Karimba part 2
Zack and I commission a mbira from Jacob Mafuleni. One with the same layout as #157 from the Tracey Instrument Collection, the “big karimba” at ILAM that I wrote about in an earlier post. Mafuleni adds his own style to the instrument so the hollow sound board is made out of mukwa and the keys are shaped like those of a nyunga nyunga mbira. And of course, his signature spirals decorate the back of the instrument. The approximate scale also follows the diagram made by A. Tracey in 1969 based on Johani Chiyeha Bandeira’s instrument from Nyamapanda.
Our insight into the “big karimba” from NE Zimbabwe and across the border in Mozambique comes in part from the ILAM collection. The following musicians, recorded in 1969 and 1970 by Andrew Tracey, play songs for Mhondoro spirits on karimba (i.e. they share much of the same repertoire as matepe/madhebhe/hera mbira): Raisoni Kanakombizi, Johani Chiyeha Bandeira, Adolf Almeida, Ketani Murinya, Amos Zhuga, and Joaquim Kuyasa. You can check out my “Metadata!” post for details on the specific tracks that feature these players and how to access them.
When Jacob delivers the newly-made karimba, the tops of the keys are perfectly in-line with the sound board, every angle uniform and each smooth key equidistant from the next. We soon realize the tuning is about two whole steps off (my fault) so we tune the karimba up a whole tone and then adjust our two Chawasarira matepe mbira back down a whole step to their original tuning (they were changed three years ago to match the Zonke family’s instruments). The perfect layout created by Jacob looks a bit tormented after we re-tune everything, but the whole idea is to create a karimba that can be played with matepe.
What we discover, after spending far too much time toiling over singing lines of “karimuchipfuwa” in various modes, is that tuning the karimba and matepe together is rather simple. You can see in the photograph below that the lowest note on each mbira are octave equivalents. The keys to the left and right of these lowest notes are also equivalents, so each instrument is centered on keys 3, 1, & 5. The point is to show that these numbers match, which demonstrates their compatibility as mbira that are/were tuned and played together. The significance of the numbers themselves is arbitrary, as I labeled the lowest note “1” simply because it looks less confusing.
Why do the instruments align in such a way? According to James Kamwaza, karimba is the “mother” of the hera and they are, essentially, “just the same.” Apart from a slight difference in the size of the sound board and the length of the keys, he clarifies, the way they are constructed is very similar. Well, that’s what he was told anyway. Kamwaza has never actually seen a karimba from Nyanhewe, but has learned about them from elders in his area who used to play.
We seek out Mr. Chaka Chawasarira, an expert karimba and matepe player, who is originally from the same general area as Kamwaza. Turns out that Chawasarira’s 19-key karimba is his own (expanded) version of the nyunga nyunga mbira and not a derivative of the type of karimba from around Marymount Mission that he used to hear in the late 60s/early 70s. Initially, Zack and I wondered if Chawasarira was the one playing karimba in some of the 1970 ILAM recordings from Marymount Mission (listen below), but he tells us that back then he had no interest in that kind of mbira. It was thought to be a lesser instrument than hera because of its smaller size and so he never bothered to learn it. His love for karimba came later on when he learned nyunga nyunga at Kwanongoma College and then developed his current 19-key version that is compatible with mbira nhare.
It’s here where I can continue our last story of travelling to Nyamapanda with James Kamwaza. We bring along the new karimba, on which I can still only play that version of “karimuchipfuwa” I learned from Andrew Tracey’s 1969 transcription of Johani Chiyeha Bandeira. We tell the Zonke family about our interest in recreating some of the karimba & matepe duets that are in the ILAM recordings. I play the 1969 recordings of Bandeira, Kadende and Dzamwarira for them since these tracks were not in our possession three years ago. I ask Anthony Zonke if Sinati Kadende, the lead vocalist in the recordings, is the same Sinati Nyamande of Nyamapanda that we know. He listens and replies with conviction, “That is the woman you have seen before you! That is my mother!” And although we are eager to play the tracks for 92-year-old Sinate Nyamande herself, she is staying in Kadoma during the rainy season. Anthony Zonke points in the direction of town and adds that Bandeira (as they call him) used to stay just “over there,” a few minutes’ walk from their homestead. He is now late, but we can go and visit his wife and son.
In the scorching heat of the day we head out with a crew of about 10 people piled into and on top of the truck to find Mavis and Alec Bandeira. We regret not printing that lone photograph of Johani from ILAM, but at least have an extra flash drive with his recordings to offer. We eventually find them in the village and the Zonke’s proceed to introduce us and explain what we’re doing there. I play a few tracks and they laugh, at first, in disbelief. Then Mavis begins to cry as she is reminded of her late husband. I show Alec the karimba and play a bit of “karimuchipfuwa” that I learned from the transcription of his father’s version. He inspects the karimba but claims that it is not the same instrument he knows. The keys are built to be plucked down with the right index finger but Alec Bandeira makes several attempts to pluck them upwards and there isn’t enough space between the registers to do so. I only realize weeks later that Andrew Tracey made a note about this very detail on one of his transcriptions and I completely missed it.
Back in Harare during a visit from Crispin Zonke in mid-January, we find out that two members of the Zonke family, both women, both now late, were karimba players. There are no recordings or photographs we know of to learn more about them, only stories from the family members themselves.
Zack and I make a few more adjustments to the karimba. The tuning we keep (for lack of another option) but we increase the bend in the keys of the upper RH register and sand paper the edges so they can be plucked upwards. Zack learns the karimba part of “karimuchipfuwa” and I play the corresponding matepe transcription of Thomas Dzamwarira’s part. The result is the video below, rain and all. For a reference I've also included another clip of "karimuchipfuwa" from 1969, this time from the end of the track so you can hear the karimba part that is similar to the one Zack is playing in the video.