats. Note the driving three-over-two feel created by the bass drum. (0:06)

Manyungwa places toms between the unchanging bass drum pattern to play fills without interrupting the flow of the song. (0:30)

“Tumirai Shoko”

The laid-back feel and single displaced snare drum of this rhythm leave lots of room for the organ, guitars, and vocals. (0:30)

After being delayed throughout the basic groove, the anticipated snare notes here add a sense of urgency to this fill. (1:23)


The bass drum again adds a hemiola flavor to this African soul groove. (0:07)

On the recording, this fill lays way behind the beat and creates a huge hole in the rhythm, leaving the listener begging for that next downbeat. (2:08)


A perfect example of a rhythm that can be perceived in more than one way, the “Kumhunga” rhythms have been notated here in two different time signatures. First we’ll look at the rhythm in a 9/8 perspective. Here’s the basic groove. (0:06)

Here is a two-measure phrase that applies a hi-hat variation and a short fill. (1:45)

Here’s the same basic groove, although thought about in a ¾ perspective. This should sound identical to Exercise 13. (0:06)

And here is Example 14 notated in 3/4. Keep in mind that although we’re writing and thinking of these two rhythms in two slightly different ways, they should both sound the same to a listener.


The last track on Shoko features a laid-back 12/8 feel. The bass drum is varied subtly, sometimes playing two back-to-back 16th notes (as notated below), and occasionally doubling some of the 8th notes being played by the bass guitar. (0:11)

Manyungwa’s fill going into the first verse of the song again beautifully mirrors the bass guitar line and then leaves some breathing room before nicely setting up the entrance of the vocals. (0:33)

Mark Powers plays drums for the Portland, Oregon, based band Floater. He’s facilitated drumset, world music, and alternative percussion programs in over 200 schools and organizations in the United States and abroad, and has authored or coauthored multiple percussion instructional methods. Find more information at