This story starts in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1975 (when it was called Salisbury, Rhodesia), when I had a friend and roommate, Kusum from Burma, who loved mbira. I started teaching her mbira, using one of mine. When I left Zimbabwe in late 1975, she took some lessons from Ephat Mujuru, and bought an mbira from him. She never knew who made the mbira. Years later, Kusum was no longer playing mbira. I had lost all my lifetime’s belongings through some events in my own life, and Kusum gave me her mbira. It became my very beloved mbira.
When I travelled to Zimbabwe again, I asked many many mbira makers if they could tell me who made my mbira…but nobody knew.
Years later…in Harare, 2004, I had just finished paying 30 mbira players for their CDs, sold at mbira.org. All these mbira players, from around Zimbabwe, were hanging out, some talking, some playing mbira, enjoying themselves. My friend Fradreck Mujuru waved me over excitedly. He told me that Leonard Chiyanike, who I had recorded a fabulous solo CD of in 2003, was his long-lost childhood best friend! They were so happy to reconnect, and since then have become close friends once again.
While Fradreck was talking, I looked over at Chiyanike’s mbira, which he was holding during the conversation…and noticed that it looks just like my mbira! I often don’t really see much of the instrument when I am recording, since I’m facing the musician, and see only the back of the mbira’s board, or the back of the deze resonator.
After we finished talking about the reunion of friends, I asked Chiyanike who made his mbira. He replied that he had made it himself. I asked him when he started making mbiras, and he told me 1975. I then asked him whether Ephat Mujuru had ever sold his instruments back then, and he said yes. My mystery was solved! I didn’t have my mbira with me, but I was sure Chiyanike was the maker, which was later confirmed.
I asked Chiyanike to start making mbiras again, as he was no longer making them at that time. After a couple of years of nudging, he started making fabulous mbiras again. You can see him at work making mbiras at http://www.mbira.org/chiyanike-at-work.html.
MBIRA brings traditional Zimbabwean mbira players to the US to teach and perform, with the aim of bringing a wide variety of mbira players from all over Zimbabwe, who play diverse styles of mbira. MBIRA is bringing Leonard Chiyanike to the US for the first time this year, during July-August 2012, to co-teach the summer MBIRA Camps (http://www.mbira.org/mbiracamp.html), perform, and also teach and perform at Zimfest. Chiyanike is a fabulous mbira player you’ll want to hear and learn from. Listen to a sample of his solo Nyama musango: mbira.org-3434-1 and hear him sing Nyamaropa while playing with his brother: mbira.org-3481-2. You can get his CDs, or go green and get them as downloads, at http://www.mbira.org/catalog.asp?v=Search&SearchCatNos=3434,3481. You can also read about his life story at http://www.mbira.org/leonardchiyanike.html.