Glossary

Ambuya

(also Mbuya, chiShona) A female honorific title variously meaning grandmother, paternal aunt, mother-in-law, midwife. It is commonly used to show respect to an older woman whether or not she has borne any children. (Source)

Banya

Ritual round house, dedicated to the spirit [medium].

Beat

There are various common uses of the terms [musical] beat and pulse. Some use them interchangeably.

On matepe.org and symres.org we use beat as Gerhard Kubik and Andrew Tracey do: as the middle of three temporal reference levels CycleBeatPulse.

Beats are equidistant; they define the tempo and often also the anchor of movement of dancers. Each beat is divided into pulses (often 2, 3 or 4) that can be subject to recurring micro-temporal shifts (“groove”, “swing”).

The pulse (actually: elementary pulsation) is the smallest unit of musical pattern formation – although in drumming pulses are occasionally carried out as double, triple, or buzz strokes. However, these subdivisions are no longer the subject of patterns that may include rests.

Most matepe pieces have a cycle of 48 pulses, with four rhythmically strongly symmetrical phrases of 12 pulses each. These phrases often contain motifs in groups of 3 or 4 pulses, usually simultaneously. Where you anchor your sense of downbeat is up to the listener, and can lead to amazing kaleidophonic effects.

chiShona

Shona language (in chiShona).

Diwa area

The area within today’s Rushinga district, where Marymount mission is located, and Sekuru met his fellow matepe players.

Kuda Samora Nyaruwabvu notes: “I am sure the use of the name Diwa is more of the precolonial time. Then colonialism brought the political demarcations of districts. Like in the case of Mudzi and Mukota. Back then all used to fall under Mutoko but now they are separated.

Hera / Heera

Regional variant of the matepe from Rushinga district, and further up north in Mozambique.

Hera by Josam Nyamukuvhengu ✝. The additional right upper manual was his innovation
Different curvature of keys: Matepe keys are typically bent upwards…
…whereas typical Hera keys are bent upwards from below the bridge and then become flat again.

Kaleidophony

The phenomenon of hearing a (subjectively) different piece of music (in terms of rhythm, harmony, and tonal center), depending on where in the cycle you anchor your sense of downbeat.

For demonstration see Kaleidophony.

Madhebhe

Regional variant of the matepe from Mutoko and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe (UMP) districts, sometimes with broader keys and a slightly shifted interlacement of the upper and lower left thumb ranks.

Madhebhe by Ephraim Masarakufa

Matepe

A now very rare type of mbira from the Northeast Zimbabwe and immediately adjacent areas in Mozambique that is the subject of this preservation project. Regional variants include the Hera and Madhebhe.

Matepe made by Kadori in 1932 or before

Zack Moon has written a nice introduction to matepe on mbira.org.

Find further information about purchasing an instrument and sound recordings on symres.org.

Mbira

(chiShona) Generic term for board lamellophone in chiShona.

Players of any type of mbira (like matepe, njari, karimba) often refer to their instrument just as “the mbira”, and use more specific names only when referring to other kinds of mbira.

The word “mbira” became known worldwide primarily through Paul Berliner’s ethnography The Soul of Mbira (first published in 1974 as a PhD thesis). Since then it has since often been equated with the mbira dzavadzimu outside Zimbabwe.

Mbira dzavadzimu

(chiShona) Mbira of the vadzimu. Also called nhare or mbira huru.

Mbira dzavadzimu, or nhare

One of five major types of mbira in Zimbabwe, and probably the best known traditional mbira type within and outside the country today. Compared to the Matepe, there is no manual for the left index finger, and players require considerable virtuosity to create textures as dense as the matepe.

According to Chawasarira, all mbira types are “dialectical”, i.e. they originally came from different ethnic groups of what has been summarised under the collective term “Shona people” since colonial times. Matepe players from northeast Zimbabwe refer to the mbira dzavadzimu as the “Zezuru mbira”.

Historically, the geographical location of the Zezuru people in the region around the capital has certainly contributed to the international visibility and popularity of this particular mbira type, and its occasional equation with “mbira”.

The term “mbira dzavazdzimu” is somewhat controversial. It was introduced into academic literature by Hugh Tracey (“mbira dze midzimu”) and is used throughout by Paul Berliner, referring to his informant Mubayiwa Bandambira (who called it “mbira huru dzavadzimu”).

Some international mbira students avidly point out that “no mbira [dzavazimu] player” [they know] uses this term, while some Zimbabweans argue that the association with the vadzimu promotes prejudice on the part of fundamental Christians and is therefore detrimental to the cause of promoting mbira.

Personally, I (Stefan Franke) suspect that Tracey and Berliner primarily needed a term to differentiate this type of mbira from others, and therefore elevated what was rather meant as a praise name to the rank of a type designation, unaware of the anti-academic or religious resentment that could later evoke.

Mhondoro

(chiShona) Lion. In our context: Lion spirit

Ancestral spirits of royal lineage, deceased chiefs and kings.

In Shona traditional belief system of Shona peoples, mhondoro spirits reside in the bodies of maneless lions until they found a medium to possess. Situated in the spiritual hierarchy between the vadzimu and gombwe spirits (those who have never been human beings; rain making spirits; who in turn reside right under mwari, the creator), the mhondoro are concerned with matters of their clans and territories, up to the entire nation.

Minor change

A term we use to denote variations of an mbira part, because Sekuru Chawasarira already uses the term variation differently.

Mudzimu

(Singular of vadzimu, chiShona)

Nhare

(Metal, Telephone, chiShona) A popular way to refer to the mbira dzavadzimu.

Pandutsa

(infinitive kupandutsa, imperative panduka, chiShona) A musical announcement of a matepe player to start playing, or change into a new part.

Part

On this page we use the term “mbira part” for a complete musical pattern that can be played by a single player for an unlimited period of time. Mbira pieces often have parts for multiple players that are rhythmically interwoven to form an intricate texture from which numerous inherent patterns emerge.

Parts can have variations, which we here call minor changes, because Sekuru Chawasarira already uses the term variation synonymously with parts.

Pulse

Also: elementary pulsation. See beat.

Sekuru

(chiShona) A male honorific title meaning grandfather, uncle, respected elder. Also used in a ceremonial context to refer to a person carrying a (male) mudzimu.

Shave

(plural mashave, chiShona)

A category of spirits in the traditional belief system of Shona peoples. Unlike the ancestral spirits (Vadzimu, Mhondoro), Mashave spirits are considered foreign or wandering spirits of neighboring peoples, Europeans or even animals. They can be benevolent or malicious. Benevolent Mashave are often viewed as the cause of individual talents, such as healing, music, or artistic ability.

Vadzimu

(singular mudzimu, chiShona)

A category of spirits in the traditional belief system of Shona peoples, referring to recent ancestors. They are considered benevolent and protect their descendants, but may withdraw this protection if moral ideals and ceremonial duties are not respected.

Variation

Sekuru Chawasarira uses the term variation to refer to mbira parts for different players, that often have an entirely different rhythmic patterns.

For this reason we use the term minor change for variations of a part that maintain its elementary structure.