My friend Robert insists that mbira music is too obsessed with lyrics about suffering and complaints. He says if ever you are feeling a bit low either avoid listening to mbira totally or listen to instrumentals only.

His challenge is this, make a list of 10 songs without thinking hard about what songs you want to include on the list. Now think of the lyrics. His view is that in 90% of the songs, the lyrics will be complaining about something or lamenting of some suffering of sorts.

Today is Valentine’s Day and I am not going to lie to you that there is a great tradition of Mbira and Valentine’s Day. Neither am I going to debate Robert’s view but it challenged me to hunt for some songs with some love overtures, the kind of mbira songs that will leave one with that warm fuzzy feeling that many love songs from other genres do.

I hoped to write something about mbira love songs but I guess I didn’t leave enough time because after listening to many songs by various artists for hours on end I couldn’t come up with a list that I could call a tour de force on the subject. I was rather distracted by the many songs on relationships which unfortunately in many cases would fall into Robert’s suffering and complaints category.

I am not seeking to disprove Robert’s view, all I am seeking is a bit of affectionate mbira songs.

HELP!  Please let me know some songs that should go in the all time list of mbira love songs! Doesn’t need to be Zimbabwean mbira only either.

In the mean time, have a listen to these songs

Ndinewe – Hope Masike

Ndiwe Chete – Thomas Mapfumo

Bob Marley’s ‘Is this Love’ Cover – Alessandro Corsi


2 Replies to “A Mbira Valentine”

  1. Ok Robert, via Taku, as a newcomer to Shona lyrics and their meanings, if I may speak about the folk traditions of the UK and poss Ireland as well, if I was to pick 10 songs that stay in my mind from that diverse set of traditions, it is similar in that in “90% of the songs, the lyrics will be complaining about something or lamenting of some suffering of sorts.”

    But cannot such mournful songs be played in a very emotional and engaging way?

    And is this haunting emotional expression what we are interested in, never mind what day it is?

  2. Hi Peter, True to many folk music traditions, mbira lyrics tend to tell stories and do a lot of social commentary. And I think both Robert and yourself are right that in most cases you’ll find that there is a lot of ‘complaining and lamentation’. This doesn’t mean that the songs are not to be enjoyed. Probably context is what really matters. Personally, with mbira I tend to go for the happier lyrics or chants when I’m a bit low!

    My everyday consumption of mbira includes listening to both traditional and newer lyrical compositions. In trying to get some songs for Valentine’s I found it intriguing how much i struggled to recall and identify a heap load of songs with affectionate lyrics about their love interests. I think with British folk music I’ve heard, there are a number of songs where there are affectionate lyrics though the songs could be classed in the lamentation section.

    Hopefully in a couple of months time I will write another article where I can list many songs and lyrics that get that warm fuzzy feeling of love going!

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