Here we are beginning to present just a few of the many wonderful mbira players, along with brief audio samples and links for purchasing their music. (More to come.)
Stella Rambisai Chiweshe has been performing for more than 35 years as a traditional mbira musician. When Zimbabwe was still a Rhodesian colony, Stella secretly was recognized as a Mbira player at forbidden ceremonies. Before independence mbira instruments had to be kept hidden, because the colonial government had banned the instrument fearing its magical powers. Playing mbira was punished with prison. After playing through the whole night at forbidden reunions, Stella then returned to her every-day-struggle of survival as a young girl within a colonial environment.
Stella Rambisai Chiweshe is nicknamed "Ambuya Chinyakare" (Grandmother of Traditional Music). She is a greatly respected as an mbira player and band leader, and has been at the forefront of playing mbira music in groups that mix mbira and modern instruments. In Zimbabwe before independence she released more than 20 singles of mbira music of which her first single Kasahwa went gold in 1975.
Her solo work has established her as one of the most original artists in the contemporary African scene using popular music to show the deepness and power of her traditional spiritual music at home and abroad. Stella's experience has been stimulating her to introduce mbira music to the occidental context without loosing the relation to her Zimbabwean tradition: She creates warm dance grooves as well as popular songs always based on mbira rhythms.
Chaka Chawasarira is a versatile performer and composer with expertise in a number of indigenous instruments and drum/dance styles. Mr. Chawasarira recently retired from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Education after 38 years of service. For the last two decades, he was headmaster at Zengea School, a farm school that he helped to build for the children of farmworkers outside the capital city. He taught and led the school's performing group, Zengea Karimba Ensemble, which became well known within Zimbabwe and traveled twice to Europe during the 1990s.
Chaka is a virtuoso performer on two Zimbabwean mbiras. His specialty is the 33-key hera (also called matepe), played in spirit possession ceremonies by the Korekore people in northeastern Zimbabwe. Mr. Chawasarira has composed and arranged numerous songs for the 15-key karimba, the mbira taught in Zimbabwean teachers training colleges.
An expert craftsman, Mr. Chawasarira builds, teaches, and plays his own 19-key version of the karimba in an ensemble with three differently tuned karimbas, vocals, ngoma (drum), and hosho. He is also an experienced choir leader and has composed several Shona hymns for use in the Catholic liturgy as well as a mass for karimba ensemble (Missa yeMvura, "Mass for the Rains").
Sekuru (’Grandfather’) Gora, born Thomas Wadharwa in 1937 and died March 10, 2002, was one of the most famous mbira players of all time. If you go to any corner of Zimbabwe and mention mbira, without fail Sekuru Gora’s name will come up. As a child, Gora would constantly watch his grandfathers building and playing the mbira. When he was fourteen he picked up an mbira for the first time and, to everyone’s amazement, was already able to play. Even at that early age he was called on to play at the mapira ceremony, where a homwe (spirit medium) becomes possessed by an ancestral spirit with the help of the mbira music. These ancestral spirits guide and protect their living descendants. Gora was a master at conveying a message in extremely witty and sometimes biting ways.
With a silky voice often mistaken for a woman's because of it's purity, and an mbira playing style that is deceptively complex, newton Gwara (often addressed by his totem name, Matemai) can easily bring forth the ancestral spirits for any ceremony that he is called to play.
Growing up in the Mhondoro area and moving to Dande as an adult, Matemai is well versed in the many mbira styles in Zimbabwe, and is therefore called upon to play at a wide variety of ceremonies. He is often called to Dande to play mbira for Ambuya Nehanda- one of Zimbabwe's most powerful spirits.
David Gweshe is a true pioneer of Zimbabwean music, constantly expanding the boundaries of traditional Shona music. Born in 1940, Sekuru Gweshe comes from the Budya people, a subgroup of the Kore-Kore. He is a descendant of Nohoreka, the first of the Budya people and the founder of the Shumba totem originating in Tanganyika (Tanzania). He began playing njari at age 14 and over time added keys to the njari in order to "play all the parts" of the music that he heard in his head. This is how Gweshe devised his own personal type of mbira, the Munyonga, featured on his CD Mhuri YekwaNohoreka. The songs on this recording are mainly played at religious functions in which the music is used to summon ancestral spirits. Gweshe is a spiritual leader who has an important message for the people of today.
