The Matemai Mbira Group comes to Lopez Island

  • Fri Jul 3rd, 2009 10:49pm
  • Life
The Matemai Mbira Group comes to Lopez Island

Matemai and Simboti performing at the Zimbabwean Music Festival in Boulder Colorado, June 27.

Lopez Island will have an opportunity on Sunday July 12, 7:30 p.m. to hear Matemai Mbira Group at the Lopez Grange. The group includes Matemai (aka Newton Gwara) and his playing partner Simboti Mazura, and the Lopez performance continues their first tour in the United States. Matemai is one of the most highly respected traditional mbira players from Zimbabwe. He is also well known for his enchanting singing and mbira instrument building.

The mbira is the primary traditional instrument of the Zezuru tribes of the Shona people, of Zimbabwe. Mbira music has been played for over 1,000 years at religious rituals, royal courts, and social occasions. The mbira consists of 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard and is usally placed inside a large gourd resonator (deze). The music is cyclical, developed with complex improvisation, and can enrapture listeners, or inspire dancing with its rhythms.

Matemai, who is also known as Newton Gwara, and Cheza-Chozengwa, was born in 1952 in Mhondoro Reserve, Zimbabwe. Matemai is the name of his totem, or clan. He learned to play mbira while still at school and says he was so taken with mbira music that he heard it in his head all day; when the teacher turned from the chalkboard to speak to the class, young Newton would see a mbira in place of his head! Matemai lived in Dande as an adult and has adapted a number of Korekore songs for the Zezuru mbira (mbira dzavadzimu). He is well versed in several mbira styles and is much in demand to perform at a wide variety of ceremonies.

Tinirai Jonathan “Simboti” Mazura was born in 1975 in Chitungwiza. The youngest son of a family of 8, Mazura spent most of his growing up years in the rural areas of Rusape, herding his father’s cattle. He loved playing guitar as a young man but was forced to give it up at his mother’s insistence that he focus on school. In 1999, a friend encouraged him to learn mbira and he eventually became a very fine mbira player. While playing at a bar in 2004, he was discovered by Matemai who was impressed with this young man’s playing. At that time, Simboti joined the Matemai Mbira Group and has participated in many live performances and recordings with the band.

Aimee Nassoiy of Lopez worked with Diana Chamrad of Hope First Foundation, Claire Jones an ethnomusicologist, and Julie Ishihara of the Zimbabwean Music Festival board through the winter to apply for visas and sponsor this US tour. Mamatamba, the women’s singing ensemble from Lopez, generously fronted some of the money necessary to bring these musicians from Zimbabwe.

There will also be a singing workshop, taught by Matemai at Neal Anderson’s art studio on Military Road on Monday night July 13 at 7:30 p.m. For additional information and registration for this event, or about the concert, please call Neal Anderson at 468-4718, or Aimee Nassoiy 468-2493.

Matemai Mbira Group will be performing on San Juan Island, Friday July 10 at the Port of Friday Harbor, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. There is a benefit concert/dance for them Saturday evening July 11, at the San Juan Island Grange 7:00-11:00 p.m. with San Juan’s Katura Marimba and Matemai Mbira Group.

Additional information, and updates about Matemai Mbira Group’s US tour can be found at