Zvembira caught up with Australia based mbira player Fabio Chivhanda to talk about his mbira journey and inspirations. Here is what he had to say…
As a young boy I had dreams of playing mbira and dancing surrounded by huge crowds. During that time one could not borrow mbira as it was a very personal instrument. To learn mbira I had to either buy or make my own. So I made my own and started to play various mbira tunes as a young boy at traditional ceremonies known as “mapira” in Shona.
I listened a lot to the beautiful sound of mbira played by Wonder Rusike, a traditional njuzu spirit medium. Some of the tunes I remember him playing include Karimugomba, Bhukatiende and Nhemamusasa. Inspired, I took my father’s axe, cut down a Mubvamaropa tree specially known for making mbira wooden sound boards, brought back home two pieces of the wood, showed them to my father and explained my dream. Both my father and stepmother welcomed my idea and supported my project.
After carving my wooden soundboard and making the mbira keys for my first set without instructions, I visited my relative David Magunje, a spirit medium and a well-known great mbira player. I gave him a gift of one the pieces of wood so he could make himself a new mbira soundboard. He taught me a lot and I went to a lot of ceremonies to play hosho (shakers) all night. Through this experience I mastered and refined my skill on how to play perfect shakers. During the touring to ceremonies I met various mbira musicians from around Zimbabwe. This was a phenomenal start to my mbira playing career.
Gradually, just like many other busy mbira musicians did, I started to make a living from playing at ceremonies in Zimbabwe and across the boders in Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. A few years later I applied to a local recording company to record my mbira tunes and moved to Harare to persue my music career professionally. During this time I met up with CBS staffer the late record producer Musa Kasimonje. He worked side by side with the legendary producer Bothwell Nyamhondera.
Kasimonje led me to Teal Grammar Records Studios where I teamed up with my friends, late musicians Adam Chisvo and Naison Kabaya as a mbira trio known by the name “Tamba Waka Chenjera Mbira Brothers”. We did our first singles on vinyl records namely Mukadzi, Karimugomba and Tinokumbira Mvura part one and part two in 1982. Our music was played on various ZBC Radio shows and we soon appeared on some ZTV shows including a show hosted by the renowned late comedian Safirio Madzikatire (Baba waRwizi Mukadota). We were then fortunate enough to meet the late Sekuru Thomas Wadharwa Gora at the Zimbabwe Traditional Dance Troupe at Mbare Stodart Hall. We also met Ephat Mujuru, Mbuya Beaular Dyoko, Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, Cosmas Magaya, Tute Chigamba and award winners Mbira Dzenharira. I can only offer respect and honour to these musicians for the hard work they have carried out and shared and for paving the way and spreading mbira music to the World.
I was also honoured to work with the likes of Stephen Chifunyise, Farai Gezi, Robert Maclaren, and many more to mention in the formation stages of CHIPAWO as a mbira instructor. With my nine piece Marimbira Black Sounds band we were also contracted by Rufaro City Marketing of Harare where I have also performed in beers halls and city night clubs and festivals too many to mention.
As a mbira player I travelled extensively in and out of Zimbabwe on a regular basis. Through our successful recordings we met Joseph Matare a double bass player based in Switzerland and as a result we then toured Europe including Switzerland and Germany as a group of ten musicians. I also met up with the late Richard Matimba, and his brother Kudaunashe Matimba and we teamed up to tour the UK and appeared we appeared at WOMAD and at various venues as Svinurai, a traditional group of musicians and dancers from Zimbabwe.
Now I’m here in Australia where I play with my six piece band as well as some solo mbira performances. I also teach mbira to interested people. I am happy to be among musicians who are proudly spreading mbira music into the World through playing and teaching. And I love mbira music mostly as it is my culture and identity.
Find out more about Fabio and his music here