Mbira is indeed a very “tangible” instrument. Only if you connect with it will it help you to produce the most enticing sound, a phenomenon in which beat mixes with harmony. As of this week, UNESCO recognizes mbira crafting and playing as intangible heritage in Zimbabwe – and also, with the variant name sansi – in Malawi. I’ve written about my experience with mbira elsewhere, so here’s the UNESCO summary video:
While mbira/sansi is less iconic in Malawi, where it is played in the south, it is an iconic instrument amongst the MaShona people that dominate Zimbabwe. Hence the move by UNESCO was met with applause, and Hope Masike – a young and accomplished mbira player and musician featured in some of the media coverage.
On January 23 this year, I was reminded of how on this day a year earlier the great South African musician Hugh Masekela had passed on. I was there, last year, and went to the musical memorial in Soweto a few days after Bra Hugh’s passing. It was there that I saw Tuku live for the second time. Now on this 23 January, I went home from work listening in my car to “Tapera”, the last piece Bra Hugh and Tuku produced together. At home, I made some tea, sat down, opened my phone and a friend had texted me. Tuku had died. On the same day as Bra Hugh.
Those who know me also know that I have a special relationship to Zimbabwe, and yes, I still do, especially when it comes to music. One of my main aims this time round was to visit the tomb of Chiwoniso Maraire, who passed away in July five years ago. However, Zim more than any other one is the country that tends to create more obstacles while travelling for me, and major car issues eventually let me decide against going any extra mile. Another time!
24 July this year sees the fifth anniversary of the passing of Chiwoniso Maraire, one of the world’s greatest musical talents, and revered as the Queen of Mbira in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Born 5 March 1976, Chi died in 2013, aged only 37, the same age as Alberta, my ex-wife, at that time. I mention this because they were school-mates in Mutare for a while. My introduction to Shona culture and music owes much to her, and I added considerable efforts myself, reading and doing research, to the point of learning to play songs by Oliver Mtukudzi and, of course, Chiwoniso. I explored Zimbabwean music more and more, and Chi has since become a musical icon for me. Her music speaks to me more than many others. It is a sorrowful case of historical irony that I didn’t know her when she appeared at the Würzburg Afrikafestival in 2011. Some of my favourite live recordings were taken there. Continue reading →
Here’s the ground I’ve covered over the past four months (straight lines = flights) – and so much space left untouched! Roughly: 1 month Uganda, around 2 weeks each in Rwanda, Tanzania & Zanzibar, and Malawi, 1 month in Zambia … and already 2 weeks in South Africa 😉
Everywhere I have travelled in Sub-Saharan Africa, the picture is the same: women busy themselves, day in, day out, to do most of the work, chores and otherwise. I may exaggerate, though honestly, I don’t think I do when I say that Africa is run by women, especially in those fields that are run efficiently. This, obviously, excludes politics and a lot of admin. There you have it, I’m happy to stand accused of exaggeration and over-generalization, because I want to make a point. I do not care much for explanations that include the word “culturally”, I just share observations. Cultural practice, in my view, is a choice, and no explanation or excuse for anything.
Rachel, house help at Redrocks Camp (Nyakinama near Musanze aka Ruhengeri, Rwanda)
Zambia has got to be my favourite country (beaten by Zimbabwe only in the field of music, sorry guys). It is twice the size of Germany, with only around 17 or so million people. In other words, there’s a lot of space here. And more than once, when driving through the country, I found myself thinking I’d love to have one of those huge farms with some hectars of largely untouched bushland.