Zim artiste popularises mbira in Canada

HARARE - Playing the mbira has kept Canada-based musician Evelyn Mukwedeya in touch with her Zimbabwean roots.

Mukwedeya’s mbira-playing prowess has enabled her to create links with internationally acclaimed artistes in Canada from her base in Toronto where she has lived for over a decade.

“Being a mbira player has been a big part of my cultural identity in the diaspora and has been a way of staying connected with my homeland,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.

“Mbira has also connected me with wonderful people, some of who have become my closest friends,” she said.

Mukwedeya was a pioneer member of a mbira group called Nhapitapi which has made a mark on the Toronto arts scene.

“I consider my bandmates my second family as we appreciate the same music and have the same values. We are also proud of sharing and celebrating our heritage.”

In addition to featuring on the television programme “Toronto’s Got Talent,” Nhapitapi has participated in Zimfest in the United States and many Canadian festivals in Toronto and beyond.

“I started playing semi-professionally in 2008 in a band called Masaisai where we focused on Chimurenga-style music. In 2011, the band split and the mbira/hosho section composed of Memory Makuri, Rainos Mutamba and I – formed the band Nhapitapi,” Mukwedeya said.

“Besides the band work, I occasionally teach mbira, get hired as a solo performer, or get hired as a backing musician by local artists who are looking to collaborate and incorporate the mbira sound in their music.”

For Mukwedeya, music should have the ability to impart wisdom and encouragement.

She has written songs such as ‘Nhamo’ which encourages people to work hard and ‘Pangu Pangu,’ a song which encourages people to ignore negative talk.

Mukwedeya, like her role models late Chioniso Maraire, mbuya Stellah Chiweshe and Beular Dyoko, learnt to play the instrument at a tender age.

“From a young age, my parents sent my siblings and I to music lessons after school because we had shown an interest in music,” she said.

“After my family relocated to Toronto in 2004, I could not find a mbira teacher to continue my studies. I then decided to learn more pieces and repertoire by borrowing the few mbira CDs which were available in the Toronto Public Library, listening to them and trying to imitate what I was hearing.

“These CDs included works by Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, Dumisani Maraire and great mbira-playing families such as Mhuri yekwaMagaya and Mhuri yekwaMujuru, to name a few.”

After high school, Mukwedeya sought a career that could be amenable to her love for art and Science.

“I thought engineering would be a good choice because the field allows professionals to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to solve practical problems. I studied at the University of Toronto from 2006 to 2011, majoring in biomedical engineering and am completing a certificate in business management and entrepreneurship,” Mukwedeya said.

“Although, I do not make my living from music, I have grown a musical career over the years. Throughout high school and university I was a classical music clarinetist in several school, university and youth orchestras.”

Interestingly, she also believes the mbira is a spiritual instrument.

“Regardless of what context it is used in, I find that the sound of the mbira has a spiritual and musical depth and that the music it produces is healing and entertaining. I also believe mbira music can and should continue to evolve – it is a living culture,” Mukwedeya said.

“On a personal level, being a mbira player has been a big part of my cultural identity in the diaspora and has been a way of staying connected with my homeland.”

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