The unique mbira and drum affair


Tawanda Marwizi

Composition of traditional music in Zimbabwean culture remains anchored on two instruments –  the mbira and the drum – maintaining a unique sound adored worldwide.

In his book, Flashback Identity, Swedish-based Zimbabwean musician and author Luckson Chikutu provides an insight into Zimababwe’s valuable cultural heritage and how can it be preserved.

Chikutu says drums are used in social contexts such as festivals, funeral ceremonies, weddings and healing rituals when someone has fallen ill.

“There is no other instrument that maintain and audience’s interest and enthusiasm. In this sense the art form is complete.

“Zimbabwean drums are harmoniously composed when played. They are not based on notes but on rhythms and the initiative feelings of the drummer. The quality of the sound depends on how the musician uses energy and power of his hand against the drum,” he said.

In his pursuit to explain further on traditional music, Chikutu explains how Mbira (thump piano) is used in traditional music.

“The Mbira permeates everything in the Shona culture, both the sacred and profane. Originally, the mbira had an important communicative function, similar to the telephone.

“It was used by the guardians who watched over nightly ceremonies and also invoke the ancestors,” he explains.

Chikutu further explains how people used to play the instrument when praying to the ancestors  for the rains.

“Today even those who play music know that if you add mbira it adds depths to your melodies. That is how sacred the instrument is,” he said.

He further states the importance of some instruments like musical arches, woodclips, mbira, drums and marimba in the book.

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