Friday, December 08, 2006

Shona Mbira music, minimalised spirits alive!

Finally a world music entry, I know. It was about time too, as the world keeps turning and turning, the non western music cultures ever evolving, wrapped in their acoustic beauty. Last weekend I picked up the amazing Shona Mbira Music of Zimbabwe album by the ethnic Nonesuch Explorer label. Performed in 1977 mostly by Cosmas Magaya and relatives, all profoundly skilled with the mbira, which is the Zimbabwian version of a thumb piano (otherwise known as a likembe, kalimbe and so on depending of the local connoctation).

The Shona mbira music comes straight out of the Zimbabwe heartland of the Zezeuru people, induced by ancient religious and cultural ceremonies. During the 1970's Independance War when fighting against the unjust British colonial system, the mbira music was specificly used in ceremonies where spiritual mediums (as in african shamans) gave advise to the local population and the freedom fighting guerrilla's, to aid their spirits in these hard times.

As the Mugabe regime became fiercely violent and totalitarian in the 80's, it was not allowed anymore to use music for political messages due to the Mugabe propaganda rule. Also the mbira music was heavily restrained and had to be stripped from its cultural and social message, whether it was a traditional one or not. Voiced expression through the mbira became near impossible and it transported itself into intense emotional participations, body and spirit-wise. The inner voice translated to body language.

The style of the mbira as practised in the Shona tradition is one of a relaxed repetitive melody loop. Trancedental qualities become clearly audible, thus revealing the ceremonial aspects to these spiritual tones. African minimalism at its best. There's even a non-profit organisation to maintain the Shona mbira music Wow, respect goes out to those keeping it alive!

pictured ltr; recordist Paul Berliner, Justin Magaya & Cosmas Magaya

Below some tunes from the Nonesuch album, taken from the Shona album, enjoy! ;)

Cosmas, Alexio & Simon Magaya Magaya - Nhemamusasa: Instrumental Excerpt I
Hakurotwi Mude, Cosmas Magaya & Justin Magaya - Shumba
Hakurotwi Mude, Cosmas Magaya, Luken Pasipamire & Ephat Mujuru - Chaminuka We

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