mbira queen, nyunga nyunga

By Garikai Mazara for The Sunday Mail

Hope Masike is not your everyday musician, not your urban groover, not your sungura bass-strumming guitarist, not exactly your pop diva. Hope Masike is a mbira prodigy, if I can be allowed to use that term, that word prodigy. She is equally photogenic, and knows how and where to pose for the camera, so don’t be overly disappointed when you see the physical Hope not matching the Hope that you see on photos.

I am not sure if it is because of the genre that she plays, mbira, but her presence on the live entertainment scene is usually at the “elitist” venues, think of the Book Café, Alliance Française, Zimbabwe-Germany Society and, at worst, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands, etc.

So if you ask the ghetto yute, to borrow from Winky D’s riddims, they are not likely to identify with Hope. Yet Hope is, probably (if this is to mean arguably), the future of mbira music. With Chiwoniso Maraire gone, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe entering the twilight zone, surely the baton now moves to Hope Masike.

The first and last time I saw her perform was at Gallery Delta (which year I don’t remember) when she were launching her first album. And the end of her set, I somehow felt pity for her, because I could see her fingers were burning, aching, itching (whatever the feeling that is caused by continuous playing of the mbira).

She was new on the scene and not much attention was given to her entrance onto the mbira world stage.

Fast forward a couple of years later and it was last Thursday night, at the President’s inauguration bash at the National Sports Stadium. This time, again like then, I felt pity for her, not about her fingers (somehow I figured they should have been accustomed by now), but by the person she was taking the stage after. I almost hid my head in shame . . . Why would Hope opt for such a time? Why? Why? Why?

The thing is, the DJ had decided to play Freeman as Hope prepared her set and the crowd went wild, some even left the terraces for the lawn in anticipation of a Freeman performance.

And there was Hope preparing herself. Why, why, why, I asked myself for the umpteenth time. Then she went on stage. I was mesmerised, I was taken aback. The girl who had sore fingers at her first album launch suddenly had the stadium on its feet, had everyone dancing.

I am not sure where and how she gained the confidence, it could have been the numerous tours to Europe, it could have the performances at Book Cafe or it could be age itself, I am not sure, but truth is I was touched by her performance.

Then she made one last fatal mistake as she was signing off the stage, instead of just acknowledging Chiwoniso Maraire, she should have done one of her songs. “Ladies and gentlemen, here is a tribute to our departed mbira heroine . . .” And she could have done either “Nhemamusasa”, “Mai” or “Wandirasa” as a closing song.

That way she could have endeared herself to thousands of fence-sitters. Not that she didn’t endear yourself, she did, but the Chiwoniso tribute could have been a master-stroke.