Godwin Muzari Showbiz Mirror
For two days and two nights, gwenyambiras (mbira players) took turns to thumb their instruments with passion. Reinforced by the emphatic African drums played by seemingly possessed muscular men, the mbira rhythms wafted through the natural and modern
environs around Caravan Park in Msasa.
A cloud of dust hovered over the place for 48 hours as mbira followers danced to traditional tunes, intermittently drinking from gourds of traditionally-brewed beer rotating around the inner circle of merrymakers.
Those with deeper traditional beliefs occasionally took snuff from small containers and sniffed the brown powder with apparent delight. They sneezed and clapped hands in traditional worship style. Mbira music played on. They danced and sang along to folk songs.
The place was a hive of activity as hordes of mbira players went in and out of the park in the morning, afternoon, evening and deep in the night under a full moon. Traditional dance groups exhibited skills in mhande, muchongoyo, jerusarema and other dances.
That was in October 2007 when Red Rose Entertainment hosted a bira of more than 30 gwenyambiras in celebration of traditional music.
Smartly dressed men and women drove their posh cars into the park for the historic ceremony. Those were the days when mbira music shook the arts scene. Those were the days when places like Book Café, Taste of Africa and Nyamachoma The Kraal would reverberate to mbira sounds every weekend.
It was a time when young musicians took interest in mbira music and it seemed this sect of musicians was determined to uphold our culture.
Traditional dance and music define our culture and make our art products stand tall on the international market.
However, a few years down the line, appreciation of traditional music and dances is on an alarming decline.
Gone are the days when a clash between Mbira DzeNharia and Mwaungira eNharira would ignite the Book Café or when Dzimbahwe Mbira Group or Hwevambira were popular names in local music.
I recently had a chat with Tichaona MaAfrika of Mawungira eNharira and he was touched about the decline of appreciation of traditional music.
Despite serious efforts among artistes, promoters and the corporate world to keep our culturally rich productions in the mainstream arts industry, the response is now deplorable.
Ambuya Stella Chiweshe recently launched Chivanhu Trust with the aim of upholding our culture and music is one of the facets that she seeks to address in relation to maintaining our cultural identity.
Although a number of musicians have made inroads abroad through traditional dances and music, appreciation back home continues to evade them. Groups like Hwamanda dance troupe and Tambarimba Marimba group are more known abroad than locally.
So, if we cannot appreciate the music that defines our culture, who will stand for our identity?
The gap seems to be widening with each generation. There have been numerous efforts to try and keep the cultural arts products alive yet the results are disheartening.
The Mbira Centre is trying its best to impart skills to youngsters. A number of schools are also teaching traditional dances and music but most of the pupils do not take the art beyond the school ensembles.
Most of them pursue careers that are far divorced from music after school.
The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and Delta Beverages have been trying for many years to encourage the production of culturally relevant art products among children and adults but their major challenge is on the audience.
Jikinya Dance festival has been running for many years to encourage primary school pupils to pursue traditional dances. Few people follow this festival and it is the same case with Chibuku Neshamwari Traditional Dance Festival. Annually traditional dance groups square up in Neshamwari festival from provincial to national level. Attendance to these competitions is appalling as people increasingly prefer entertainment genres that are not traditional.
It is the same case with Jerusarema/Mbende Festival that is held in Mashonaland West annually. Very few people bother to follow it.
The gap continues to grow and there is need for more effort to bridge the gap. Stakeholders in the arts industry and players from the corporate world should combine efforts to come up with incentives that would build interest in arts products that uphold our culture.