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Tendayi Gahamadze: Zimbabwe’s Cultural Activist and Ambassador Par Excellence


Tendayi Gahamadze

David Mungoshi; Harare, Zimbabwe

Equivocation is one of the most demeaning by-products of cultural syncretism and assimilation. In attempting to belong to a perceived new world people find themselves struggling, unsettled and directionless like the blind worm. This, without exception, has been the fate of all subjugated people’s the world over. That is how whole civilizations have disappeared from the face of the earth without trace. Perhaps Zimbabwe with her mystical musical instrument, the mbira, has had more than her fair share of misplaced acrimony. Not surprisingly, missionary zealots, who together with so-called explorers, hunters and prospectors were both the vanguard and front runners of colonial endeavour in Zimbabwe, condemned this sacred instrument saying it was a manifestation of demonic worship. That was the position for decades with the mbira continually castigated and regarded as a symbol of backwardness. Conversely, western music and instruments were equated with civilization and enlightenment. It took the war of liberation to finally restore the mbira to its deserved status. Today the mbira sounds of Zimbabwe have become pervasive. You are likely to catch a whiff (forgive the mixed metaphor) of them in many musical scores around the world. Even the Soweto String Quartet simulates the mbira!


Tendayi Gahamadze

We must also acknowledge the many mbira practitioners who kept its flame burning across the years and dared colonize the western world with the enigmatic sound and the evocative intricacy and beauty of its melodies. Here such names as Hakurotwi Mude of Mhuri yekwaRwizi fame, Ephat Mujuru and the Spirit of the People and of course the inimitable Simon Mashoko of the timeless Bhiza rashe piece, come to mind. Along the way there was Jenkins Mandaza and his group (probably the first in Zimbabwe to electrify the mbira) and of course the talented Beulah Dyoko and now world famous Stella Rambisai Chiweshe. Then the guitar bands came along and began to feature the mbira prominently in their musical repertoires. Leonard ‘Pickett’ Chiyangwa and Jonah Sithole refined and championed with Thomas Mapfumo a beat that a group called Tutankhamen had introduced with their catchy rendition of Torai kapadza. The rest is now history!

With the mbira now liberated from archaic theological prejudice more and more people began in the period after 1980 to openly celebrate the mbira in whatever genre it was used. Academics and business executives in designer suits would sway to its rhythms without any qualms. Some attributed healing powers to it. Even today its therapeutic feel is undeniable. Thus when Tendayi Gahamadze and Mbira DzeNharira hit the stage there was no apprehension or disapproval despite the fact that he had  put aside his Master’s  degree in Engineering to play mbira music! Many must have thought him insane but he was a man on a mission to spread the single most distinctive sound of the fatherland around the world and give it pride of place among Zimbabweans, especially the reticent ones.


Gahamadze and Mbira DzeNharira at BookCafe, Harare, Zimbabwe on Friday the 9th of January 2015

Out of the blue Gahamadze became an accomplished mbira player, composer and arranger of mbira music as well as a renowned lyricist and choreographer. The debut album of his group not only celebrated liberation war heroes but also extolled the virtues of traditional Zimbabwean cuisine and bonhomie. You don’t ask the unannounced children of poor relatives, occasional strangers and passers-by why they have come.

Gahamadze’s actions and programmes show that he strongly believes that a society without culture has no identity and that culture is passed on from one generation to the next. Each generation has an obligation to preserve it and carry it on into the future. While Gahamadze believes that traditional mbira players must be applauded for preserving tradition, he is also saddened by the manner in which many have compromised the country’s values and the music. For him it is a taboo to mix traditional instruments with western instruments such as the piano, guitars and violins. The Zimbabwean mbira outfit of Mbira DzeNharira is one of the very few who play untainted mbira. The group’s founder, Tendayi Gahamadze has taken it upon himself to preserve African culture in the context of the mbira. That was his goal when in 1986 he hung up his degree in metallurgy to pursue music. It still is his goal nearly twenty-nine years down the line. The man is still as resolute as ever and has not allowed himself to be sidetracked or distracted. The inevitable has now happened! He has begun to write and perform poetry to remind Africans in general and Zimbabweans in particular, of their history, culture and identity.

Gahamadze’s poignant poem Tapera Takatarisa Chokwadi speaks about the need for Africans to return to their traditions and also encourages the use of traditional musical instruments such as the mbira, the hosho (shakers) and the ngoma (traditional drum). The poem has just been turned into an Mp4 with a befitting soundtrack of pure undiluted mbira by his ensemble, Mbira DzeNharira. On this project Tendayi Gahamadze has availed himself of the services of acclaimed blogger and Mp4 producer, Constance van Niekerk. He has indeed remained true to his cause and is successfully carrying the baton.



Mbira nehosho

David Mungoshi wrote this article for L’Afrique Beat. He is a multi-talented practitioner, has until recently been employed by the University of Zimbabwe in Harare where he taught Communication Skills and Applied Linguistics courses in the Department of Linguistics. David is a published poet, short story writer and novelist as well as a  text-book writer, freelance copywriter, actor and editor.In 2010, David’s novel,’The Fading Sun’ was awarded Zimbabwe’s prestigious NAMA for outstanding fiction. The book has since been incorporated into the Advanced Level Literature syllabus in Zimbabwe. For the moment David is keeping his options open and can be reached at david.sunny.mungoshi07@gmail.com

About Constance van Niekerk

Constance van Niekerk, (Connie V) is a creative writer, poet, music lover, spoken word artist, freelance writer, blogger and educator. She has contributed to several anthologies and published her own collection, Echoes of My Heart: A Poetry Collection available for purchase on all Amazon Stores Worldwide. Follow her on Twitter : @convanniekerk Connect with her on Facebook and Linkedin.


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