Acting Entertainment Editor
Mbira is a sacred and spiritual instrument and its music naturally raises emotions, provokes the spirits and more often than not, sends many revellers into trances.
Such is its beauty!
It is the music of the African people but has been exported to foreign lands like the US, United Kingdom, Netherlands and everywhere else by musicians such as Stella Chiweshe and Thomas Mapfumo, among others.
While back home mbira music is not getting a lot of airplay on radio and television stations, the genre has spread across European countries, with a lot of whites now playing full time mbira.
One such example is BataMbira led my Michael Spiro, an American of Cuban origin who has made inroads into mbira music.
A lot of stories on mbira music have been documented, but with the advent of technology some thought that the genre was on its knees.
This is because of the absence of airplay on local radio stations.
But when across the borders, especially the Western side, the artistes who play mbira are regard.
The festivals they partake in will be full to capacity with full corporate support, but back home some associate mbira music with spirit mediums — “mashavi.”
Should we blame the Zimdancehall, gospel, Afro-fusion or even the hip-hop culture that have dominated the music industry?
Rarely do we have shows or local festivals supporting the mbira genre being supported by promoters, but rather it is the artistes themselves doing shows targeting their handful of fans.
Does it mean that promoters will incur a loss if they have host a mbira show or it is just ignorance?
Some may forget that the modern music in Zimbabwe is popular music based on tradition.
Many popular bands draw on the rich traditions of indigenous music.
Well-known artistes such as Thomas Mapfumo, Stella Chiweshe, Hope Masike, late Chiwoniso Maraire, Mbira Dzenharira, Jah Prayzah and others have made their mark with mbira music, either fusing it or specialising in it.
According to research, programmes that incorporate traditional music including music colleges such as the Kwanengoma College of Music which specialises in traditional instruments, and the Zimbabwe College of Music are still relevant.
To make sure the genre is not dead those in the business are continuing to push the mbira brand.
Some host shows, perform at national events, teach school children and write books to educate the new generation.
The Herald Arts caught up with some local artistes who agreed that although the genre was not dead, a lot needs to be done for it to remain relevant.
Mbira player Tichaona Wilfred Mafrika (Nyamasvisva), said the mbira music is identified with Zimbabweans.
“This is our music which talks about our culture, values and heritage. If you look closely now, most artistes are fusing their music with mbira beats,” he said.
“We have great artistes such as Thomas Mapfumo, Ephat Mujuru, Stella Chiweshe, Chiwoniso Maraire, and Sekuru Gora among others who put the music atop.”
Nyamasvisva said radio stations and cultural exchange programmes play a pivotal role in shaping the music.
“Our radio stations should play more of mbira songs, at events involve “gwenyambiras” rather fusing English instruments. Involve us even at awards ceremonies so that more people can know about us and appreciate our talents. Treat us fairly like other genres and we need space to showcase our talent.”
Nyamasvisva urged Zimbabweans not to shun our brand.
“Overseas, especially the white community, they love the mbira music yet back home we are looked down upon as failures, dirty artistes or spirit mediums,” said Nyamasvisva.
Mbira teacher Ticha Muzavazi concurred that the music was not highly appreciated by locals.
“We are getting there, but slowly. Slowly; through trickles of mbira activity in schools and on the mainstream platform with young and vibrant mbira players incorporated in musical outfits and new recordings.”
“I attribute poor mbira appreciation to how we were educated as teachers, parents, decision makers, administrators or implementers of the practices we suggest in conferences.
“Somehow it seems that we were taught to hate our own practices for close to a century in favour of the Western culture,” explained Muzavazi.
He said that when it comes to what people hear, indigenous people are regarded as backward.
“Mbira music is therapeutic and it is one of my tools in special needs education. Those who tried to turn us away from it discovered it and did their calculations to breed self-hate in us. As it is, mbira is being appreciated big time elsewhere around the world by people who know very well its therapeutic values.
“Any practice or change we want to see in our people should start at early childhood level. We shoul also be appreciating the work done by the likes of Ticha Olof Axelsson during the Kwanongomaera and Ticha Dumi Maraire after 1981, we had a significant rise in mbira appreciationin schools via teachers’ colleges. Do not limit it., said Muzavazi.
He said “the appreciation seems to be limited to urban areas and mostly, to private and what they used to call Group A schools. It is because the schools are generally the ones that can afford to hire private teachers for disciplines such as mbira.”
“Over the years, colleges for primary educators have been training teachers for ECD, junior school and special needs,. Only about a 10th of the teachers would take music as a main subject, not necessarily for specialisation in practice.
Primary schools hardly employed full time teachers for disciplines like music, physical education, art and design or ICT.”
Asked then how he is pushing the genre to stay alive, he said he had a lot of projects under his belt.
“I continue creating awareness of mbira appreciation through teaching my students at home, in schools and at CHIPAWO.”
“I published ‘Ticha Muzavazi’s Nyunga Mbira Handbook’ in 2017 – a mbira teaching and learning manual and I conduct mbira workshops for fellow teachers who wish to establish mbira clubs in their schools. In the special schools arts drive, I got support from Victor Kunonga’s Hatiite Project and CHIPAWO to send more than 100 mbiras to more than 10 schools and organisations working with disadvantaged children around the country.
“Since 2014, I have been providing three mbiras for best solo players in three categories of the Eisteddfods Vocal and Instrumental competitions hosted by the National Institutes of Allied Arts. I make sure I have include mbira in my team each time I am given a task to prepare performances for Harare province in the Children’s Independence Party Celebrations. As platforms increasingly open up for performances, I am working as a mbira focal person in the team working towards a National Schools Arts Gala in months to come.”
Female mbira virtuoso Diana Samkange affectionately known as “Mangwenya” was happy to say that mbira music tradition was slowly being accepted.
“We are here to make it relevant. We now have people including me who are advocating for African tradition and culture without fear of being labelled in some certain negative type of way,” she said.
“However there is still a need for people to get educated about mbira music. Music promoters, the corporate, and radio need to also consider the mbira music genre when they also do their shows. I also feel the relevant ministry needs to put up policies which also puts mbira music highly on the map.”
Samkange said she was pushing the genre by hosting live shows, awareness programmes about the instrument, tradition and culture.
Another artiste, Abel Mafuleni, said there was need for educate everyone about mbira music.
“Being in the music industry I have noticed that people are still in great need of education when it comes to our traditional music, especially when it comes to music whereby the mbira is involved.”
“The mbira instrument is believed to be associated with black magic, anything related to darkness which is not true in any way because the mbira is a very powerful instrument. As Zimbabweans, we should start appreciating our own music first just like all the other African countries in order for us to grow as an industry. Radio stations should play more of our traditional music.In the West, our music is appreciated a lot,” he said.
Mafuleni said he had been playing with different bands but bemoaned the lack is of support from radio stations that hardly played the music.
Portia Nyandoro said mbira music wasgood but was not given enough platform locally.
“If you walk anyway check on posters for music shows, you rarely you see any mbira artiste involved.
“Promoters must not shun us and again as mbira musicians we should also take the lead in some of the initiatives for us to be recognised rather than wait and complain to be called to music shows,” she said.