Mbira breakthrough in Canada

HARARE - When the “Mbira in Schools” Project was launched in August last year, its founder Albert Chimedza  hardly imagined that his ambitious initiative would quickly spread its influence to as far as Canada.

Montreal-based Ginette Hétu-Bertrand, who briefly lived in Harare soon after independence, has set up an organisation that seeks to promote the playing of the mbira in Canada.

“From 1980, my husband, children and I lived in Zimbabwe for three years.  During that time we became good friends with Albert Chimedza,” said Ginette.

“So I was excited last year when Albert told me about The Mbira Centre’s ‘Mbira in Schools’ project.  I found the project so fantastic that I decided to make time to create a related project in this part of the world.”

To realise her dream of popularising the mbira in the North American country, Ginette set up an organisation called The Association Musicale Mbira Montreal.

“The mbira is a beautiful instrument. I love the sound of it and also the millennial history behind it.

“It is a noble instrument that deserves its place in any music school’s programme worldwide,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.

Ginette, who has considerable experience in project management, has gone out of her way to improve her mbira-playing skills so as boost her ambitious project.

“Last September, I spent a month in residence at The Mbira Centre in Harare and learned to play a few songs next to Forward Kwenda who is a great teacher,” she said.

“I love all kinds of music and I sing in an opera choir in my spare time.

“Now I try to play with the mbira a little bit every day.”

Ginette’s association hopes to promote mbira in Montreal first before replicating the same process in other Canadian cities.

“I do a lot of information work in Montreal schools to let them know about the mbira.  The Mbira Centre was kind enough to provide us with mbiras that we can show and lend to some schools willing to carry a mbira musical project,” she said.

Ginette, a member of the Montreal Vocal Art Society which she chaired between 2012 and 2013, is banking on the help of Chimedza’s Mbira Centre in her bid to popularise the mbira in Canadian schools.

“I am waiting to receive more examples of students playing the mbira in Zimbabwean schools, so our kids here will be tempted by this nice music with beautiful young voices and they will be willing to do the same.

“That is why the Mbira in Schools Project from The Mbira Centre in Harare is so important as a model for us here,” she said.

In order to tap into the expertise of The Mbira Centre, Ginette has made Chimedza a board member of The Association Musicale Mbira Montreal.

“The board has three directors who include Jonathan Brown, a computer engineer who was born in Harare, while his father was working at the Canadian Embassy. He lived in Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1984.

“I am the acting president and the board is supported by an advisory committee composed of Albert Chimedza, director of The Mbira Centre in Harare, and a musician/academic from Toronto.

“A French-English translator will soon join our committee,” she said.

Ginette is also happy to be associated with Toronto-based mbira player Evelyn Mukwedeya who is part of a musical group called Nhapitapi.

“Evelyn is a friend. She was introduced to me last year by a musician friend. I went to see her performing in Toronto and she came to visit us in Montreal.

“When I see that she will perform somewhere, it is my pleasure to share and advertise her through our Association’s page on Facebook.

“I really enjoy her singing,” she told The Daily News on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Chimedza has lauded the efforts of The Association Musicale Mbira Montreal but he wants Zimbabweans to take the lead in popularising the mbira.

“I think what they are doing is one small effort, albeit commendable and admirable. We should be doing more of what they are doing.

“We should be making more of an effort to be the ones that determine how and where mbira spreads in the rest of the world.

“It is our mbira.  We should take responsibility,” said The Mbira Centre director.

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