Hurray!!! First Zimbabwean Mbira Handbook

I only finished my first degree last year (2016) with the Zimbabwe College of Music in affiliation with Africa University. It was a fun degree, named Degree of Music (in Jazz), the degree was a decent balance between performance and theory. Theory courses included pure history, the history of music across different epochs as prescribed by western standards. In fact, one such subject was called History of Western Classical music, which obviously involved the same periods as we covered in Art school- the baroque, classical, renaissance etc etc. In our Zimbabwean music history, it was also classified into epochs but mostly as prescribed by our colonial periods (again, same as in Art school). We had pre-colonial, colonial then post-colonial.

Where Western Classical Music history had stacks of books discussing difference epochs, others discussing all epochs, others focusing only on one composer even, Zimbabwean Music History was neither documented that much nor in such detail (except for a few, such as Zimbabwe Township Music by Joyce Njenje Makwenda and Paul Berliner’s popular ‘Soul of Mbira’). Furthermore, most of the authorities we were able to quote were foreign writers, sometimes explorers who traveled through Zimbabwe, missionaries who were in Zimbabwe predominantly for ‘the gospel’, and few who traveled with the main objective of researching and documenting the local culture.

These books by foreign writers were very informative. Hadn’t these writers made the effort to research and document their findings, God forbid, what would we have cited in our essays? There wouldn’t have been an easier starting point. Furthermore, we would have completely lost a lot of heritage. So they did well, and this article is not meant to speak against them. Instead, this article is in celebration of all people who have taken time out to research and sit down to compile books with information that might seem worthless in their time, but becomes gold in time.

Writing essays on local music, especially the history of local musics (most particularly Zimbabwean traditional music) was a pain. In school, at such levels you are not allowed to write an essay only full of your opinions, without any citations from what we call authorities. These authorities are basically learned or more experienced people who decide to write about their areas of specialty; or even simpletons who decide to research on a matter and write about it.

With little written material on Zimbabwean music, formal or informal, we ended up with the same authors from whom to quote. We eneded up knowing these few, so much that we could very easily cite them without necessarily reading the book again. These few include the likes of Joyce Njenje Makwenda (thank you for Township music in Zimbabwe; we fed on that book for a long time), Prof Fred Zindi (obviously) and then few others who documented Zimbabwe’s general history and included music here and there.

I always wanted to be the change I wanted to see in this area. I still haven’t written even articles on mbira. Instead I am writing something else totally different that called me first. So, you can imagine my delight at finding out that the man who had been providing me with mbira for almost all my career, poet, mbira nyunga nyunga teacher and manufacturer, special needs teacher and Special Schools Arts Festival founder and director- Ticha Muzavazi- had written the very first Zimbabwean Mbira Nyunga nyunga Handbook (I believe it’s the first world over, yes?)!

I have the book with me. I am yet to read through all of it for write a review. But I had to mention, immediately, how this is such a millstone in the history of mbira and the history of literature in Zimbabwe. It may seen trivial to many, but from now on, Zimbabweans (and non-Zimbabweans) can buy a book, and a nyunga nyuga  and teach themselves mbira nyunga nyunga songs. They can read a bit about meanings of certain popular nyunga nyunga songs and the general mbira culture. Music teachers in schools now have points of reference as they teach, even without being absolute mbira maestros. Now other mbira students in universities can cite one more Zimbabwean authority. .

Let’s all give Ticha Muzavazi (real name Trust Mutekwa) a resounding round of applause, standing ovation even. I salute you!