For many local people mbira music has a spiritual connotation that includes traditions of worshipping the ancestors. As a result, the instrument, though one of the most enchanting and beautiful musical instruments to come out of the country, is often mistakenly demonised by locals.
In order for Zimbabweans to reconsider and their traditional musical roots and to debunk the myths surrounding mbira music, Mbiravolution, an advocacy group, has set up an mbira village online. The website, www.mbira.co.zw will act as a focal point for mbira lovers and also serve as an information centre to help understand the culture surrounding the instrument.
Hector Mugani, an ethnomusicologist who co-found Mbiravolution, explains, “The website is part of a movement to re-engage the public on this important piece of our cultural heritage and musical tradition. The mbira community is very vibrant but only a few people know about it.” The website is the brainchild of Aleck Muza, an Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer and arts fanatic. It was designed by Gary Murambiwa.
Mugani says, “If you go online to look up mbira artists, you are likely to find only those abroad or the most well known names, so we have set up a database of all willing mbira artists and enthusiasts and their contacts.” Mbiravolution researcher, Michigan Chinduru, is recording data and profiling artists and mbira groups to make information readily available to the public.
“The re-engagement process is on two levels – re-engaging traditional groups such as Mbira DzeNharira, Dzimbanhete, and Madhonza Makuru, among others. And we are also trying to promote fusion bands and artists such as Hope Masike, Busi Ncube, Tendai Madzviti, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, and Chikwata 263,” added Mugani. He said the idea of the village is to present new platforms and new ways to use the instrument in an exciting and innovative environment so that mbira can resonate with young musicians.
As a way of marketing mbira, Mbiravolution is presenting their debut collaborative effort, the MbiraHop. “We have engaged Tehn Diamond to do a trial run. The point is to try to show young producers that there is more you can do with the instrument in the same way you can with a guitar, a keyboard or any other instrument,” said Mugani. “We need to have mbira being used in different genres of music.”
Photo: Musician and founder of Mbiravolution Hector Mugani poses with two of his instruments.