Zimbabwean Soundscapes Captivate

Colin Roshak

A world-famous musician performed in Kulas Recital Hall Monday night, yet you may not have know about it. Mbira virtuoso Fradreck Mujuru and his collaborator Erica Azim took the stage, delivering an evening of Zimbabwean music that transported concertgoers to a country with a rich musical history.

Having played the instrument since the tender age of eight, Mujuru confidently displayed exactly why he is considered one of the best mbira players in the world. Azim is also a veteran performer, having studied the music of Zimbabwe for more than 30 years. Most striking, however, was not the pair’s considerable technical proficiency, but their unwavering ability to build upon and reciprocate each other’s energy. The duo performed with a precision that immediately captivated their audience.

The mbira resembles a small handheld piano, but instead of an ivory keyboard, the instrument boasts spoon-like silver keys. When plucked with the fingers, the delicate, chiming timbre resembles that of a celeste. In this particular concert, the keyboard was placed within a large gourd that acted as an amplifier with “rattlers,” adding a percussive sound along with chiming of the keys.

The music was lighthearted and beautiful, but more importantly, it was clear that the two performers shared a deep passion for their art. The sheer amount of enthusiasm that they dedicated to the concert made it apparent that the music is an incredibly important aspect of their lives. While one performer laid down a rhythmic bassline, the other would play a melody that soared above the gentle rhythmic patterns. The two would continue their musical conversation, periodically switching roles and even inviting the audience to clap. “This [music] is what people dance to,” Azim said, as Mujuru gracefully demonstrated onstage. Between pieces they adjusted their instruments and exchanged a few words, but the moment one of them began to play, the other would immediately join in with an almost uncanny awareness. When the two began to sing, their clear voices reverberated throughout the dimly lit and warmly resonant hall. In an instant, listeners were transported from the stuffy concert hall to the white, sandy beaches of Zimbabwe. The soundscape evoked wide-open fields filled with mid-summer’s blooming flowers; the rhythmic and melodic tones constantly evolved to create new textures and images, and these musicians made it impossible not to be drawn into their performance through their passion and precision. Performances are all about the connections that are made between listeners and the music, the composer or the performers; few concerts have spoken to an audience as clearly and genuinely as this.