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Zimbabwe's traditional mbira plays a new tune
Culture & Life

Zimbabwe's traditional mbira plays a new tune

1 12.08.2015 From our online archive
Their clothes may have changed, but not the instruments they are playing. For seven centuries, the Shona people have been using the plucky sounds of the mbira to communicate with the spirits.
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Their clothes may have changed, but not the instruments they are playing. For seven centuries, the Shona people have been using the plucky sounds of the mbira to communicate with the spirits.

Tichaona Wilfred a musician and director of the group Mawungira Enharira Shona explained that “the mbira plays an important role in summoning the spirit to descent and communicate with the living”

Albert Chimedza, founder and director of The Mbira Centreis passionate about the instrument. For him, the mbira is part of Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage and should not fade into obscurity. At his workshop, craftsmen still make the little metal keyboards, that look like a smiling mouth of musical teeth.

Mbiras are bought by musicians and tourists, but Chimedza has found that they have broader appeal in Zimbabwe. "This year we gave 125 mbiras to 25 schools. We believe that culture is not better preserved by the elders but by a new generation. If we want our culture is transmitted, you have to teach it in schools.”

At some schools, learning the mbira is a serious undertaking and students have to play it for their year-end exam. But they try to make it fun too.

Music teacher Ngoni Shumba explained, "one of the very first things that people always think of whenever they hear the term mbira is that you are going to be talking of ancestral spirits and the likes, but we have allowed them to contemporise it, bring out your Western songs on a mbira, work around it, use it purely for entertainment and it has been received quite well now."

It's the fusion of old and new that will keep this instrument alive in the future. Nothing like a little bit of John Legend to transform teenagers into enthusiastic mbira player, to hear it, watch the video above.

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