‘Mbira music is one of the most popular traditional arts of black Africa, and the Shona musicians of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) are among the instrument’s most distinguished players. This recording features the mbira dzavadzimu (‘mbira of the ancestors’), one of the five major Shona forms of the instrument. It is largely associated with the Zezuru people of central Zimbabwe but is also played in other parts of the country. The mbira dzavadzimu is constructed with 22 to 24 steel keys mounted on a bridge over a hardwood soundboard that are played with the thumbs (plucking downward) and right index finger (plucking upward). During performances the instrument is placed inside a large gourd resonator decorated with shells or, more recently, bottle tops. The gourd shapes and amplifies the sound of the mbira, and the shells provide a buzzing quality – an integral part of the music.
‘The mbira dzavadzimu is an important ritual instrument, and its repertory of as many as 100 pieces has been passed down orally from one generation to the next. At religious ceremonies the instrument is thought to have the power to project its sound into the heavens, attracting the attention of the ancestral spirits. In the hands of skillful players the mbira can draw these spirits down to earth to possess mediums or unsuspecting participants. Listeners find that the music has a powerful effect upon them – it stimulates the imagination and makes them ‘think deeply’. While the mbira dzavadzimu may be played as a solo instrument, it is most often used in small ensembles that include two or more mbira players, a hosho (gourd rattle) player, and one or more singers – frequently the mbira players themselves. The mbira ensemble featured on this album is Mhuri yekwaRwizi (“Family of [Chief] Rwizi”), one of the most famous groups in Zimbabwe. Its leader is the distinguished mbira player and singer Hakurotwi Mude, who is also a well-known spirit medium and a skilled upholsterer.’