Zimbabwean music comes to Lopez

  • Sat Jul 24th, 2010 4:12am
  • Life

It was a sunny August morning in 2006 when members of Mamatamba, a Lopez vocal ensemble, gathered with Musekiwa Chingodza and learned several Zimbabwean songs to perform together at the Port of Friday Harbor.

Tangling tongues around the challenging Shona lyrics produced good-hearted laughter, and the rhythms were entrained with clapping and drumming. Musekiwa’s smile and warm spirit made the joint venture joyful and unforgettable.

I traveled to Zimbabwe in 2007, and visited with several different musicians that I had hosted here in the Pacific Northwest in their African village homes. I was able to travel out the Murewa road from Harare, to Musekiwa’s village.

Musekiwa had several friends and relatives traveling with us, and played mbira for us to pass the time on the paved road. But once we turned off on the dirt track, which is so bumpy that all you can do is hold your seat while the vehicle bucks, the singing started. Call and response singing, enthusiastic and loud, with the response lines repetitive and so easily learned. Each time we had to suffer that road we sang. The morning we left his village, with the van impossibly stuffed with many, many riders we really had good singing volume. People walking along the road would hear the singing before they heard the engine, and they would sing along with us as we lurched by.

Musekiwa and his wife Veronica, or Mai Esnat, have many children around their home and cooking hearth. This is something that is now commonplace in Zimbabwe, as people take in orphaned children from their relatives and neighbors. What I marveled at was that although I knew which girl was his daughter, because I was sharing her room, I finally had to ask my friend which of the boys was his son. All the children were treated equally with warm kindness and love.

Musekiwa is an observant learner of our culture and technologies, and has worked to bring solar power to his rural home. He surprised me one evening when we gathered in his living room by playing the Mamatamba CD we had gifted him with. His friends and relatives obviously had listened to this many times, and sang along with the Lopez voices on the CD. It was the near the end of my travels in Africa, and I was tremendously touched to hear the voices of Mamatamba in rural Zimbabwe.

Musekiwa Chingodza was born 1970 into a family of great mbira players in Murewa, Zimbabwe and began playing mbira at the age of five. He is also an excellent singer, dancer, drummer and marimba arranger. He says “Our music is both medicine and food, as mbira has the power to heal and to provide for people. Mbira pleases both the living and the dead.” He has come to the US several times during recent years to perform and teach, and has been very enthusiastically received.

Musekiwa will play at the Lopez Community Center for the Arts on Friday August 6th at 7:30 PM. Mamatamba will open the concert with several songs, and will once again be honored to sing with Musekiwa.