Project to revive the Matepe Mbira sound underway
A project dubbed Matepe 21st is underway to revive the slowly dying matepe mbira sound.
Music experts say Matepe is one of the oldest mbira in the country and produces a complete sound on its own and deserves to be preserved for the local cultural heritage.
This project is documenting Chaka Chawasarira’s reportoire, which started mid-May 2023 at Chawasarira’s home in Chitungwiza.
Funded by the Federal Foreign Office (Germany’s Foreign Ministry), and supported by the German Embassy in Harare, it comprises Stefan Franke, who is the creator of the Sympathetic Resonances learning platform for mbira, Chaka Chawasarira, professional musician and ethnomusicological researcher Othnell “Mangoma” Moyo and digital media expert and a Matepe student.
Kuda Nyaruwabvu said the goal of the project was to document the entire Matepe repertoire of 82-year old master musician Chawasarira, as well as his instrument building process.
The outcome will be made available online and distributed via music schools and cultural centres in the country, free of charge. The project is being spearheaded by Germany citizen Stefan Franke, who is the project manager and their funding partner.
In an interview, Franke said he developed the love for the matepe mbira sound and the Zimbabwean culture when he met the late Mbuya Stella Chiweshe.
He said what fascinates him is the ability by the matepe to mix itself and produce a complete sound.
“I developed a deep interest in the matepe and the Zimbabwean culture when I met the late Mbuya Stella Chiweshe and it was just one thing after the other from there,” he said. “I understand that when playing other mbiras you need a number of people to produce a complete sound, however, with the matepe you only need one instrument and you will be good.
“All this just fascinated me and I hope the Zimbabwean people will not allow the matepe to die a natural death.”
Chawasarira, an experienced matepe mbira maker and player, said the instrument was difficult to make and to play, although it surpassed other mbira sounds.
“Many did not play the matepe because its making and playing is different and complicated, other mbira instruments can be played with three fingers, but the matepe can only be played with four fingers to produce a complete sound which other mbira instruments may only produce when two or three instruments are being played together, but you can get that sound from one matepe,” he said.
“When I used to play at different shows and I would get to a place where other mbira instruments will be played, they would stop and start listening to the matepe.”
The matepe is a mbira (lamellophone) from Northeast Zimbabwe and adjecent regions of Mozambique.
It is arguably the most sophisticated mbira in terms of construction, tuning, and playing technique.
It is played with four fingers, often each with their own rhythmic pattern.
Unfortunately, the matepe has become very rare.
According to recent research, there is only a good handful of master musicians who play their full regional repertoire, and only two experienced makers of the instrument in the country.