New music society aims to bridge cultural divide

Mill Bay-based Zimbabwe Music Society is bringing cultures together one tune at a time.

Mill Bay-based Zimbabwe Music Society is bringing cultures together one tune at a time.

The husband-wife team of Amy and Tafadzwa Matamba are welcoming and hosting the five-woman Zimbabwean acapella ensemble Nobuntu for a week-long cultural exchange and series of benefit concerts supporting efforts to dig wells for clean water and bring eye care to people in the town of Magunje, Zimbabwe.

“We’re very fortunate to have these five women coming,” said Amy, adding that Cowichan Tribes as well as Mbira Spirit and the Kathy White Highland Dancers will open for Nobuntu at their May 10 show at New Life Baptist Church in Duncan.

“The Cowichan Tribes will do the official opening and welcoming and do their dance, then the Highland Dancers will come out with Mbira Spirit,” Amy added, explaining that the Highland Dancers will be performing a choreographed dance to a Zimbabwean song that happens to have the same melody as ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

Eighteen Cowichan Tribes members will also be participating in a cultural exchange to Zimbabwe this fall.

“It will focus on arts and culture and them sharing the traditions and heritage of Vancouver Island and Zimbabwe,” Amy explained, adding this will be their second exchange to Zimbabwe. “We’ll do a bit of performing there as well as going to the rural arts and education centre.”

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa with a population of approximately 13 million. It has experienced political upheaval and struggles with poverty. Zimbabwe’s main tribal ethnicity is the Shona (80 per cent). The Nobuntu singers are from the Ndebele tribal ethnicity (12 per cent).

“They’re quite fun because they speak with those little clicks in their dialect and the singing,” Amy explained.

Amy’s husband Tafadzwa is Shona and comes from Magunje. Amy went to Zimbabwe in 2012 after studying Zimbabwean music in Canada. She was learning the culture and traditions and studying the mbira, a traditional wooden thumb piano that had been banned by the British in colonial times as “pagan” because of its use in Zimbabwean ceremonies and religious rituals.

Amy invited Tafadzwa to tour Canada as a musician in 2012 after returning from Zimbabwe.

“That’s how we kind of developed our music, developed our relationship and ended up getting married,” Amy said, adding that their group has also broadened into playing guitar and mixing musical genres like country, blues and reggae.

Amy and Tafadzwa have also developed their Matamba Culture, Arts and Education Centre here in Canada and Zimbabwe.

Founding the non-profit society is the logical next step.

“We really are a society because the work that we want to do is non-profit,” Amy said, adding ZMS will be eventually applying for charity status.

Education will figure heavily in the work, building on Amy’s 21 years of experience as a teacher in the Cowichan Valley school district.

“The education part is really an important piece for me. We’ve connected already with all levels of schooling up to university over there to start to work towards keeping the traditional arts and culture there and providing scholarships for those that are doing well in it,” Amy explained.

Another key starting point is the plan to construct wells. Currently in Magunje residents have to walk two kilometres to get water, and ZMS has a goal of drilling 10 wells per year starting this fall.

In April, 2017, ZMS will also be bringing Cowichan Valley optometrist Trevor Miranda to Magunje to provide eye care for 1,000 people.

“We want to build relationships between our community and Zimbabwe so that we help Zimbabwe with health and education and some of the basic priorities of life,” Amy said.

For more information on Mbira Spirit visit www.mbiraspirit.com.

Mbira Spirit is also asking for the public’s vote on CBC’s 2016 Searchlight Competition for their music video produced and recorded in Zimbabwe. Voting in the first round goes until April 20.

To take a look and vote visit http://cbcmusicsearchlight.ca/entries/69056.

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