Mbira as known by so many serves a special purpose during the African Tradition ritual ceremonies, better known as ‘Mapira’ in shona. Many believe that for so long the instrument was used in calling ancestral spirits during important community gatherings.
Today, we have Andy Fowler from Mbiramagic.Com talking about his fascinating new mbira song book. He’s also sharing a special discount code (50% off until Sunday 17 July– see https://gumroad.com/mbiramagic) for CelebrityCheck readers.
Q: Hi Andy. We hear you are releasing a new mbira song book. Can you tell us something about it?
A: Hi Celebrity Check. Thanks for inviting me along! I’ve been working with my teacher, Fungai Gahadzikwa on this project for a couple of years now, and we’re proud to be releasing this first-of-its-kind mbira song book this week. There’s a number of mbira classics inside, like Nhemamusasa, Bangiza, Chipembere and Mahororo, and also one of Fungai’s compositions, Zviroto. Everything is presented in an accessible style of notation that’s suitable for beginners and there’s some extra information that should excite the more advanced players.
Q: Cool. What is it that makes this book the ‘first-of-its-kind’?
A: When I wrote Unlocking Mbira, I started looking more deeply at the structures within traditional mbira music. There’s one particular form that I named ‘The Master Progression’ that is present within most of the traditional songs. In this book, I show how each of Fungai’s variations relate to it. This might seem overly academic, but it serves a few purposes. For some players, it shows that we can look at this music from a Western perspective, thinking of its structures as a ‘chord progression’. This way of interpreting the music helps us to understand how and why different songs fit together, and how to create new variations. It also opens up the possibility of composing entirely new songs that mimic traditional pieces, or that use other common structures from around the (Jazz Turnarounds, Blues Progressions, etc.) The ‘chord progression’ idea isn’t a perfect fit, as traditional music doesn’t always follow a rigid structure, but there are some common ways that this ‘form’ is often interpreted in the Shona songs, and I illustrate a number of them. Interestingly, for some experienced players, I’m presenting brand new information. Many are surprised to learn that nearly all of the songs they know and love are actually bound together by a hidden link. For me, this whole subject is fascinating. I uncovered some new details about it in Unlocking Mbira (http://www.mbiramagic.com/news/unlocking-mbira-book), and there’s more to come in my next book, The Mbira Mystery. Unfortunately, we do don’t have time for me to go into too much detail here, but what excites me the most are the overlapping harmonic and fractal-like qualities, and the amazing symmetries within this music. This might be starting to sound too intense, so I’d like to reassure readers that everything is introduced gently, and if they like, they can just use the book to learn new songs!
Q: That does sound fascinating! We have a number of mbira type instruments here in Zimbabwe. Which is this book for?
A: The most common names used amongst players of this instrument outside of Zimbabwe are Mbira, Mbira Dza Vadzimu, Mbira Huru and even Mbira Huru Dzavadzimu. It’s the one with three rows of notes (two on the left and one on the right). I’m hopeful that the information in my book will also be useful for players or Mbira Nyunganyunga/Karimba, Matepe and Njari, and even the modern Kalimba and Sansula variants. The notation won’t help them to learn songs very easily, but the analysis should prove enlightening, and may inspire some new converts to this wonderful instrument.
Q: You seem to be quite the enthusiast! Can you tell our readers a bit more about yourself and your future plans for MbiraMagic.Com?
A: I have a mixed background. My degree is in Fine Art and I hold a post-graduate diploma in Counseling. Most of the work I do is creative and educational, and I’m particularly drawn to activities that contain patterns and require a bit of dexterity. For those reasons, finding and learning mbira has been a blessing for me. I also run my own business teaching world percussion and continue to paint. In fact, I’m currently working on a series of Mbira Animal Totem Paintings. I’ll mail over some examples for you to include. My next painting will be Chipembere, and although he isn’t a mitupo/totem, he shares his name with one of my favourite songs (included in Fungai’s book). Along with the paintings, publishing new songs to learn and play on the website and working on The Mbira Mystery, I’m also delivering mbira workshops at festivals, community groups and schools here in the UK. One thing I’ve found harder than expected has been finding a way to support mbira players and makers in Zimbabwe. Without Paypal working properly there, it’s difficult for Zimbabweans to market themselves and build trust internationally. I’d definitely like to find a way to support more trade, and am in touch with a number of people looking to make this happen.
Q: Thanks Andy. It sounds like this isn’t all about making money for yourself, but more about promoting the instrument and supporting the global mbira community. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I think that’s the right way to do things. I’m keen to share my enthusiasm and produce resources to the best of my ability, but I’m not an island. There are contact forms on my website and my email address is included in all my books. I encourage everyone to get in touch with their questions or ideas. I’m particularly on the look out for more mbira players/makers to promote in the artist profile section on the site. If your readers know any, It would be great if they could forward this article on. Thanks again, Bennic for inviting me to contribute!
Readers can claim this special time-limited offer here <link to https://gumroad.com/mbiramagic > and view a summary, sample pages and professional reviews here <link to http://www.mbiramagic.com/news/fungai-gahadzikwa-mbira-song-book-summary-reviews >. Enjoy!