Nyami Nyami Records unveils a reissue of Dumisani Maraire’s album Tichazomuona, initially recorded by the Zimbabwean mbira player and his family in 1986, six years after Zimbabwe’s independence.
Born in 1944, Dumisani Maraire pioneered the spread of traditional Shona music beyond Zimbabwe’s frontiers. He moved to the US in the late 60s where he introduced American students to the mbira, a traditional instrument of the Shona made of staggered metal tines attached to a wooden board (the player then uses his fingers to pluck the tines). “Dumi” is credited with developing the 1–15 number notation used on the mbira, and notating the song “Chemutengure”, a song beginners use to learn to play the instrument.
The mbira has a complicated past. It was considered sacred in Shona culture and played a vital role in traditional ceremonies. However, it became heavily looked down upon by colonialist missionaries who argued the instrument was connected to evil spirits. In 1980, following Zimbabwe independence and the collapse of Rhodesia, the instrument regained some popularity. The pan-Africanism and patriotism in the postcolonial era brought a more tolerant and respectful stance towards musical instruments like the mbira. Traditional music began receiving more airtime on radio and television. Several artists such as Robson Banda started performing popular guitar music that replicated the mbira’s sound. Nyami Nyami Records released a reissue of their album Soweto last october.
“When a mbira player plays his instrument, he is not playing it for the world. He is not trying to please people, nor is he performing. What he is doing is conversing with a friend. He teaches his friend what to do, and his friend teaches him what to do… To me, a mbira is a lively instrument”, Maraire said.
Dumisani Maraire and his family – his wife Mau Chi and daughter Chiwoniso – returned to Zimbabwe not long after the country’s independence and recorded the album Tichazomuoana together. The Nyunganyunga Mbira is also credited separately on the original album cover, probably because of the personal relation Dumi had with his instrument. Maraire’s daughter Chiwoniso, who was ten at the time, is featured on the title track. She went on to become an accomplished musician herself; the first-ever release of Nyami Nyami Records was her song “Zvichapera”, which she recorded a few weeks before she passed away in 2013. The young label is known for its passion for Southern African music as explored in this interview given by co-founder Charles Houdart, in which he mentioned the late artist.
Tichazomuona by Dumisani Maraire out May 6th.