Is Traditional Music Dying?

Once upon a time in Zimbabwean music, the beat of a djembe, the twing-twang of mbira and shifting drumbeats that made mbende and muchongoyo dancers sweat, were at the pinnacle of hit songs.

Traditional music reigned both on radio, in record bars and even live music events, including the then popular Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare.

This was the time of legends like Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo, Beula Dyoko, Isaac Chirwa, Dumi Maraire and Mbuya Stella Chiweshe.

They passed on the torch to another generation, among them mbira queen Chiwoniso and Tambaoga that took traditional music to greater heights.

Their hits dominated radio charts, many of which still inspire nostalgia.

Many still remember Mbira DzeNharira’s “Dzikana Dzvuku”, or Maraire’s “Nhemamusasa”.

Of late, traditional music seems to be disappearing from the mainstream music scape.

Except for the few good songs churned by already popular artistes from other genres among them Jah Prayzah whose mbira hits “Hokoyo”, “Goto” and “Kwayedza” have been doing very well.

Since the death of mbira queen Chiwoniso Maraire, there has not been a standout artiste in traditional music.

Some may put forward Hope Masike as the current mbira queen, yet her music has not had a reach to put her among top artistes, or to the fame of yesteryear stars such as Stella Chiweshe and Thomas Mapfumo.

Veteran music producer Clive “Mono” Mukundu said the media has been doing a disservice to traditional music.

“Traditional music is not dying, remember it has survived demonisation from religion and colonization,” he said.

“Right now there are so many youngsters learning mbira music and venturing into it, but the problem lies mainly in our media that always wants to promote genres that are borrowed from other countries, be they from Nigeria, South Africa or the western world.

“Generally people accept what they are given by the media, which is the reason why our fathers loved rock music and country music, because during colonization that was what local media promoted”.

Ethnomusicologist Hector Mugani echoes these sentiments.

“Traditional music is not dead; it’s being played at many venues around the city.

“It’s there everywhere and you can hear it only if you listen,” he said.

“There are many young musicians coming up, but what they lack is media coverage and airplay”.

In a country where over 80 percent of the population is Christian, traditional music genres have been battling for survival as they are often demonized.

The demonisation of genres closely linked to African traditional religion has seen lesser and lesser young people interested in the music.

To counter this, an African renaissance movement has risen seeking to promote not only traditional musi,c but culture itself.

Through various social media platforms, young people are being educated on their tradition and its importance.

“If we are to get the desired numbers of youthful audience to mbira music, we need an approach which demystifies mbira music and give it, its natural entertaining and healing effect as well as its natural mystic to invoke the greater glory in us,” said King Makoni who is part of the movement.

To diffuse traditional music from religion, some are advocating for artistes to have a different set for a performance than that they have for religious gathering such as bira.

To safeguard traditional music, Swedish-based musician and cultural ambassador Makandire Chezhira Chikutu, also known as ManLuckerz, said there is need to educate young people.

“We must encourage the young stars on how to protect and preserve our culture in primary and secondary schools,” he said.

“That is why I wrote my book”.

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