Mbira on the Streets in Harare, Part I

By Klara Wojtkowska My friend Fungai sends me a whatsapp: “I’m interviewing some guy who trains street kids mbira this afternoon.” We m...

By Klara Wojtkowska

My friend Fungai sends me a whatsapp: “I’m interviewing some guy who trains street kids mbira this afternoon.” We meet on the corner of Samora Machel and 4th street. Kelvin Chirikumbirike is cheerful and smartly dressed, seeming to roll himself along spritely on the wheels of the two mbira nyunganyungas he carries, secured in their round wooden dezes (resonators). We walk towards Harare Gardens, looking for a nice interview spot. Harare Gardens is full of large, old, immigrant trees, broken green benches, food vendors, wedding photographers, and people relaxing in the grass or rushing off into the city.

The setting is appropriate. Harare Gardens also serves as a home for street kids, and eventually, the street men they become (the girls, I am told, usually ‘graduate’ to sex work at which point they no longer live on the street.)

We find a bench, and Fungai pulls out his phone. Kelvin plays his mbira for a few minutes, and then begins to tell his story:

“My name is Kelvin Chikumbirike, I am a mbira teacher, I am a student at Technical Teacher College, I trained mbira. My name, Chikumbirike, means somebody who gives things – Chikumbirike, I give – you can ask me something and I give you. I live in Hatcliffe, Borrowdale, Harare. Right now I am doing my Teacher Training at a secondary school where I teach mbira to the disabled. I also teach mbira in and around Harare. I have worked with schools, I have worked with communities, I have worked with churches, teaching them how to play the instrument. We do gospel on this instrument, we do jazz, we do African traditional music using this instrument.”

“I teach mbira to street kids because I would love to alleviate problems that they are facing. I would love to make sure that they have something to help them. As they will be in the streets, even if it is to beg, they can use the instrument as an income generating project. They can play the mbira in bands or they can do some solos, just so they can get their money. Also if it was possible I wish I could take them out of the streets, to a better place. But I know if I continue teaching them mbira they will have something to get hold of for their lives, for their future to change. Especially also to alleviate the problems that they face – I think the mbira is the solution to that.”

What has been the response of the kids?
“The kids have responded very well. They come for training sessions and most of them are able to play some songs. Their response is quite powerful. So far we have reached twenty-five children, but more are still coming. The problem with them is that some they come the other day, and the other day they don’t come. Some are not committed.”

What are your plans for the future?
“I teach mbira and I empower the street kids – I give them a mbira so that they can make it in their daily endeavors. And I also want to encourage all mbira players and teachers to go out there and meet the marginalized people and teach them how to play mbira, so they can at least have a life, have a better life in the streets, or outside of the streets.”

Where do you get the mbiras?
“So far I have some few mbiras that I own. These are the mbiras that I am using to teach. But right now we don’t have sponsorship for the kids to have their own mbiras. We are only using my own personal mbiras and I cannot leave them with the mbiras, that is the challenge. So we are appealing to the world to just help us at least with the instruments. That would help us very well. I bought my mbiras in Mbare for the purposes of teaching, but I can’t give them away because they are my tool for teaching.”

Why do you think the mbira especially can help these kids? Why not some other instrument?
“Why? Because most Zimbabweans love mbira instruments. Also, it can be played without electricity, it’s easy to learn, and it is appreciated by Zimbabweans. One person can play mbira and be appreciated by a lot of people, especially Zimbabweans.”

Can you tell us about any particular kid who you work with who has experienced a change in their life or circumstance through learning mbira?
“Yes. There is Praise. He is around nineteen or twenty years old. So far, I have seen great results with him. He plays Kariga Mombe, and people come to put money on his plate – rather than for him to beg. It is not proper for him to beg. But now he is entertaining and getting money at the same time. And he has also developed that teaching mentality in him – he is also going on to teach some of his friends. You see him playing the mbira and helping his friends learn mbira also.”

How long have you been doing the project?
“The project is about a month old.”

How did the idea for this project come to you? How did the project begin?
“Personally, I love mbira, and I am a teacher at a secondary school where I work with disabled people. I have a mbira ensemble there. I fell in love with the marginalized and disadvantaged people. And from there I came up with the idea that I should teach mbira to street kids. Also there are plans for me to teach mbira in Zimbabwe prisons.”

Why did you fall in love with disadvantaged and marginalized people?
“As a teacher I have seen that most disadvantaged people they have got talent, and that talent goes unnoticed. So I decided to tap into that potential that they have, so that at least at the end of the day there will be light at the end of their tunnel, their lives. Because coming from their background, they stay in the streets – people don’t want to associate with them – but when they have something to entertain people, people will start to like them.”

Is there something you would like to share with an international audience about the mbira?
“Mbira is a powerful instrument, an African instrument, which has got potential to make great sounds. It is a unique instrument that can play any genre of music. It comes with great harmony. I want to say to the world, get involved with the mbira, and you will never regret it.”

*This article was first published by Kalimba Magic (May, 2017)*



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Urban Craft Magazine: Mbira on the Streets in Harare, Part I
Mbira on the Streets in Harare, Part I
Urban Craft Magazine
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