One of the great cultural musical treasures that lives among the people here in Cascadia is the music of Zimbabwe. And one of its beautiful manifestations has become the annual ZimFest – organized and created by a shifting group of volunteers – usually hosted on a University Campus. Festivals have happened over the last 24 years in Washington, Oregon, California, British Columbia, Colorado and Idaho. This year’s festival was held at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma on land ceded by the Duwamish people.
The first time we heard the music was in 1979 upon arrival at the Evergreen State College. Dumisani Maraire, the man who brought the music to the region, while an ethnomusicology student at the University of Washington, had a hard working touring band that was playing outdoors. We danced deep into the night… brought out conga drums and joined in drumming among the dancers… when not dancing myself. We will never forget Dumi invoking the spirit to be upon the people and the way people opened themselves to the spirit, dancing as one together through the night. I have rarely experienced people directly on the earth with one heart and mind dancing together with the music with such passion. Though Dumi and his 1st wife Mai Chi, Linda Nemarundwe / Maraire have passed on, many who played and danced to his music are keeping it going, and adding to the depths and horizons, while new generations join in.
The music has earth harmonics that connect it with Cascadia. While performing once in Victoria BC on Vancouver Island a fellow who had come to dance shared how he was from Cornwall in Great Britain (where much of my family immigrated out of in the 1830’s) and that each spring he would camp out at Land’s End to be first witness to the return of the swallows who migrate back from overwintering in Zimbabwe. The first mbira huru or chakwi instrument I obtained, at a ZimFest in Eugene, was made by Chris Mhlanga, who later participated in a project in Wales celebrating the communication between the landscapes by the swallows (Soft Earth Landings). We were later able to host him on a tour through Cascadia. Gardening books from that region of Great Britain can be used here in the maritime edge of Cascadia we share such a similar climate.
Maritime Cascadia is deeply informed by water… and much of Shona mbira music is informed by the Njuzu, water spirits together with the love of ancestors. In this spirit we have experienced the music as a way of aligning ourselves with waters, which are at the core of who we are and what sustains the lives of all we live among.
Here are some highlights from a part of this year’s festival.
Nhapitapi joined the festival traveling from Toronto, Canada carrying a fresh youthful feel… (Click on any picture to open up the full size gallery)
Njuzu mbira includes Marian… who first heard Dumi in Oregon and asked him what it would take to get a group going… which led to the formation of Boka Marimba… which is one of the hottest bands in the genre playing to this day… Njuzu has a way of trusting the music and allowing it to build into what have often been among the strongest mbira performances at the festival
ZiMbira opened up the Saturday night show with an incredible sound and lots of guests – fusing a wide diversity of instrumentations and voices around mbira stylings… A highlight was the sharing of a composition by Chiwoniso, eldest daughter of Dumi & Mai Chi Maraire, who tragically passed a year ago, at the height of a successful musical career (topping charts in Zimbabwe and in Europe). As a young girl she quickly demonstrated her innovations with the music and was the star in a movie about challenges of women in protecting themselves from HIV in Africa.
Sarungano based on Whidbey Island brought out some beautiful accapella traditional singing…
Cosmas Magaya has taken on the role of musical father for Zimbabwean music on Turtle Island… he has been one of the rare musicians able to travel between Zimbabwe and the USA almost every year… The US government does not make it easy to nourish peace building cultural exchange and we are thankful for the hard work all the folks in Eugene and elsewhere have done to help make this happen. Something special was going on with peoples feet while he played.
Cosmas Magaya & Friends “Ready to Fly”
Sheree Seretse – as MC, got folks to put on new dance moves during set changes…
Bongo Love has really matured their sound, a rare treat traveling from Zimbabwe once again, exuding an amazing amount of pure joy…
Kurai “Blessing” Mubaiwa never fails to expand our imaginations of what is possible in the music when he performs… and he held true this year…
Zambuko may be the only all African American marimba band on Turtle Island… they had a bunch of fun stirring up the music including the Mapfumo classic Nyoko Musongo…
This is only a tease of a much bigger festival with lots of incredible music, musicians and dancers.
Many thanks to all the good people who give so freely of themselves to nourish this annual festival. Always feel a bit more human after dancing with the people.
If you want to explore the music or learn mbira – mbira.org supports musicians and instrument makers living in Zimbabwe. They make available the finest of instruments and traditional mbira musicians music. Prices are a bit high but all the profits go directly to the folks in Zimbabwe. Always great to be able to support the hearts of the music so directly.