Music in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has been one of the countries contributing to “world music” or “world beat”, primarily through the mbira, wrongly called the thumb piano. The instrument is, in slightly varying forms, several centuries old and is found in many parts of Africa, but only in Zimbabwe has it risen to become something of a national instrument. There is also a vigorous mbira subculture on the North American west coast. In Zimbabwe itself it is still played in rural areas at ceremonies, and in the townships as part of Shona traditions. The interviews here deal mainly with its urban scene of the young.

One of the first popular musicians to use mbira in non-traditional music was Thomas Mapfumo. Today the mbira is experimented with by many young musicians in Harare , as we learn from the interview with Paul Brickhill, a musician and director of the Pamberi Trust, which runs the Book Café. One of the mbira musicians regularly featuring at the book café is Chiwoniso Maraire with her group the Vibe Culture. She was one of the first to start writing songs in English, too, for the mbira. According to Albert Chimedza of the Gonanombe Mbira Centre, the mbira is really only an instrument, which could be played in all kinds of musical genres. So far, however, the mbira is very much connected to ideas of Shona traditions.

Marimba is an instrument popular in larger parts of the country, and could perhaps be a better candidate for a national instrument if one needed one. In popular music the country is divided in its preferences on ethnic lines. In Harare you have jit (described as a light, springy style of reggae) and sungura (a Zimbabwean adaptation of the Congolese rhumba). New genres are gospel , often in sungura style, and hip hop and rap, which is favoured on the national radio (the PowerFM channel), while there are also have what the musicians call “underground” bands.

In Bulawayo, the capital of Matabeleand, music life seeks its roots from the ethnic Zulu cousins to the south, and especially Johannesburg. In Bulawayo in the late 1950s the flute-playing bands brought the kwela to Bulawayo, based on short four-segment harmonic styles, which have continued in the mbaqanga music, for which Dorothy Masuka from Matabeland has become somewhat of a queen in Johannesburg. Yet, despite this divide, the Bulawayo music can find a place even in Harare, as the mbaqanga singer, Sibongile Chibanghuza, shows. The rising political temperature has made her experience a few demands that she sings in Shona, but these are exceptions. But resistance music, no, for her that is the prerogative of those who have already made it.

Mapfumo is, alongside with Oliver Mtukudzi the most famous Zimbabwe musician also a musician who has moved from being a supporter of the government to becoming one of its most outspoken critics in his lyrics. While new mbira music, for example Chiwoniso's, often is about hardships and suffering, in love or in material problems in the urban setting, there is not a political criticism of leadership. In fact she denies that mbira at all is political.

Interviews with:

Chimedza, Albert

Brickhill, Paul

Maraire, Chiwoniso

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