Matepe & Karimba.

Matepe & Karimba.

Matepe Music. I'm here to learn about... I'm writing my dissertation on... The subject of my work is... I'm interested in... Can you tell me about... I want to learn how to play... I'm scouring the internet for... Where can I find people who play... I want to compile all of the recordings of... In her journal she has a passage on... and so on and on. 

I use this label as a kind of general idea. I've borrowed the words from that article, from his book, from your vid and I go with it, wondering what exactly it is that I reference. At first I mean those mbira instruments with the flattened bell-shaped, cavernous resonators, the right hand octaves that hocket with in-house overtones, saturated with deep and low and growling fundamentals. I mean the conversation between the rattle player's patterns and the improvising mbira, the clipped exclamations of hup! hup! hup! that cut into soaring singing lines and virtuosic yodeling, the gentle clamor of muted fingerpads on the jenje drum, the cupped hand claps, the ecstatic whistles and the dancer's foot stomps. 

I mean songs like "Siti," as played by musicians Saini Madera and Saini Murira on matepe, who were recorded by Hugh Tracey in 1958, Andrew Tracey in 1969, 1970 and 1973 and Robert Garfias in 1971.

But I also mean this:

ILAM Track# HTFT788-T9-T1J1. May 1970. "Siti" by Amos Zhuga on karimba. Nyungwe. Tete, Mozambique. 

ILAM Track# HTFT788-T9-T1K5. May 1970. "Siti" by Raisi Soza and his wife (so named) on hera. Tavara. Tete, Mozambique.

ILAM Track# HTFT815-U12-U1F3. May 1971. "Siti" by Tumani Tera and his group on ngororombe panpipes. Sena/Tonga. Nyahuku River School, Mkota, Zimbabwe.

The music of matepe is not limited to the matepe mbira, or even to regional variations like hera and madhebe. The same songs are played/were played/can be played on certain types of karimba, nsansi/mana embudzi and njari, or on other types of instruments like valimba, ngororombe panpipes, and the bangwe zither. I settle with the words matepe music when what I imagine is all those players, tunings, modes, dances, drums, and various mbira with the mupepe wood resonators that are so unexpectedly light and resonant. 

I bring this up because I am learning more about matepe music by playing karimba.

In a small pile of Andrew Tracey's transcriptions (mostly of Saini Madera and Saini Murira) we find two transcriptions of Johani Chiyeha Bandeira on karimba: "Karimuchipfuwa" and "Kadyahove". The recordings of these two songs from 1969 also include madhebe player Thomas Dzamwarira and vocalist Sinati Kadende.

ILAM Track# HTFT770-S9-S2E4. 1969. "Karimuchipfuwa" by Johani Chiyeha on karimba, Thomas Dzamwarira on madhebe and Sinati Kadende on lead vocals. Budya and Sena/Tonga. Recorded in Nyamapanda, Zimbabwe.

The karimba is not one I've seen before judging by the scale included in the transcription, so I learn Johani Chiyeha's version of "Karimuchipfuwa" on an old instrument in the mbira collection at ILAM. 

Tracey Instrument Collection #157. Karimba acquired by Hugh Tracey in 1931. Sena/Tonga or Sena/Nyungwe. Ruenya River, Mozambique.

This type of karimba is not the same variety that was popularized by Jege Tapera and Dumisani Maraire, often recognized by the fixed wooden deze created at Kwanongoma College of Music. Paul Berliner notes that "there are larger types of karimba, some with twenty or more keys, played in northeastern Zimbabwe. These are not limited to the somewhat restrictive musical structure of the smaller instruments and are used for playing the important ritual pieces associated with the ancestral spirits" (1978, 33). I can only glean a few statements like this from the literature about these big karimba, as perhaps for the sake of contrast the smaller karimba are more often discussed. For instance, in the same section of Berliner's book he describes the keys of the matepe as "thin, narrow, and long, curving gracefully upward from the soundboard," whereas "the keys of the karimba tend to be shorter and lie somewhat flatter across the bridge of the instrument" (31). But the keys of karimba #157 from the Tracey Instrument Collection are more similar to matepe keys, as they are delicate, thin and arched upwards like mosquito legs. The soundboard is made of soft mupepe wood like the matepe, also hollowed-out in a flattened bell-shape. The octaves on the right-hand side of the instrument are angled to the right and the three lowest notes in the center are all played by the right thumb. One must watch out or else the right thumb tends to get tangled in the sharp metal edges of the keys as it attempts to reach over the longest note to play its neighbor to the left. 

The most striking difference between the smaller karimba and this big karimba is the note positioned in the very center of the instrument. It is the fourth scale degree, a note which is absent on the small karimba. It is also a low note, nestled in between the two other lowest notes on the instrument that creates this sort of central trio. As I learn these transcriptions of Johani Chiyeha's songs, the low notes that I am used to playing as variations, options, become essential, an integral part of the pattern as the right thumb switches between upper octave chords and low notes. 

We acquire another track of Johani Chiyeha by meticulously searching through cold storage just a week before leaving town. I include a clip here because unlike "Karimuchipfuwa" listed above, this one is not on the Sound of Africa Series TR213. The sound of the karimba is more clear in the absence of madhebe and you can hear how the microphone moves from mbira to vocals and back again. I can't help but to choose a clip that highlights such beautiful yodeling.  

ILAM Track# HTFT770-S9-S2E3. 1969. "Kunyangara Kwawo Marembe" by Johani Chiyeha on karimba and Sinati Kadende on lead vocals. Sena/Tonga. Recorded in Nyamapanda, Zimbabwe.