Boomkat Product Review:
Charming expo of mbira music from Zimbabwe, 1983, charting its symbolism during early years of the country’s independence and as a means of contacting the spirit world
Showcasing the playing of Ephat Mujuru, the descendent of a respected spirit medium and master of the mbira dzavadzimu - “a handheld lamellophone used in Shona region to make contact and receive council from deceased ancestors” - the four pieces on ‘Mbavaira’ document Ephat working with a newly formed band, The Spirit of the People on their 2nd album of acoustic mbira music.
While named for the Shona for something like “chaos”, the album was intended to foster unity between Zimbabwe’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Shona and the Ndebele, and arrived on the country’s only label Gramma Records as one of few commercially issued mbira recordings at the time, and was practically received as a pop record, an immediate quality that it carries thru into 2021.
Ephat tragically died from a heart attack at Heathrow Airport in 2001, aged 51, en route to perform and teach in the US, and ‘Mbavaira’ is a lovely testament to his legacy, flowing free with four tracks of complex rhythmelodic colour and soulful vocals by his uncle Mude, sweepign from he lilting dealign music of the title track to the trad hunting song ‘Nyama Musango’ (Meat in the Forest) via the swingeing hustle of ‘Kuenda Mbire’ *Going to Mbire) and the more brooding tone of ‘Mudande’, named for a remote northern village in Zimbabwe.