Forward was born in the rural Buhera area of Zimbabwe, and as a boy, he excelled in traditional dance and recitation of ancient poetry. At the age of 10, he began to play ngoma (drums) and hosho for his mother's gombwe (rain-making) spirit. He was given the name "Forward" because of his curiosity about many subjects, enthusiastic involvement in many activities, and his singing for liberation war freedom fighters.
At an early age, Forward borrowed an mbira and, with no teacher other than occaisional radio programs, began to play on his own. In 1984, Kwenda moved to Zimbabwe's capital city of Harare and began to play mbira with other musicians. Within a year, he had formed his own mbira group and was making records and performing on national radio, as well as performing constantly at mapira ceremonies. During this period, he was informed by powerful rain-making spirits that he was to devote his life to playing mbira for their ceremonies.
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Cosmas Magaya is leader of the mbira ensemble Mhuri yekwaMagaya. He is an internationally recognized mbira player and teacher. Cosmas has been an avid student and player of mbira dza vadzimu from the time he was eight. Mr. Magaya is a master of the instrument, having studied with many great players. He has performed with the renowned Mhuri yekwa Rwizi mbira group for over 25 years, participating with them in concert tours of Europe and the US. He was instrumental in the writing of Paul Berliner's The Soul of Mbira in the 1970s, and continues to work closely with Dr. Berliner as a consultant on Zimbabwean music. Located in Harare, Zimbabwe.
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Bezil Makombe is not well known by name although immediately recognizable as the key mbira player for Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited from 1990 until quite recently. Born in Seke, Bezil and his brother Ngoni (who also played mbira in the Blacks Unlimited) began playing mbira at ceremonies in and around Seke from a very early age, and it was there that they were "discovered" by Thomas Mapfumo. Bezil was the first to join the band, and both made a impact on rhe band's sound and repetoire. Although not well known as an mbira player in his own right, Bezil is a virtuoso.
Hakurotwi Mude was a deeply spiritual man and one of the most famous
Shona singers until he passed away. He used to make his living in the
city doing upholstery work for cars. He used to be the leader of a professional
group of mbira players, and he used to perform in many contexts to invoke
the spirits when they are needed. The passion and quality of his powerful
performances put him in a league with other world-class vocalists. He
is the subject of the video Urban and Rural Ceremonies with Hakurotwi
Mude by Gei Zantzinger, Les Blank, and Dr. Andrew Tracey.
Purchase Mude's music:
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Ephat Mujuru was raised in a small village in Manicaland and taught to play the mbira by his grandfather, Muchatera Mujuru. Mujuru played all of Zimbabwe's five types of mbira, but his specialty was the mbira dzavadzimu. During the 1990s, Ephat traveled and performed widely in the West, and was he one of the first and most important ambassadors of traditional Zimbabwean music to North America, Europe, and Asia. In Zimbabwe, he released successful pop albums as well as traditional mbira with his group Spirit of the People.
One of the great Shona mbira players and builders in Zimbabwe and cousin of Ephat Mujuru. Fradreck Mujuru, of the Maungwe Clan, was born October 31, 1955, in Dewedzo, Rusape, Zimbabwe. At the age of eight, Fradreck pestered Joseph Chidemo to teach him how to play. In 1972, Fradreck was accepted into the prestigious circle of mbira musicians at Dambatsoko who played for Muchatera. Among them were Ephat, Fungai, Samuel, Munyaradzi, Komboni, Musekiwa and Killian Mujuru; Fradreck and Cletos Manjengwa and Charles Mutwira.
Born into a traditional Shona family of the Mazumbakupa (Zebra) clan, Garikayi started playing the mbira Dzavadzimu at the age of 4. By the age of 7 he was already a well regarded performer at Biras (all-night ceremonies in which mbiras are played to call upon the spirits for healing, help, or guidance). Garikayi has a very distinctive style and is considered to be an innovator of mbira music. He created his own mbira style after one of his ancestral spirits visited him in a dream. He is known for playing a variety of sizes of mbira in tuned sets so that his ensemble is a true mbira orchestra. He is also a well respected builder of mbira.