Zim music: Our vibrant auditory heritage and memory


MUSIC is the spirit of the people.
It is the most patriotic and nationally conscious indigenous art form, given as it resides in the auditory heritage and memory of the people and the land.
The traditional music tapestry of Zimbabwe is woven with many colourful, sonoric threads; it is a complex and sophisticated musical heritage.
Traditional Zimbabwean musicians created music of staggering scope and imagination, combining mass-appeal with musical sophistication and the technical knowledge of designing instruments and creating sound.
The national instrument (mbira) was used to produce music and lyrics that gave exuberant interpretations of communal life, the cosmos, socio-religion, the land, society and the environment.
The mbira was the crucible of an idealistic living culture.
Protest songs, mainly composed by women, provided poignant melodies and ironic commentary about their domestic grievances and national grievances reflecting the emotional state of the indigenous Zimbabwean (Shona) people who became victims of colonial land usurpation and livestock thievery that were exemplary in songs such as ‘Mombe mbiri nemadhongi mashanu’ chorus; ‘Sevenza nhamo ichauya’ meaning “With two cows and five donkeys; work hard, because troubles are coming.”
This song was a response to the Land Husbandry Act of 1931 that the colonial system imposed on the indigenous pastoralists in order to posses their cattle.
The irony of the song was that they left them with more donkeys than cattle.
Donkeys being symbolic of labour, while cattle were symbolic of wealth.
In times of strife, traditional Zimbabwean music ushered optimism and hope to overcome the trials and tribulations of colonial bondage.
Zimbabwean traditional music also embodied a gender-specific channel for women to vent their domestic remonstration through women’s protest songs.
Some of the better known songs that have survived the ages include the lyrics ‘Baba Havachagoni’ and ‘Amwene vanoshusha’ which translate to ‘My mother-in-law is nagging’.
Traditional musical lyrics also archived the heroic bravery of Shona legends such as Chaminuka in oratorical musical epics – revisited by female mbira musician Hope Masike in her Love and Chocolates album.
Our well-balanced natural sound heritage created by traditional Shona mbira chantors and instrumentalists gave insightful and reflective musical passages, reciting the natural calamities of the environment and the sense of drama which occurred in the socio-cultural realm of human habitation and communal existence.
Most of the content and context of the music makes reference to socio-cultural, religious, political and environmental issues and their final resolution for an idyllic Shona existence.
The context of Shona music is perpetually renewing itself with time and has a relevance and ingenuity that is contemporaneous.
In the pantheon of world music, Zimbabwean mbira music will strike a key that will be heard and resonate forever.
The natural untethered indigenous wave of musical creativity continues to ring in the calabash of the present-day mbira maestros.
Our well-balanced sound heritage is stored in the calabash of our indigenous memory.
The indigenous Zimbabwean had an acute ear for the sound and music of nature which they incorporated in their compositions and articulation of vocables.
In his article in The Patriot dated January 13 to 19 2017, Dr Tafataona Mahoso articulates some of these memories of sound in a Ndau song called ‘Harahwadzozingeya’ meaning ‘when old men reluctantly go hunting’.
Like spiritual chants, one often hears vocable sound phrases such as ‘hacha-cha’, ‘aye-aye-we’, ‘aah howa-howa’, and ‘ehunde-hunde-nde’.
Most of these sounds are used to emphasise the exactness and profundity of the message being sung.
Most of the works of the great traditional composers of 18th Century Zimbabwe were reflections on the socio-environmental milieu and cultural norms of the times.
Such as the classic song about the loner – ‘Zindoga’, the man without relatives, composed to explain the reason for the breech in the cultural norm.
It is music which regulates the consciousness and morals of a society.
Our mbira musicians narrate, in song, ancient wisdom and proverbs that are still relevant in today’s social setting.
The content in mbira lyrics covers every gamut of life from our relationship with the environment to cultural politics and family life.
While some songs recall historic events such as the First and Second Chimurenga of the late 1800s and the mid-1900s, respectively, other songs illustrate heroic folklore that contributed in a powerful way to the smooth and amiable function of a community.
Today, mbira continues to delight in innovation and experimentation and is futuristic in its unending permutations of melodies.
Zimbabwean music provides the link between the old and the new traditions; memory and contemporenaiety.
Formal music education in Zimbabwe should bring a resurgence of interest in the archaic sounds of our traditional music and thus restore the true Zimbabwean identity made discordant by colonial overtures.
In Zimbabwean music, there is poetry, orature, literature, history, political science, geography, environmental science and the esotericism of divinity.
Traditionally, singing, dancing and even assonance have been used to reinstate accord within groups of individuals and create connections with the environment.
Music reinforced our sense of continuity with our traditions, ubuntu/hunhu and African essence.
Now that music has been included in our new 2016 Zimbabwean school curriculum, perhaps Zimbabweans can reclaim the authorship and ownership of our culture and heritage.
While colonialism created a rift in our culture, it is entirely our fault if we take our rich musical heritage for granted.
In the past, indigenous art forms such as music have been subjected to colonial censorship and religious duress and annihilation to the extent some traditional music was outlawed during the colonisation and Christianisation of Zimbabwe.
The knowledge and ownership of our indigenous traditional music scholarship currently lies in the hands of foreign academics and universities.
A cursory glance on African music websites reveals that 93 percent of all cultural discourse on African and Zimbabwean music studies resides in American, Canadian and European universities.
During the struggle for independence, music became a political tool used by both sides to communicate messages of solidarity to their respective communities, but while the white media could afford to be overt, many indigenous Zimbabwean musicians were forced to be subversive.
The sublime discourses of mbira music have created an idealistic society that the Shona continue to strive to achieve in their articulation of Zimbabwean mbira music.
In it is a message of hope that is embodied in the spirit of the people.
Zimbabweans have an acute auditory knowledge that makes music the pulse of their existence.
Whether playing traditional mbira music or popular jit, rhumba, museve, Zim-dancehall and Chimurenga dance rhythms, contemporary Zimbabwean musicians continue to contribute to a vibrant world cultural musical heritage and music education.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com


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