It’s Mbira Month and you could be making all the excuses possible to get yourself the next mbira album. In this post i talk briefly about 5 albums that you should consider if you don’t have them already.
I’ve tried to stick to albums that are easier to access! Please note, I said “tried”. Most of these can be bought online however if you can get the CDs do as the sleeves might contain more information that will help gain more insights into the artists or the album.
1. Mbira Singles Collections
This is my experience with this album: my babamukuru (my father’s older brother) never returned my cassette after “borrowing it for a bit” to play in his car. He never forgot, he just couldn’t give it back. I’ve since ‘upgraded’ to a CD though I wouldn’t mind him returning my cassette one day!
This is my favourite mbira album of all time and I do apologise to those who will have difficulties getting it if you don’t already own one. The beauty of this album lies in how it brings together various musicians and styles to share a vibrancy that is rare to find on many mbira compilation albums. The vocalists are great, the instruments great and the recording quality is professional and high for the time and still beats many recordings these days. There is a lot I would like to say about this album but I will reserve it for a separate dedicated post as I would like to go through some of the songs and explain further why I think this is my best mbira album of all time that everyone should have. It is an honest expression of what how mbira is used in Zimbabwe even beyond the traditional context. Goodluck with finding a copy, if you can, go and find my babamukuru, he’s got one.
2. Zimbabwe The African Mbira: Music of the Shona People
One of the earlier recordings of the nyunga nyunga. Often when people talk of mbira from Zimbabwe there is a tendency only to focus on the Zezuru mbira dzavadzimu. Unlike the more polished recordings of nyunga nyunga you find these days, this is raw and honest making it one of my favorite. Mbira played by the legendary Dumi Maraire. Just ignore the colonial titling of the album.
3. Live at El Rey- Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited
I love this album for the clarity of the mbira. The Makombe brothers, Bezil and Ngoni, play in a very clean/ precise way. You might get annoyed by the bass guitar and the constant high hat cymbals but this album has always been great on a day when I am lazying about. Easily available online, check on iTunes, Amazon and other online music stores you might know.
4. Rine Manyanga Hariputirwe- Mbira Dzenharira
Quite a lot of people sing the opening lines to the first song on this album when they think of Mbira Dzenharira. The first of their many, this album arguably propelled the group to become the first truly national mbira, hosho and voice only sound. Of course timing was essential but the new sound of they brought immediately differentiated them from what had been before. Mbira DzeNharira is a masterclass of vocal harmony in mbira. The group went on to produce other great albums but this remains my all-time favourite. The impact of these guys has been such that some people who are not ‘mbira-wise’ in Zimbabwe think the music and the instrument is actually called Mbira Dzenharira. You meet someone on the street when you are carrying a mbira and they say to you, ” Ah, so you play the Mbira DzeNharira too”! It’s available online.
5. Magore Kore- Chaka Chawasarira
Matepe has got one of the greatest mbira sounds for me. I’ve never been fortunate enough to own one and I remember that the first time I held one was in Devon, England. I had once seen one in Zimbabwe but had not actually had the chance to play around with it. This is one album that is more easily accessible online. If you are not familiar with matepe I would highly recommend listening to it as well as looking up the Zonke family on YouTube
Before you go, vote and check out when others last bought a mbira album!