Mbira DzeNharira is a seven piece (depending on the day) mbira group that plays the "mbira orchestra" made popular by Garikai. Lead by Wilferd MaAfrica, and Tongerai Bangure, They are a musical powerhouse that has made them the only traditional mbira group to reach the ZBC number one slot on the popular music charts. Their tight harmonies and singing about modern issues as they relate to the spirit have touched many of the younger generation in Zimbabwe and helped vitalize the mbira scene for everyone. They are a constant presence on the radio and television in Zimbabwe, and that doesn't look like it will change any time soon.
("Food for the ears")
(2001, Length 58:48 , Notes: 4pp.)
The mbira orchestra has been steadily gaining popularity and acceptance by the mbira community in Zimbabwe. While there are those that say it is not a traditional approach, there are certainly plenty of others that feel it is traditional. The main test of course is whether the spirits approve, and judging by Mbira DzeNharira's busy schedule and steady engagements at religious ceremonies, there certainly are many spirits that do approve of the orchestra. The orchestra is created by playing many mbira that are in tune together, but whose pitches start and end at different points of the scale (or mode) from each other. If thought of in a Western harmonic sense, an mbira may be tuned to: G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G-from lowest to highest. Another mbira may be tuned from C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C,-from lowest to highest, and so on. One can then see that there are seven different possibilities of modal choices for the mbira (in a seven note scale), and orchestras will often have seven or more mbira players playing. It is also common to have two or more mbira that are the same tuning, but octaves of each other.
One common misconception in the West with mbira orchestras is that everyone is playing a different song and they all come together as one song because of the various tunings. This is not the case. All the players in the orchestra are playing the same song, but with different fingerings. This is a misconception that must be eradicated as it only furthers to demean the orchestral players and style.
In this recording the musicians played seven different mbiras, along with vocal harmonies, hosho, and ngoma. They also play a variety of interesting percussion: Chikoridzi- essentially a notched stick scraped by another stick, and Kanyemba: many strips of bamboo woven together and filled with hota seeds. It's kind of like a cross between lots of little "rain sticks" and hosho. This is then shaken in rhythms that give it a density like hosho without the attack. A very cool instrument.
* Live drumming and singing songs recorded in Norton, Zimbabwe