Now, music plays a huge part in my life and ever since Mother Zimbabwe adopted me as its son, I have always found her music to be uplifting. I have had the bonus of absorbing the different sounds which resonate across the country; the traditional, the more recent and the current music have all had a lasting influence on me.
Let me just state from the outset that I have always been eclectic in my tastes and when I first met Zimbabweans who came to the UK, I was always keen to tell them that I had seen the Bhundu Boys and Black Umfolosi live and listened to all manner of African jazz, having also seen Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, and the Mahotella Queens. But they were just as keen to tell me that they listened to Queen, Phil Collins and U2.
When I first met and became friends with Mercy who is now my current wife, I was introduced to many of her favourites, including Thomas Mapfumo and Tuku – Oliver Mtukudzi, as well as some old school 80’s and 90’s music. One of my all time favourite tacks, I discovered for myself; BP yangu yakwira by Prudence Katomeni Mbofana: love that tune. Through Mercy’s sons, the radio and everywhere I went, I was also introduced to Dancehall and the younger generation of artistes; Jah Prayzah, Killer T, Soul Jah Love, Winky D and Ammara Brown, whom I was lucky enough to observe making a video at the old Maestro club on Enterprise Road. I was also lucky enough to see the late, great Chiwoniso Maraire (Ammara Brown’s step-mother) play the Mbira and sing in the UK and I have also seen a few other players and indulged in my own version of dancing.
I was also interested in the indigenous music of Zimbabwe. Traditionally some believed that they could communicate with God through their musical instruments and that he sent messages through the music. Music was and still is an integral part of many Zimbabwean religious and cultural ceremonies such as the Bira, an all-night ritual, celebrated by Shona people. However, historically the influence of colonialism, Christianity and western music meant that traditional musical instruments were being used less and less in Zimbabwean music and some were even in danger of extinction. Fortunately, today culturally traditional instruments and the heritage of ancient music are respected and have been kept alive. Instruments such as the Marimba, drums including the Ngoma, and the Hosho which consists of a pair of maranka gourds which typically contained hota seeds inside them. The Hwamanda, a bugle-like horn which would have originally been crafted from the spiral horn of the large mature kudu bull (antelope) and the Chipendani a single string mouth bow.
Of course the most well known of all Zimbabwean instruments is the Mbira, which is still immensely popular and practiced all over the land by all age groups. The Mbira was originally only played by men only. Although women were not totally forbidden to play them, it was regarded as the responsibility of the man in traditional society. So it was always seen as a man’s instrument. In more recent times, Stella Chiweshe, one of Zimbabwe’s leading female Mbira players was said to have stated, “I counted the number of fingers on a man’s hand, and saw five. I counted the fingers on my hand, they also came to five. So I said to myself, what the hell, if men can play Mbira, I can too.”
And I have to mention a wonderful afternoon I spent in a garden flat in the Central Business District area where I had gone with Mercy and Hope (my new brother) to collect a handcrafted Mbira, ordered by my sister in law, which we had agreed to pick up and deliver to her back in the UK. I drove into town and after some bad directions we eventually found where we were looking for and were invited in by the very welcoming and amiable gentleman who had made the Mbira. He was also a teacher and gave the three of us an impromptu lesson. He guided us through a very simple tune which Mercy and Hope picked up really quickly, as they had played an Mbira at school. I did once manage to make a decent noise on a marimba; however, this murungu struggled with what most five year olds would have no problem with at all. Oh well…..you can’t be good at everything!
Some years later, I have composed a piece of music which I would like in the future to have transposed for the Mbira and my dream is to have school children perform and sing the piece which is called Hymn for Zim. In my head I can already hear the joyous, uplifting sounds.
If you liked this article, you may also like The Enchantment of Mbira.