How mbira (Zimbabwe’s historic musical instrument) found followers in Western Canada

Doc project49:04Revolution Mbira

Chaka Zinyemba never considered himself a counter-cultural type, but his friends and family did.

When he recalled his childhood growing up in Zimbabwe, he said: “When I think about it, I am frustrated because many of the activities our children do have changed from actually doing activities and doing their own things to consumption.”

“I always think we haven’t created enough, we are just waiting for entertainment.”

The desire to walk less led him to pick up mbira when he was a teenager in Zimbabwe. This is an instrument played by Chaka’s ancestors (Shona) for thousands of years.

The spirit harp of Zinyemba. It is a larger instrument than other regular versions of the Zebra Horn. (Submitted by Chaka Zinyemba)

Since Queen Victoria’s British seized control of the area in the late 19th century, colonial rulers have almost legally prohibited the instrument.

Zinyemba said: “It can be said that the actual tool is our gateway to communicate with our ancestors.” “Therefore, for religious institutions from England, this is like a big no-no.

“Mbira is mainly used in religious ceremonies, and the religion is not mainly Christian.”

Voice of Resistance

From 1898 to 1964, Zimbabwe was called Southern Rhodesia. In 1965, the country’s predominantly white government broke away from the ranks of Britain and issued a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain.

The country’s then prime minister, Ian Smith, publicly used racist speech to talk about Africans. He used the term “whiter and brighter Rhodesia” for political campaigns.

The climate is tense, and the struggle for independence from colonial rule is heating up.

Although the mbira performance was basically performed underground, by the 1970s, musicians were still playing the instrument publicly and using it as a beacon of pride.

Zinnamba said: “The entire process is taking back our property.” “Let us end this colonial regime.”

On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, thousands of people gathered at the Harare National Stadium to celebrate the 38th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence. (Associated Press)

The country finally gained independence in 1980 and the area was named Zimbabwe. By then, Christianity had taken root in the thinking of many Africans.

Although Zinnamba was born within ten years of Zimbabwe’s independence, he said that people have always believed that the behavior of people who played Mbila exceeded social norms.

He said: “mbira will never be one of the things I picked up when I was a kid.” “If you are an mbira player, then you are easily rejected.”

When Zinyemba went to high school in Zimbabwe, and listened to the famous Zimbabwean musician Chiwoniso Maraire’s album floating in the corridors of his dormitory, everything changed.

Zinyemba said: “I realized it when I woke up. I realized that I wanted to learn to play this instrument.” “What really fascinates me is how peaceful and magical it feels.”

Musician Chaka Zinyemba described the changing reputation of traditional instruments and how he discovered it. 1:46

Looking for a community

Zinyemba was the first to learn the instrument.

Zinyemba said: “You have to find different teachers, then sit next to them, look at their shoulders. Watch their hands move, and then figure out how to play.” “It’s hard for me to remember.”

Despite the difficult learning process, Zineneymba still feels that he is doing meaningful and valuable things.

His first mbira teacher first encouraged Zineyemba to master some basic traditional songs.

Zinyemba said: “He told me that it doesn’t matter whether you are good at them, but I am teaching you, because then you can continue to learn them by yourself.”

Chaka Zinyemba performed with mbira at small gatherings during his first year at the University of Alberta. (Submitted by Chaka Zinyemba)

This was a painful experience because Zinnemba knew that he was going to Edmonton to study at the University of Alberta in the next year.

“On the plane, I thought,’Where can I find someone who can teach me how to play mbira in Canada?'” he said.

He lives with his eldest sister, who was born in Edmonton in the 70s when their parents had to escape the turmoil in Zimbabwe during the pre-independence years.

Zinyemba said he was not sure whether the stars were aligned or whether fate was at work, but in the first few months of school, he heard about another student, Tendai Muparutsa, who was completing his PhD in the spread of traditional Zimbabwean music in North America.

“[Tendai] From Zimbabwe, a great music family, so he started to teach me mbira. Zinyemba said.

Western Canada is the “hotbed” of Mbila

Muparutsa spent four years researching how traditional Zimbabwean music has spread rapidly in North America since the 1970s.

“When the British came to Zimbabwe, they demonized mbira and said it was for Kita and Satan, because you should read [Christian] The Bible also sings church songs such as soprano, alto, alto, and bass,” said Muparusa, a lecturer and ethnomusicologist at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

“It is suppressed by the central government because they don’t want people to perform their own culture, because… it allows people to gather, but they don’t want people to gather.”

Muparutsa discovered that there is a connection between African diaspora who moved to Canada in the 1970s and Zimbabweans in North America, and they are more free to practice their culture and beliefs.

“Mbila came to America because [Zimbabwean] Students and professors,” Muparutsa said, “There is a huge community of mbira players in Seattle and Oregon.

We play the piano in the church. People play guitar in church… why can’t mbira do this?-Year bean

Muparutsa said that the western coast of North America is a hotbed of mbira music, extending to Alaska.There are at least four major mbira festivals in North America each year, including one in British Columbia

“In British Columbia alone, there is a huge community of mbira players-much larger than here [in Alberta] “People who have been playing mbira since the 80s and 90s,” Zinyemba said.

Since moving to Canada 13 years ago, Zinyemba has become a disaster and emergency management planner for the Red Cross.

He also founded the Mbira Renaissance Band, a multicultural group composed of different beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

The band has performed at folk festivals, local community performances, and even Calgary Stampede. Before the 2020 pandemic, it began touring internationally.

Zinyemba said that he often thinks of everything that happened in his life and in the lives of all others, which not only allows him to continue his mbira education in Canada, but also immerses himself in a large number of like-minded people.

Zinyemba said: “Unfortunately, colonization deprived them of their cultural pride. They are proud of their identity.”

“Then you have another group of people thousands of miles away, for example,’Hey, this is the best musical instrument ever. We will learn it.”

Reconciling faith and tradition

The British colonialism’s oppression of African culture and heritage, and their living on Christianity, also complicates the Zinyamba people’s love of mbira.

The Mbira Renaissance Band performs at the Salmon Bay Music Festival in British Columbia (Submitted by Chaka Zinyemba)

“Because I grew up in Catholicism, this kind of conflict always occurs. I am still a Catholic, so how can I solve the Catholic upbringing through the knowledge about this instrument that I have been taught to you in my childhood?” He Say. “but [I know] That’s nonsense.

“We play the piano in the church. People play the guitar in the church… why can’t mbira do this?”

The Mbira Renaissance band has been nominated for the local Edmonton Music Awards. Zinyemba said that he is eager to be nominated for JUNO one day.

In the end, Zinyemba felt obligated to continue to show the music of his ancestors.

He said: “Sometimes we don’t cherish what we should cherish. It is our own thing.” “We really should be more proud and own more ownership of our property, the property that belongs to us.”

About the producer

(Tanara McLean)

Tanara McLean is a producer and news reporter for CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and spent her entire career in Alberta, working in printing, radio and television.Tanara has produced several documentaries for “The Doctor Project”, including “I have been dealing with Megan’s family all my life”-a real talk about becoming a young black woman in Canada.

The documentary was edited by Veronica Simmonds and Acey Rowe.

This story was supported by Canadian “Black”.For more stories about the experience of black Canadians, check out Become a black Canadian here.


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