Dumisani Maraire

Explorer Series: Zimbabwe - The African Mbira

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This is a classic recording, one of the finest issued by Nonesuch on their Explorer series of the late '60s and early '70s. Extremely simple in one sense, immensely complicated in another. Maraire plays the mbira, a thumb piano consisting of flat metal rods of varying lengths attached to a resonator, and sings accompanied by his brother, on hosho (a gourd webbed with beads) and voice, and Sukutai Laura Chiora, also on voice. Playing "simple" melodies of timeless beauty, this trio interweaves vocal lines of stunning beauty and naturalness, shouted, hummed, and trilled with the hypnotic allure of the mbira. There is not a shred of the slickness or self-consciousness that afflicts all too many "world music" recordings designed for Western ears. One feels as though comfortably sitting in a room with musicians who play this music routinely for the enjoyment of themselves and friends. The rhythms are elastic; strong but never mechanical, stretched or collapsed in service to the story being told. Tracks like "Gumbukumbu" achieve a degree of perfection that should be the envy of any musician on the planet, Chiora's voice displaying an astonishing musical expressiveness, and even humor as she falls into laughter at several points. The African Mbira is one of the very best recordings of the South African folk tradition, and deserves a place in any listener's library.

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