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.
This is my second trip to Malawi this year. I arrive in a time of political unrest following the elections in May. Leaders of the opposition parties have alleged that there were massive irregularities and that Mutharika is the “tipp-ex president”. Lilongwe, Blantyre and other places have been the scenes of massive demonstrations which sometimes turned violent, including lootings and mob violence, and as of late the police and army forces are using live ammunition. Driving through town wasn’t always easy therefore, since you better avoid the demonstrations as the protestors do not always clearly discriminate between who to attack. Or would the police? Anyway, we stayed clear of them as best as we could.
The Czech contribution to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is by a band with the not-so-Czech-sounding name Lake Malawi. I saw lots of things in their video, as far as I followed it, except anything from Malawi, lake or otherwise. I guess it’s just a name … Wikip.: “the band’s name, is inspired by the song “Calgary” by [a band named – D.S.] Bon Iver, from their 2011 … album”. And then? I go and check. A German website has more: singer Černý was inspired by the line “So it’s storming on the lake” from “Calgary”, and Lake Malawi was chosen because “it sounds like a far-off romantic place” (my trans.). That’s got to be the reasoning of a Eurovisionary!
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)
After getting stranded for one day at Dar es-Salaam airport due to technical problems of our Air Malawi carrier, I arrive in Lilongwe and am being picked up by my old friend Chimwemwe. She’ll be my guide and companion for some trips through this charming country, the so-called “Warm heart of Africa”.
My decisive song for Malawi is Lawi’s “Life is beautiful” (another hotel-room recording):
I encountered it for the first time three years ago, when I first attended the Lake of Stars Festival, and it hass always intrigued me with its emphasis on the beauty and joy of life in Africa. This is important. Joy, in chiChewa chimwemwe, like the name of my friend. I have seen few places during my travels, or even less so back home, with so much joy as here in Malawi. Against all odds, one should say. Continue reading →