OUTSIDELEFT's Millicent Chapanda Week continues with an insight into just what mbira music is and how it is made...
OUTSIDELEFT: Can you talk about your traditional Mbira musical instrument?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: Mbira is the traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is also important to note that mbira is the style or genre and it is also the name of the instrument. Mbira is a tactile instrument it is a lamellaphone, it is a plucked idiophone consisting of metal key called tongues that are plucked to produce the sound these are fastened over a big to a hardwood soundboard. Mbira instruments are found in different parts of Africa, however Zimbabwe is the only country that has developed it further so as it can be played with western instruments.
Mbira instruments come in different keys dependent on the different regions and influences ranging from 22 keys to 32 keys or more. These metal keys are mounted on a wooden soundboard and can be played solo or in an ensemble, mbira can be placed in a calabash for amplification with shell or bottle tops or shell for buzzing for resonance which is a must in accompanying the sounds. This a very important characteristic of the music.
Mbira plays a vital role in society it is an identity marker. Mbira like any other instrument can be played in many social gatherings, religious ceremonies, be it secular, weddings spiritual,– a ritual object with deep symbolic meaning. In ritual ceremonies mbira music and its repetitive interwoven intricate melodies play a part to invoke the spirits to come and give us guidance on various troubling matters.
Mbira music is believed to connect the living world with the spirit world, with mbira players facilitating this sacred link. Mbira music heals, unites, entertains, in song, dance, it is a potent instrument during prayer, reflection facilitates that sacred link with the spirit world be it religious or ritual ceremonies.
Certain Zimbabweans have always treated the mbira instrument with disdain perceiving it as primitive with diminutive aesthetic value. All this was due to colonialism and educational indoctrination that robbed a sense of self and self-love. However, undervalued as it may be mbira is a powerful musical instrument that holds great cultural symbol and heritage.
Millicent Chapanda Week is coming to OUTSIDELEFT
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