SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Track 1: Nhemamusasa (Zimbabwe)

Spirit Talk Mbira

Nhemamusasa means "to build a shelter". Nhema means the one who builds and a musasa is a shelter. Later we hear a second line, pidigori waenda, "the somersaulter is gone" (the trickster is dead.); this is a celebration.


Chartwell Dutiro (Zimbabwe) mbira, kuyimba ne ngoma
Jon Sellers (England, born in Zimbabwe) mbira, kuyimba ne
Kristyan Robinson (Canada) mbira, kuyimba ne
Ian Grocott (England) mbira, kuyimba ne hosho
Annette Loose (Germany) mbira, Kuyimba ne
Tony Perman (USA) mbira, kuyimba ne
Elmar Pohl (Germany) mbira, kuyimba ne

Kuyimba singing
ngoma drum
hosho shakers
mupururu ululation
kutamba dancing

The mbira used in this recording were made by Chris Mhlanga, Thomas gora Wadharwa and Chaka Chawasarira.

Spirit Talk Mbira

Spirit Talk Mbira is an international ensemble of mbira players which was founded by Chartwell Dutiro in 1994. Spirit Talk Mbira has conducted workshops and performed throughout the UK, Ireland, Canada and the US.

Chartwell Dutiro has been playing mbira for over 35 years, including 20 years playing for spirit mediums in many different ceremonies in his native Zimbabwe. He was mbira player, saxophonist and arranger for Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited for 8 years. Dutiro is committed to popularising mbira music and is an experienced teacher. He has conducted workshops worldwide for people of all ages and musical abilities and is responsible for teaching mbira as a credit course at SOAS, where he is also a Masters student writing a dissertation on mbira. Dutiro is a music advisor to the Commonwealth Institute and is working with the Institute to teach mbira at teachers' Inset days as part of an initiative to bring the music of the world to UK schools.

For this recording Spirit Talk Mbira includes several SOAS students. Ian Grocott and Tony Perman are both completing their MMus in Ethnomusicology, and have been active in assisting Dutiro with his mbira course at SOAS. Annette Loose has already completed her MA in African Area Studies.

There are many words which can be used to describe mbira players or vanoridza mbira. Maridza mbira comes from the word kuridza, which means to play. Gwenyambira the means one who scratches the mbira and bandambira means one who crushes the keys of the mbira. All of these terms are used to show respect to an mbira player and are common nicknames for well-known musicians. Man people call mbira players marombe. This is a word used to describe someone who doesn't know what to do with their life. It is a mocking term for musicians and suggests the positions of musicians in some areas of Shona society.


The Mbira is perhaps the most common and widely known traditional instrument of Zimbabwe. It is made of approximately 22 metal keys placed on a piece of wood and stroked by the thumbs and right index finger. Buzzing devices, such as shells or bottle caps, are placed near the base of the mbira to provide a percussive rattling sound. in order to increase the sound, the mbira is usually played within a large hollow calabash resonator called a deze. Hosho are two seed-filled gourds which provide the pulse and rhythmic framework of mbira music. When this music is performed in Zimbabwe everyone participates either by singing, humming, dancing, drumming or clapping. Although drums are not always present there are drums in this performance called chidzimba drums.

The Music

In mbira music there are usually two parts. The first part is called the kushaura which means to lead. The second part, and any subsequent part, is called the kutsinhira and means to answer or to follow. In this performance of Kariga mombe and Nhemamusasa, Spirit Talk plays 7 distinct parts. The interlocking combinations and the patterns which arise though these parts creates the dense polyphony and complex polyrhythms which are so characteristic of mbira music.

There are several different styles of singing in mbira music. Kudeketera is the sung poetry in mbira music. It is a metaphoric poetry with several layers of meaning. Huro, which means throat, is the high, powerful, and virtuosic singing Dutiro uses at the beginning of Kariga Mombe. It is characterised by the yodelling, or kunguridzira, which rapidly alternates between two different vocal registers. Mahon'era is used to describe the lower and more percussive singing in mbira music. Singers use these styles to kusuma, or to let the spirits know something. Women can also use mupururu, or ululation, to express enjoyment or encourage the musicians.