Chartwell Dutiro


Text taken from a BBC interview with Chartwell, more here:

I started playing mbira when I was four at the protected village, Kagande, about two hours drive from Harare where my family was moved by the Salvation Army missionaries. Even though the missionaries banned our traditional music, I learned to play from my brother and other village elders. My mother also encouraged me as she used to sing to me. The mbira is a traditional sacred instrument of the Shona people, one of the main tribes of Zimbabwe. We play this music in ceremonies that last the whole night long. Some people sing, some dance and others get possessed by the spirits of our ancestors who give daily guidance to the living people.

The mbira is a small instrument made out of hand-forged metal pieces which are placed on a board covered with a metal plate full of sea shells. That gives it a nice buzzing tone. When I play I stroke the metal with my thumbs and right index finger. I usually place the mbira inside a calabash which is a gourd like a pumpkin. This gives it a fuller echoey sound.

It was not easy growing up in a colonized country where the missionaries discouraged our ancestral music. For starters, I was called ‘Chartwell’ rather than ‘Shorayi’, my Shona name which means “You can underestimate me if you wish”. They were suspicious of our musical gatherings which they figured were political meetings so they condemned the music as devil’s music. Yet I more often than not missed Sunday school because I’d have been up all night playing the mbira. This music is every thing to me – you just can’t talk about Zimbabwean history without it. We carry the spirit of our ancestors through the music. During the liberation struggle our people fled to Mozambique where they had the spirit mediums guide them through the music.

We sing all the time – if it rains we sing, if we want the rain to ease off, then we sing. When a baby’s born we sing. If someone dies we sing. We sing when we’re happy and when we’re sad. I wake up in the morning with a song and start yodeling away with spontaneous lyrics about what I’ll be doing that day or maybe about what I dreamed of last night. It’s right in my soul and expresses exactly how I feel at a particular moment in time.

Marenje performed by Chartwell Dutiro from his 2006 album Chivaraidze


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