A blog about arts and societies around the world

Zimbaremabwe: Calling the Spirits with the Mbira

There are times where being in London is not such a bad thing at all. The current period fits in that category. The Sun has been a regular guest for the past couple of weeks, the temperature has risen up, and last but not least, African culture events are ubiquitous.

Part of these was SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies) last music event of the season. The well-known college offered a journey to Zimbabwe, with the band Zimbaremabwe, for a night of spirit calling with the mbira.

The mbira is a thumb piano consisting of a wooden board to which staggered metal keys have been attached. Traditionally played at spiritual ceremonies, it is central to the Shona culture of Zimbabwe.

Right after his arrival on stage, Linos Wengara Magaya, leader of the group, explains that the name of the instrument is pronounced “mbeeera” with emphasis on the “eee”. It simply means guinea pig if pronounced “mbeera”, which could lead to confusion during your next trip in Southern Africa.

After these brief explanations, the three musicians start with a bewitching, languid rhythm of percussions. For over an hour and a half, the Brighton-based band plays a varied set going from ritual ballads to reggae influenced pieces, alternating English and local Shona languages. And all of that centred on the charming sound of the mbira.

Linos encourages the audience to sing along, and the whole venue quickly ends up singing in Shona for a good part of the evening. After each song, the front man explains the signification of the lyrics, putting every single piece in its natural context. For instance, Bangiza describes what is going on at a ceremony. In tonight’s case, it represents a prayer for his country.

A quick encore, and the Zimbabwe-born group leaves the stage amidst a buoyant venue asking for more. SOAS has a reputation of presenting great music bands from all over world, and tonight’s concert, if not memorable, was definitely a pleasurable moment. Rendez-vous in September!

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