Wednesday 11 January 2012
Mbira player Simon Mashoko called by angels to play mbira in church
The irony of our great mbira players has always been that they are recognised and respected by foreigners. It has never been for and to us to elevate them accordingly. One such great mbira player was Sekuru Simon Mashoko whose incredible story we left to foreigners to tell. Today, whatever information we have, is gleaned from a few foreigners who cared enough to listen to his music.
In 2002, three Australian artists - Werner Puntigam, Michael Pilz and Klaus Hollinetz - had an installation at Delta Gallery in Harare as a tribute to Sekuru Mashoko.
Below are some of their notes
Simon Mashoko is widely recognised as one of the finest exponents of the
type of mbira known as njari, an instrument that is played in the Masvingo
region. Unlike other mbira players, Mashoko did not learn through dreams,
but dreams did play an important part in shaping his career. Around 1938, he had two amazing dreams. In the first, he heard a voice in the middle of the night, calling him. He went to the door and saw a man in a long white robe with two lions next to him. In the second dream, three men with wings
appeared outside the house. Both dreams were haunted by beautiful, music,
which Mashoko heard as mbira music.
Mashoko later met Christian teachers who told him that the figure from his
dream was Jesus. This explanation had a graet effect on Mashoko and he
joined the Catholic Church in Gweru. He composed many Shona settings of
gospel music and as the restrictions on the use of African music in the
church were loosened, he was encouraged to play mbira in church. Mashoko
produced several records and his reputation spread, in particular through
the then African Radio Service. Mashoko has dedicated his life to serving
the church. Now retired, he lives at Beardmore Mine with his wife and
Another foreign admirer said:
Sekuru Simon Mashoko-The legend, who was one of the first musicians to be recorded on the mbira, is also one of the kindest people I've met. He plays the njari, a 29 key mbira with unison notes on the upper layer of keys. It is played with both thumbs and index fingers and often the thumbs will "strum" more than one key at once. This CD was recorded live at Sekuru Mashoko's home in Nyika. About 50 miles East of Masvingo. He lives a simple life with his children and grandchildren. He spent much of his life spreading the message of the Catholic church.
Sekuru Mashoko plays with the seemingly effortless style that can only be heard by the very old. The music ebbs and flows with his voice as if every aspect of the music is just coming straight from his soul. More than any other player, I felt like I was listening to an old blues guitar player sitting on his porch-just playin' the blues. It feels like he is putting every bit of his energy into every note he sings. Sekuru Mashoko is a beautiful man, that to this day, wakes up every morning and builds mbira and has a beer. I remember waking up in the middle of the night at his house with his mbira music filling all the spaces around me. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. The next morning, Sekuru said, "Oh, did you hear me praying last night?" It seems that Sekuru Mashoko lives his religion every minute of his life.
And below is my article after his death
The irony of life has always been that great people can only become heroes after they die.
Chikakarara Simon Mashoko (88) was the first man to play mbira in the Catholic Church when the instrument was considered an evil contraption. He also pioneered the composition of hymns and masses en mbira as well as commercialising mbira as both music and an instrument.
He featured in documentaries explaining and playing mbira so that the world would know about Shona culture and tradition.
One such documentary was titled Mbira:
Njari-Karanga Songs in Christian Ceremonies with Simon where the master mbira player "examines in detail the use of the traditional African mbira in the cultural life of the Mashona people of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)".
He is a man of both worlds since he plays the traditional mbira circuit where he participates in biras (ritual ceremonies) and during catechism classes most Sundays.
Not only is Mashoko a gwenyambira but he is a--mbira maker whose pieces are sought-after by international mbira collectors.
Now unable to stand on his feet, the man, who was inspired by visions to play mbira way back in 1930, still welcomes the dawn with cracking mbira sounds.
Yet, he has not received any award for being the pioneer that he is and it seems as if not until he dip.s, nothing much in form of glorious eulogies will come his way. .
For a man whose calling to become a mbira player was like a call to religious duty, awards and accolades seem not to be his concern.
It is said that Mashoko's desire to play mbira was a result of two visions he had when he was 20 in 1938 where he saw a man dressed in a long white robe and was flanked by lions. The
second vision had three-winged men who were standing outside a house.
The man in the white robe was calling his name wrine the three-winged men brought .the cracking sounds. of mbira music.
When he sought interpretation of these dreams, his Christian teachers told him that the man in the white robe was Jesus Christ while the three-winged men were angels.
From then, Mashoko converted to the Roman Catholic Church in Gweru where with time, he was allowed to compose and play mbira in church.
And from then on, Mashoko's contribution to mbira music grew and his records were popular with people through the then African Radio Service.
While he is today considered the man who popularised mbira music in church, it was not an easy feat because initially he was almost barred from being a catechist because he played mbira.
It was only after his appearance in the film Mbiri Yababa Ndiyo Mbiri Yemwana in 1954 in which he played mbira that the missionaries gave him the green light to play in church.
In 1974, an Australian national, Andrew Tracy, made a cinematographic' portrait of Mashoko and in 1996 another Aussie Michael Pilz met Mashoko and filmed the event.
In a typical case of a prophet who is not respected in his home area, Mashoko is very well known abroad where his music is studied and mbira instruments considered rare pieces of art.
The American Paul Berliner wrote The Soul of Mbira, his biography, and the movies he featured in were shown in countries like Switzerland and the United States while Jere in Zimbabwe the mere mention of his name does not bring any memories.