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The Mbira movement in commercial music

Trust Mauyasva
Written by Trust Mauyasva

Known as the mbira to the majority of Zimbabweans, the thumb piano to some and the kalimba to the African diaspora in the Caribbean Islands, the instrument has played an integral part in local music.

Though usually dominated by the likes of Mbira DzeNharira, Maungira eNharira and a few other related ensembles, the instrument has transcended the barrier of genres and has even emerged in Zimbabwean hip hop.

In most musical productions, the mbira has teamed up with the marimba(xylophone), the ngoma(drums) and hosho but the late iconic songstress Chiwoniso Maraire paired the mbira up with her enchanting voice. Be it English or Shona, the distinct Maraire massaged eardrums with her melodic voice spread wide over the mbira sound. Her classics such as “Wandirasa” present to the audience the beauty of the mbira sound.

Contemporary artists such as Hope Masike have also taken up the mbira sound and infused it within their art to produce great musical creations. She has defined her own identity in the Zimbabwean musical sphere and helped keep the mbira sound relevant in mainstream air play. Diana Samkange has also joined in and taken up the mbira in her musical career.

Hip hop’s own Soko Matemai, Sharky, proved critics wrong when he took a traditional instrument and fused it with hip hop. Sharky did something different in the game as he made his mark with deep Shona lines, the totem, the African print attire, the beads and the mbira and brought to us a rapper digging for identity in his own culture and tradition.

Furthermore, the outstanding Zimbabwean musical tower from Uzumba Jah Praizah, made his entrance onto the scene with the mbira melody. From his earlier songs like “Sungano”, past the “Tsviriyo” album to his collaborations on Coke Studio Africa, the man has not disappointed with the mbira. It has become a part of himself that his audience enjoys. His own mbira flavoured genre is very popular. Andy Muridzo his former protégé has also been one of the key artists spearheading the mbira revolution in the genres traditionally dominated by guitars, drums and keyboards.

The mbira has not only been limited to traditional music outfits and to African Jazz genres. It has slowly been adopted in the popular youth music and has also been used frequently by some poets in their recitals.

The mbira is often at times categorized under the instrument families of the lamellaphone and the idiophone.

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