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Mbira music for healing by Fradreck Mujuru

A musical postcard: mbira rhythms for A Tapestry of Sacred Music


Published: 31 Mar 2021

Time taken : >15mins

Described as a “telephone to the spirits”, the mbira fulfils a spiritual function in the Shona culture.

Mbira music speaks to the Shona peoples’ ancestors and tribal guardians, whose counsel is sought on community matters, the weather and health. A mbira player, also called a gwenyambira, is considered a tool of the spirits, who may be called on at all times of the day and night to invoke the spirits.

All the way from Zimbabwe, internationally known mbira artist Fradreck Mujuru plays music for healing with his uncle Fungai Zhanje Mujuru. He sends his wishes as part of Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music, in response to the pandemic.

The Calabash (bottle gourd) shells (deze) act as amplifiers and bottle tops, shells or shakers can be added to its rim to alter its sound. Within the deze, usually hidden from view is the mbira held securely in place by a stick. The mbira, sometimes referred to as a thumb piano, consists of 22 to 28 metal keys set on a gwariva, which is a soundboard made from the Mubvamaropa tree.

The space for improvisation and style in a mbira performance has been likened to that of jazz, where there are extensive possibilities for rhythmic and melodic variation. A Shona mbira piece of music typically consists of a basic patterned with numerous intertwined melodies and contrasting rhythms. When two mbiras are played together, each musician plays a different interlocking part, and in a traditional duet, there is typically a kushaura (leading) part and kutsinhira (intertwining) part. Mbira music is often cyclical, and every piece has no set beginning or end.

Mbira in deze. Image adapted from Wikicommons

About Fradreck Mujuru

Fradreck “Mukanya” Mujuru was born into a Shona family with a long history of playing and making the mbira in Zimbabwe. He is sometimes addressed by his clan name Mukanya. Like many aspiring mbira players, he attended traditional ceremonies where he pestered the elders to teach him. He started playing the instrument at the age of eight and was performing at ceremonies by the time he was 15. In 1981, he taught himself how to make mbiras.

Fradreck toured Europe and South Africa in the 1990s and has taught and performed in the United States, having taken up residencies at Grinnell College, Williams College, and the University of Michigan. Today, he is a highly respected musician as well as one of the greatest living mbira-makers. His instruments are played all over the world.

The mbira master performed in Singapore at the Esplanade Concourse and conducted a mbira playing workshop as part of A Tapestry of Sacred Music in 2017.

Read more about Fradreck Mujuru, mbira music and the Shona culture.

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