Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Mbira camp 2015

posted by Leila Z. on

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If you have perused this blog even slightly, you will know that I spent the month of February 2014 in Zimbabwe, studying mbira with various master teachers in Mhondoro and Harare. It was an incredible experience -- one that I would encourage every serious student of traditional Zimbabwean music to make happen -- and both helped my playing and my understanding of its cultural context. However, for various life, logistical, and financial reasons, realistically it may be a long time before I can travel there again.

So instead, I do the next best thing. I study mbira with American teachers who have studied this music and spent time in Zimbabwe, and I make an effort to study with Zimbabwean teachers who are traveling in the U.S. This year I went to an 8-day mbira camp in beautiful Berkeley, CA. There were two teachers: Berkeley native and host Erica Azim, and Zimbabwean teacher "Samaita" Vitalis Botsa. Samaita has a wonderfully complex and dreamy style that I have admired for years, and I was particularly excited to learn from him.

Spending the day near the John Muir woods playing mbira is seriously transcendent!
Life at mbira camp takes on its own rhythms: virtually your only responsibility (aside from doing some dishes) is to learn mbira. This singular focus is both incredibly freeing and incredibly intense. In addition to learning new pieces, I got to brush up on lots of old things I had forgotten, play with some excellent campmates, and learn singing to the pieces we studied (Tadzungaira, Mahororo, and Marenje). We spent a day in the John Muir Woods and a day at Pescadero Beach south of Half Moon Bay; both are beautiful places in their own right only made better by softly tinkling mbira strains. To clear my head, I explored Berkeley on the run and treated myself several times by ending my run at the Hopkins Street Bakery (vanilla cream donut: YUM!). Oh, and I woke up at the crack of dawn each day to cheer on the American athletes participating in the World Championships of Track and Field in Beijing!

Samaita had a sweet tooth just like me! THAT's why I spent so much time at the bakery, sure... ;)
The last day of camp coincided with my 37th birthday; it seemed fitting somehow to be able to reflect on the past year and the year to come in the context of playing mbira, which is how I do my best thinking. There are lots of exciting and possibly stressful things afoot for the coming year, but I felt calm and energized thinking about them. Here's to another great year (full of mbira)!  

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