Our Joyful Elders

In the last instalment, I related my early consciousness to music in our rural area. This second instalment traces the music that our elders enjoyed in the rural areas as I grew up.  Older people in our rural areas entertained themselves in several ways. Harvests were huge those days because of plenty rain and sheer hard work. The processing of the produce especially the threshing and winnowing part was always done in a cooperative way called humwe in the local Karanga language.

The humwe was designated according to the work people were cooperating on, humwe yamageja (ploughing), humwe yokushakura (weeding), humwe yoku cheka or yokukohwa (harvesting) and humwe yokupura (threshing). The farmer would brew some beer and slaughter a beast to host a work-accompanying feast where people worked, ate and drank. The feasts were accompanied by a lot of singing; special songs were designated to the humwe yokupura. The threshing involved pounding the grain with sticks and people would sing to the rhythm.  One such song our villagers sang was later re-done and recorded by Andy Brown, one of the prolific Zimbabwean musicians of our time. Yes, the lyrics and tune (maybe minus the tempo) of the song Shungu by Andy was adapted from a humwe yokupura song of the same name. 

Besides the humwe, elders also brewed beer for sale. This was called ndari and as the beer took to their brains, they would take their drums and other instruments to play shangara, mhandechigwagwa,matendera or mbakumba as well as muchongowoyo adapted from Shangaani culture and in later years chinamera. These were accompanied by specific traditional dances. Some dancers were quite heroic like Vambai and Munyanyavira, from a village near ours, who would put yokes around their necks like enspanned oxen as they danced. This was the climax of it all and as kids we would come nearer to watch. We would also imitate them when we were on our own.  The dances were marvellous and creative. The lyrics were quite consistent although it was not strange for them to sneak in some naughty sexual innuendo.

Matters spiritual have always been integral in African culture. Among the Karanga, the connection with departed ancestors is invoked through bira. Bira is a song and dance feast aimed at invoking ancestral spirits to intercede in the family matters of a clan.  It is a deeply revered ceremony and as young people we, were not allowed to take part in the entire process. However, what I experienced during my youth was the musical part of it. The music was meant to invoke one spirit or another to possess a family member and connect to the living. The basic spirit is mudzimu(Shona) or Indhlozi (Ndebele), an ancestral spirit related to the family. Specific songs and dances were performed to invoke a mudzimu from a particular clan to possess a member; so were songs and dances for shavi/Sangoma/ (psychic/oracular spirit/magician), jukwa (rain making spirit), chipunha (mainly dancing spirit). The collective name for the host of these spirits is n’anga in Karanga or inyanga in Zulu/Ndebele. They are also called svikiro or homwe especially when they are connected to the family ancestor. The amandhlozi/svikiro phenomenon is widespread in African culture and European colonialist fought it vigorously as they introduced Christianity but it has survived in one form or another. Besides being the intermediaries between the living and the dead, the inyanga is also the witchdoctor who provides medicine during illness. One of our neighbours, my mother’s cousin was an inyanga of repute and could be possessed by any of the sprits mentioned mentioned here. The value of an inyanga outside the oracular power is the provision of herbal medicines. They are integral part of traditional healers and in Zimbabwe where they are recognised by Act of Parliament that enabled them to form the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA). 

A lot of rich music in both rhythm and lyric has evolved through bira. It is the inspiration behind some of the traditional musicians who emerged in the 1970s to 80s such as Thomas Mapfumo, Kenneth Chigodora, Robson Banda, Tineyi Chikupo, and to some extent Oliver Mtukudzi and Zexie Manatsa. Bira music in Karanga culture is accompanied by drums and percussions. In other related cultures, different instruments are used, the most prolific of which is the mbira especially among the Korekore, Zezuru and Manyika in both Zimbabwe and parts of Mozambique as well as other pockets in Southern Africa. A variety of other instruments are used in different cultures of Africa. My contact with mbira music was mainly from the radio. No one played mbira in the area where I grew up.

While my early interactions were really practical through what I saw and heard people performing and what I listened to on the radio, as children we played games that were also accompanied by singing and dancing in most cases.  There were what I would pass as Karanga or Shona rhymes. I even had interaction with Ndebele rhymes when at 5 years, I lived for a year in Bulawayo with my uncle. I partially did my preschool there before I returned to my home to start school.

What I feel about music today comes from this background. I think a lot of people share this type of background. This is how passions develop as we go through the early stages in the journey of life. The passions carry us in many directions. Some are inspired to become musicians while others follow the passion by becoming fanatics. As for me it made me love music to the largest measure. In all circumstances I have found music soothing and creating a positive atmosphere even when my spirits are down. It has also been useful in my life learning experiences. There are very few times when I feel music is inappropriate or when its presence fails to inspire me or worse still bores me.

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