Zimbabwean Mbira Music with Tanyaradzwa
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The mbira is a family of instruments that holds a special and sacred place in the cultures of Zimbabwe. The instruments are made from strips of metal mounted on a gwariva (a wooden board) and placed within a deze (a resonator). They are held in the hands and played with the thumbs and forefingers. According to a Zimbabwean legend, Marimba—the goddess of song—created the mbira from her tears during a war between her son and Nangai, a god who resided on Mount Kilimanjaro. The sound of the mbira was said to stop all the warriors in their tracks and lead them to weep. It is this legend that sets the mbira apart as an instrument used, at times, for healing. Mbira music is built upon complex contrapuntal lines that are played on the instrument and layered with a vocal melody and polyrhythmic percussion primarily performed with hosho (shakers) and kuombera (clapping).
Tanyaradzwa learned mbira music as a young child from her family, but she resisted playing the instrument herself initially. Instead, she began her musical training in the Western classical tradition, starting with the piano at age eight, adding cello at 12, and always singing. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she embraced the tradition of her ancestors, began studying the mbira, and truly came to love it. From that point on, she has continued to weave together these two musical strands, as a performer, composer, and scholar. In addition to performing on mbira and piano and as a singer, she composes pieces for classical chamber groups that are learned by ear rather than notated, combining the aural traditions of her ancestors with the opportunities offered by new technology. Currently completing a doctorate in voice, her thesis will focus on defining a Zimbabwean vocal canon.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- Visit Tanyaradzwa’s YouTube channel to hear more of her music.
- Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa Nzou Mambano, “Mudzimu Dzoka”
- Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa Nzou Mambano and Nzou Mambano, “Zvichapera”
- Duramazwi Mbira Group, “Chembere Dzemvura”
- Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, “Rwavasekuru”
- Chiwoniso Maraire, “Zvichapera” and “Rebel Woman”
- Thomas Mapfumo, “Mhondoro,” “Gwindingew Rine Shumba,” and “Ndanzwa Ngoma Kurira”
- Dr. Mhoze Chikowero, “African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe”
- Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa Nzou Mambano, “Cultural Vampires: White Exploitation of Zimbabwean Mbira Music”
- Mbira: Spirit of the People, Simon Bright
New York City Resources
- Africa Center in Harlem, Manhattan