Articles tagged with: mbira dzavadzimu

14 November 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The chords and phrase structure behind most mbira music

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Most "primitive" music is so-called "two-phrase" music - basically a call phrase and a response phrase, or a question and an answer.  This simple musical form exists across cultures, in nursery rhymes, and in basic karimba music.

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa - let's suppose during the peak of the "Great Zimbabwe" civilization - an incredible innovation occurred: that primal two-phrase tune pattern evolved into a "four-phrase" pattern.  This innovation was momentous. Doubling the length of the original two-phrase cycle had the effect of expanding the possibilities of the music by far more than a factor of two. This four-phrase musical structure is the essence of the sound of the mbira. It is one of the pinnacles of African music, culture and intellect. 

In this post I will impart my conceptualization of an essential African musical form to you, and will start with the basic chord progression common to a lot of four-phrase mbira music. This harmonic understanding, which can be applied to any instrument, will be demonstrated on guitar in the keys of G and A.

12 December 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can start at different points in the cycle to make different songs

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa, something amazing happened - four-phrase mbira music was born.  This revolutionized the music that had been played for a very long time, and greatly increased its sophistication, sort of like going from nursery songs to Pachelbel's Canon.

The new musical structure was complex enough to support a wide range of songs.  In fact, new songs in this vein continue to be created today. There is basically an infinite supply of mbira-type music.

In this post we begin analyzing how new songs can be created within this four-phrase system. One way is to start the song at different places in the cycle.  We show you two common places to start, and illustrate the differences in the music.

14 November 2016

"Taireva" Tablature for Mbira and C Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learning this song on Alto Kalimba has put me into "Beginner's Mind"

Have you ever read the book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"?  The basic idea is that we can make great progress on our journey by approaching everything with an open, beginner's mind, for it is in this state that we are ready to be taught, we are ready to see, and we are ready to understand.  The expert who already knows everything might not ever see the truth.

While I like to think of myself as a kalimba expert, I do get knocked on my (musical) butt quite often.  So really, I am only an expert at playing in the fairly narrow musical style that I know how to play. 

For me, to learn mbira music on the kalimba is a leveling experience.  The thumb patterns required to play this music on kalimba are so foreign that I have been brought down to the level of "total beginner."

11 November 2016

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A close look at the inner workings of the mbira song "Taireva" reveals remarkable and quirky details

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Mbira music is elusive. You think you understand it, you reach to grasp it, but then it slips through your fingers.

There are in truth many ways to understand mbira music - and you learn to strive to come to the place where you touch all of those understandings without holding any.

In another blog post, I give away the tablature for the song "Taireva," for both mbira and C Alto kalimba.   In this post I detail some of the more subtle aspects of traditional mbira music, using "Taireva" to help in the analysis.  I show you new ways to think about mbira music that will help you play it with that magical feeling of dancing in between one way and another.

Also, the level of detail in the traditional music of the mbira is actually pretty inspiring.  That Africans were doing this stuff many centuries ago really speaks to the genius of the ancient African mind.

08 November 2016

Mbira Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New tablature for mbira dzavadzimu, plus tabs for Hugh Tracey Alto and B flat Treble Kalimbas

Mbira Song

Chaminuka was a real person, a renowned Zimbabwean prophet who foretold the coming of white European colonialists.  After his death, he became a popular ancestral spirit to channel.  Mbira dzavadzimu were and still are used in these ceremonies.

While researching Chaminuka for the Chiwoniso article, I learned that there are at least two totally different songs by this name: "Chaminuka" for the karimba by Chiwoniso, and an unrelated song for the mbira dzavadzimu.  The mbira "Chaminuka" is the classic pattern described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal work "The System of the Mbira."  I have notated it in my new (and evolving) mbira tablature, and you can also play it on the Bb Treble kalimba and the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba.  I supply all three of these tablatures to you for free!