Centre preserves mbira heritage
Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe Lifestyle Editor
Zimbabwe is set to hold a mbira festival later this year courtesy of Mbira Centre. This was revealed by Mbira Centre director Albert Chimedza during a tour of the facility by Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba on Tuesday.Chimedza said that he hopes to bring together mbira players from all corners of the country and beyond. He is also confident that the younger generations will be well-represented.
“We have been doing a lot of research, archiving and developing of the mbira since the centre was founded years ago. This will be the first time that a mbira festival of any significance will be held in the country,” Chimedza enthused.
However, he was quick to point out that the project needs corporate, State and individual buy-in to succeed.
“There is going to be the need for a lot of money in order to bring in the players from all over and other logistics. So without corporate, Government and individual support, we can never do it. But I am sure that there are many Zimbabweans who are keen to work towards preserving and developing our national heritage.”
Chimedza said the centre is currently setting up a programme whereby mbiras will be taught in school, so that a new breed of Zimbabwean musicians will grow up with the instrument.
“Western music is taught to kids from an early age. This gives them time to master it and transcend to great heights by the time they are in their early twenties. So if you have a person only learning the instrument at that stage it is too late for them to become real masters.”
He said ten schools have been identified and the instruments are already being produced at the centre. The mbiras are made of steel keys fastened to a wooden base with the unit enclosed in a resonator during playing.
“The marimba was successfully introduced in schools in the last century and it has enjoyed world-wide fame and you now get marimba bands in places like Canada, USA and Botswana. Why can we not do the same with the mbira?
“I hope to see the likes of Stunner and Winky D using the mbira in their music very soon. All we need is a system where musicians can learn about it just like for any other instrument so that they can then put their personal touch on it.”
Famous mbira musicians in Zimbabwe include the iconic late Sekuru Gora who was an internationally acclaimed star who held shows as far afield as Germany.
Mbuya Stella Chiweshe is another earlier generation mbira maestro who has made it onto the international stage. Hope Masike is a young musician who has bucked the urban grooves trend and also enjoys international acclaim as mbira player.
Just recently gospel musician Fungisai Zvakavapano has turned to the mbira to rejuvenate her sounds.
The Mbira Centre which is situated along Glenara Road in Highlands was founded several years ago and is run by Albert and his wife Antonella. Chimedza has designed a chromatic mbira which can play any music.
The mbira is a traditional African key music instrument whose history dates back more than 1 000 years and is indigenous to several countries including Angola, Uganda and Zimbabwe.