Mbira, mbira lessons, mbira uk, mbira london, zvembira


Sometimes I feel like vomiting when we talk of mbira and ancestors.

Why is it that when people talk of ancestors  it’s as if they existed in a remote era in the past and that they would be so offended by anything modern? We talk of ancestors as if there is a cut off point which you should have existed before to be considered a worthy ancestor. I say so because sometimes we seem to struggle with the concept of modernity and our ancestors. What sort of ancestors will we be considering the times that we’ve lived in? Are we going to be the same as the ancestors who lived in 1600?

Welcome to my mini-rant about mbira and ancestors.

Now, I am not an expert on ‘ancestors’ but there is something that I think I am an expert at, something that is really cool. I am an expert at knowing that people continue to die consequently becoming ancestors!  What is clear to me is that this cycle of death is continuous hence theoretically the number of ancestors that are most likely to look after us is ever growing and they have all lived in different times. I am convinced therefore that ancestors are not the same just like we are all different at present.

It is the casualness of which we say ‘ancestors this’, ‘ancestors that’ that really drives me mad.  I doubt very much the existence of a filter that makes everyone the same when they die, therefore it is annoying that we casually talk of ancestors as if that they are the same. Very annoying.

When it comes to mbira, some will like Bangiza, some maybe Bukatiende, others might like Dande.  When you become an ancestor interested in mbira, (for not all ancestors do the mbira thing),  what song will tickle your insides?  Will you be fussed that  some Castle Lager or whatever bottle tops are buzzing, will you be fussed that mbira is played in a fibreglass deze, will you be fussed about who is playing the mbira? I know other ancestors are not fussed about fibreglass dezes or bottle tops because I’ve played at biras where they came and not even once did they say anything about the fibreglass dezes we were using or the Coca-Cola bottle tops around the dezes. Of course they are picky just like us, just like we would be when we are ancestors.

What sort of ancestor will you be and how will you interact with mbira?


4 Replies to “Mbira: When We Are Ancestors”

  1. a breath of fresh air zvembira.. a real breath of fresh air…one of the fundamental laws of physics.. “no energy can be destroyed or created, only converted”

  2. I should say first that I’m from outside the culture we’re talking about here so whatever I say is pure speculation and I obviously only have more questions to add. I think your comments are really interesting Taku. Is there the possibility that mbira music will become/is becoming less spiritually relevant as the when the more recent generations pass on, they will have had different musical preferences (i.e. not mbira) during their lifetimes than the older generations? Or is there an idea amongst some that everyone ‘gets into’ mbira music when the die, like it’s the preferred music of the spirits generally? I think I read somewhere that the most powerful spirits that can control things like rain are the oldest ones – the original owners of the land. If that’s true, maybe that will keep mbira music spiritually relevant into the future. But how old is the mbira music that we play today? Would those ancient ancestors recognise and like it, or would they be like ‘argh what is this modern crap’? Or maybe they appreciate people taking the classics and doing new and exciting things with them. Are we playing the same classics as there have always been or have pieces been lost, composed and altered along the way? Do your tastes remain static when you die? Do ancestral spirits get sick of hearing the same songs over and over? Maybe Mutamba was my favourite while I was alive but after a couple of hundred years I’d like a bit of Nyuchi for a change…

  3. I Will be a dancing ancestor !
    modernity/traditionnal ….
    quarrel for sûre !
    You are right TAKU… I think you CAN Bring thé Mbira to a modern area …. without dis respect Mbira and OUR ancestors !
    Respect … and love , that´s what is important …
    I préfer natural calabash deze … not for looking “Roots” …
    for me the Sound that´s give thé calabash représents The african Sound ( not only for tac Mbira ) … ( perhaps bécause I m white ..)
    at thé moment I play fiber glass deze , bécause thé last natural calabash I buy … has not enough Sound …
    not all natural calabash sounds good …
    perhaps this is ONe reason we found a lot of fiber glass deze ….’!!!

Comments are closed.