it doesn’t take much to make great music; a guitar, a synth and above all powerful voices praising the greatness of God…that is exactly that is on offer on this remarkable record coming out of Zimbabwe. Recorded in Harare and produced by Bothwell Nyamhondera. File under Gospel.
Machanic Manyeruke And The Puritans (Cook 025)
Released in 1989 by Gramma Records/Cooking Vinyl London UK
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.
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.
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
Over the weekend I spent quite a happy moment going back to the contents of my Karoo-box. A few original 78’s have been on my turntable ever since. Here is a true classic that I like to share; ‘Skokiaan’. Among the artists who recorded the song are Louis Armstrong, Bill Haley, Herb Alpert, Brave Combo, and Hugh Masekela. See also 16 skokiaan versions
The African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia
released as DECCA FM 6142 South Africa, year unknown.
“Skokiaan” was first recorded as a sax and trumpet instrumental by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under leadership of Musarurwa, possibly in 1947. The band comprised two saxophones, two banjos, traps, and a bass. Several tunes played by the Cold Storage Band were recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in June 1951. On Tracey’s recording, Musarurwa also apparently played for the Chaminuka Band. Musarurwa copyrighted “Skokiaan”, probably in 1952.
Within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 19 cover versions of “Skokiaan” appeared. The Rhodesian version reached No 17 in the United States, while a cover version by Ralph Marterie climbed to No 3. All versions combined propelled the tune to No 2 on the Cash Box charts that year. Its popularity extended outside of music, with several urban areas in the United States taking its name.
the full wiki-story of the origins of the song + charts here
The title of the British South Africa Police, the police force of Rhodesia, stems from that of its predecessor, the British South Africa Company Police.
Almost immediately upon the granting by Queen Victoria in 1889 of a Royal Charter to Cecil John Rhodes’s British South Africa Company to open up Mashonaland, recruiting began in Kimberley in the Cape Colony (now the Cape Province of South Africa) for a police force to accompany and protect the pioneer column which was to occupy the new territory.
The first African members of the Force were recruited from the remnants of Lobengula’s scattered Matabele regiments after the war of 1893, but were disbanded on the outbreak of the Matabele Rebellion of 1896.
Although no complete records remain to tell us the full story of the early Police Bands in Rhodesia, it is known that in 1887 the force was able to provide a band to play at the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in both Salisbury and Bulawayo (now Zimbabwe).
The history of Police Bands continues well into the 1960’s.
Here is a selection of African styled fanfare tracks from the album ‘Kum-A-Kye’ recorded probably around 1955. The record contains a 15 minutes version of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by Gershwin, but unfortunately the condition of that song is too bad for reproduction on these pages.
When I recorded ‘Coral Reef’ in Grahamstown, South Africa, a young white musician James Foerie played kalimba on this song. On another recording he joined in with a strange instrument that looked like a tiny toy piano, he called it an mbira dza vadzimu (notes of the ancestral spirits). It is is very significant instrument in Shona religion and culture, considered a sacred instrument by natives.
He said it had cost him years to learn to play the instrument since it is very hard for the player to pluck the metal strips that form the keyboard. James played it in a hollow calabash to amplify the sound. Normally mbira music is not amplified but for the recording he used the empty calabash. The sound became stronger and warmer in tones.
I got so intrigued by this instrument that I wanted to hear more. Luckily I found an album by Stella Chiweshe in my collection. Our friends over at Freedomblues have already highlighted this album earlier but I thought it would be a good idea to bring it back to your attention since it has such a powerful sound and the music is timeless. And above all, the original songs have been reworked by London producer Ben Mandelson of 3Mustaphas3, a British World music band formed in 1982.
The text is taken from the original liner notes of the album featured here today;
Stella Chiweshe –“Ambuya”
Traditionally only men are encouraged to become mbira musicians, but in spite of the fact that Stella Chiweshe had counted her fingers and found that she had as many fingers as any man to pluck the mbira with, she had to suffer some years before her seriousness impressed an uncle sufficiently and led him to teach her the basic songs of mbira music.
“I first learned in 1966, in Harare and Mhondoro. I was taught by my uncle. But he doesn’t play any more because his fingers have become stiff. I last saw him in 1974. He was a full-time player, a very old man who just sits at home and plays. He saw I very much wanted to learn. Saw me trying to find someone to teach me. He said come and sit next to me and I willl show you how to do it. He was very kind. Other people thought they can’t teach a woman how to play., because mbira’s not a woman’s instrument, it’s meant to played only by men. They say if you play mbira you’ll not be able to do women’s work, you’ll always be on the men’s side. It’s very painful to play mbira. Maybe they feel sorry for a woman to do such a painful thing.
Women are also not meant to play the drum because it’s a man’s instrument. If a woman is playing it it shows no respect for tradition, but I play it because I want to. When my uncle showed me how to play I had a burning lump in my chest –a pain like when a close person dies. But when he said ‘come learn’ the pain started to go and I felt good. It didn’t take a long time to learn which keys to play. What takes a long time to learn is how to play for a long time. It is like the wheel goes, round and round. At a ceremony you must be able to play for the whole night. You get blisters on the fingers. But you must care and feel for the music, you must play hard for people to hear because mbira is not amplified. “
Once able to master the instrument she was accepted professionally. Since then she works like all other maridzambira, not only for the spirits, but also at weddings, funerals, all kinds of dances, ceremonies, chief’s courts, processions, business inaugurations, political gatherings, parties and concerts. These latter jobs happen mainly in the city and the former mainly in the rural areas.
Her career as a recording artist has given her over 20 singles to her credit, including one “Kashawa” which went gold in Zimbabwe. During her way of life as a mbira musician she was a member of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe where she played the role of national heroine Mbuya Nehanda using her skills as both actress and dancer. With the company she toured Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. She was special guest on the first European tour of Thomas Mapfumo enabling her to spread the art of mbira music even further. In spring 1987, with the line-up of this album, she took part in the ‘Beat! Apartheid’ Road Festival throughout West Germany to great acclaim.
This album is based upon the rich variety of Stella Chiweshe’s experience. She decided to open up mbira music to a wider, international audience by reforming her Earthquake band with the innovative use of marimbas, and by including the bass ‘n drum section of polyglobal music partisani 3Mustaphas3. Using these instruments alongside the mbira and hosho displays the universal character of mbira music, without losing contact with the lively roots of the Zimbabwean mbira music tradition.
Liner notes by Florian Hetze from the album by Stella Chiweshe –“Ambuya” ORB 029 1987 Piranha Musik. Globestyle Records, London.
The album“Ambuya” on vinyl is long out of print, second hand copies can be found here
The South African band Freshlyground, well known since they delivered “Waka Waka”, the official song for the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is banned from Zimbabwe and can not enter the country.
The authorities have withdrawn the work permits of the band, for a concert they would give this coming October 1st in the capital Harare, because of the just-released song “Chicken To Change” in which the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is being ridiculed.
Especially the music video for the song went down the wrong way with the Zimbabwean authorities according to manager Sarah Barnett. The clip was made by the people behind SA News, a South African variant of the political puppet show Spitting Image.
In the videoclip a latex doll reads the “Bob’s Times” while being escorted in a limousine through the ruined streets of Harare…clearly Old Bob was not amused.
Lyrics ‘Zvingashure’ (Bad Omen) by James Chimombe and the O.K. Success
From BAFTA-winning director Jezza Neumann and BAFTA-winning producer, Xoliswa Sithole, a powerful tale unfolds of the gaping chasm between what these children hope for and what their country can currently provide.