Zimbabwean Musician Connects Worlds Via Mbira Traditional Instrument

The album Mbavaira by Ephat Mujuru and his group Spirit of the People has been re-released

Left: Ephat Mujuru.
Right: Mbavaira Album Cover, 2021

Ephat Mujuru is a traditional musician and belongs to a unique generation born under an oppressive colonial regime in Southern Rhodesia. Ephat witnessed the brutality of the liberation struggles of the 1970s, the rise of an independent Zimbabwe, and the dawn of African musical culture. Album Mbavaira, recorded with Spirit of the People, was originally released in 1983. The title of the record means “chaos” in the Shona language common in South Africa. Now the label Awesome Tapes from Africa has reissued the compilation.

Ephat Mujuru grew up in traditional Shona culture, and his grandfather knew spiritual practices and played the instrument known as mbira dzavadzimu. Ephat explained: “When the mbira is played, it brings the two worlds together, the world of our ancestors and the world of today.” At the age of ten, he played the mbira for the first time during the bir, an all-night ceremony with music and dances dedicated to the spiritual connection with the ancestors. The nuns at the Catholic school where he studied considered playing the instrument “a sin against God” and forbade it.

However, Ephat continued his musical search—he became more politicized. In the midst of the struggle for independence, he began to work in a new musical genre—chimurenga (“music of struggle”): heroes of national liberation were honored in the compositions. “In ancient Africa, in the time of our ancestors, they had none of the problems we have today. We wanted the place to be like it was, before colonization.”

Later, Ephat worked in other genres, and the Mbavaira release became one of the last recordings on which he plays in the chimurenga style.