Now that the new year lays ahead like a blank canvas, I find inspiration in a record by Ephat Mujuru, a Zimbabwean musician who excelled at playing the mbira. Nobody knows what 2014 will bring, but let this music guide the listener like a traveler on a long journey.
Ephat Mujuru (1950–2001), was a Zimbabwean musician, one of the 20th century’s finest players of the mbira, a traditional instrument of the Shona ethnic group of Zimbabwe.
The mbira dzavadzimu (the mbira of ancestral spirits) is a symbol of the traditional culture of Zimbabwe. The music of the mbira forms a link between the real and the spirit worlds, and the mbira player holds an important position within traditional society, being called upon through his music at ceremonies to evoke the particular spirit or ‘Sviriko’ to be called.
Ephat Mujuru came from a renowned mbira-playing family which can be traced back to the time of Monomatapa. Through playing at the family’s ‘bira’spirit ceremonies, the young Ephat was initiated into the secrets of the instrument by his grandfather, Sekuru Muchatera Mujuru, a great mbira player whom he wished as a boy to emulate. He tells of the conflict he found at school, where the mission teaching at the time denounced music as being a sin against God. This did not stop him from playing the music of his poeple, given by the great creator God Mwari, as a means of communicating with Him through ancestrial spirits.
Ephat Mujuru was a quiet, poetic man whose understanding and love of the music he played is matched only by his ability as a musician. His reputation was such that he was invited in 1980 for a lecture tour of the United States where he gave lectures/demonstrations at many of America’s leading universities.
The influence of mission school education and Western musical idiom had a negative effect for some time on traditional music, but in recent years this has given way to a renaissance of the mbira and its value as a link with the ancestry and culture of the Shona people.
The pieces posted here today are played on the mbira dzavadzimu (or in some instances the njari mbira) are accompanied by a second mbira, rattles (hosho), drums (ngoma), clapping (makwa) and singing (kuimba). The voice patterns are as important as the music and are divided into the mahongera, the deep, low voice; the huro, the high, yodelling voice; the kupurudza, the ululating voice (a woman’s part) and the kudeketera , the poetic narrative.
Both player and singer may intuitively modify music or lyrics and the interpretation of the traditional song may vary amongst musicians, but the ancient version known to all players will still be recognisable.
The leading vocalist of the group is Charles Gushungo whose exceptional voice and command of all three traditional song patterns is widely acknowledged and evidenced here.
This song tells the story of Chipembere, the rhinoceros, feared for his powerful turn of speed. It is sung for a traveller embarking on a long journey, and the music imparts to him the speed and strength of the rhino, that he may accomplish his journey with ease.
A travelling song, sung whilst journeying across the desert. The words and music strengthen the traveller’s spirit, giving him the courage needed for his long journey.
Guru Uswa (Dzavadzimu)
The eternal myth of paradise, as old as man himself, is retold here in the song Guru Uswa. It tells the story of the Africa of mythical times, a land of milk and honey, yet at the same time it sings of Zimbabwe, the realisation of the promised land.
Ndoziwa Ripi (Dzavadzimu)
A story of misfortune and the power of the music of the spirits to intervene. A man wanders lost and alone, calling out “Ndoziwa Ripi- what shall I do? My family is dead and I am alone”. As he wanders he plays a plaintive song on his mbira. The chapungu eagle, bird of the spirits, appears in the sky and guides him to a settlement of people. Hearing the notes of the mbira, the people welcome him with singing and dancing. He is accepted into their community and revered for his ability to play the mbira.
text from the liner notes of The Spirit of the People -Ephat Mujuru Ensemble plays Mbira music from Zimbabwe