Music of Zimbabwe

Ngoma drums in Zimbabwe
Musicians playing Zimbabwean pop music, Mberengwa, 2005
Zimbabwean primary school students playing marimbas

Zimbabwean music includes folk and pop styles. Much of the folk music incorporates mbira, Ngoma drums and hosho. Music has played a significant role in the history of Zimbabwe, from a vital role in the traditional Bira ceremony used to call on ancestral spirits, to protest songs during the struggle for independence.[1]

In many cultures, music has the uncanny ability to bring people closer together. For Zimbabwe's Shona community it is what links them to their culture and individual identity.[2] Their way of life was under threat when a large colonialism movement swept through Zimbabwe. This movement forced the Shona people to leave their sacred ancestral lands, the heart of their culture. However, they fought to keep their traditions and ancestors with them through musical representation. Music has the power to influence how people behave. It can evoke certain moods, feelings, and states of mind in people. It is a universal language that can connect people to their past and spread messages.[3]


The mbira is an integral part of Zimbabwean music.[1][4] Classified by musicologists as a lamellaphone, part of the plucked idiophone family, it is created from things found in nature such as a wooden board (often fitted with a resonator) and tines. It is frequently played in a deze (calabash resonator) which amplifies the sound and augments using shells or bottle caps placed around the edges. Often accompanied by the hosho, a percussion instrument, the mbira is often an important instrument that people play at religious ceremonies, weddings, and other social gatherings. The mbira plays a central role in the traditional Bira ceremony used to call on ancestral spirits.[4]

The instrument is a central piece in their religious rituals. The most important function of mbira is the idea of it being a "telephone to the spirits" during ceremonies. It is the sole way of communication between the living and deceased ancestors, ancient tribal guardians, or guardian spirits. The mbira is required to ask these spirits to bring rain during drought, stop rain during floods, and bring clouds when crops are damaged by the sun.[5] These instruments were made from resources from the land which connected them further connects the indigenous people to their land and this deep connection has helped communities in Zimbabwe to continue their tradition of mbira music despite the development of colonialism.

The sound made by this instrument closely imitates the noises made by rain or running water with rich and vibrant tones "like bells". The sound has a special presence; one that feel the music as much as one hears it.[6] Penetrating and warming at the same time, immediately capturing the involvement of the listeners and drawing them into its mood. The pieces of music played vary by the artist but there is no specific way to play this instrument. The music performed is all about elaboration and variation supporting creative expression of the performer.

Mbira player with other musicians from 1865 book
Mbira dzavadzimu
Hosho commonly used to accompany mbira music

Though musicologist Hugh Tracey believed the mbira to be nearing extinction in the 1930s, the instrument has been revived since the 60s and 70s, and has gained an international following through the world music scene. Some renowned mbira players include Dumisani Maraire, Ephat Mujuru, Stella Chiweshe, Chartwell Dutiro, Mbuya Dyoko, Cosmas Magaya, Tute Chigamba, Forward Kwenda, and Chiwoniso Maraire.[1][7] [8]

There is also pop music in Zimbabwe and around the world that incorporates Zimbabwean indigenous instruments. For example, mbira player Chris Berry with his band Panjea have reached platinum record sales in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, playing a style of music based on traditional mbira rhythms and melodies, but incorporating various other instruments and styles (like hip-hop and dancehall). Mbira is incorporated into the music of critically acclaimed American hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces by Tendai Maraire (son of traditional mbira player Dumisani Maraire).[9]


Jit is a generic term for electric guitar-driven pop, and includes popular groups like the New Black Eagles and the Four Brothers (a band UK radio DJ John Peel described as "the best live band in the world"[10]). Internationally, The Bhundu Boys are by far the best-known jit performers, and have worked with numerous American and British musicians. Notable recent bands to come up with the Jit sound are Nehoreka who fuse the traditional Jit with funk sounds, there is also Mokoomba and Q Montana. The 1990 film Jit was named for this style.


This is the local genre of the Zimbabwe music industry. Sungura music became popular in the early 1980s, pioneered by frontman Ephraim Joe and his band Sungura Boys which counted many notable future hit makers as members. Their roll included John Chibadura (guitar) Simon Chimbetu (guitar and vocals) Naison Chimbetu, Ronnie Chataika, Michael Jambo (drums), Ephraim Joe (guitar), Moses Marasha (bass), Never Moyo (lead guitar), Bata Sinfirio (rhythm guitar), System Tazvida (guitar and vocals, Peter Moyo (guitar and vocals).

The Khiama Boys emerged as natural successors to the Sungura Boys after their demise during the mid-eighties. Members would include System Tazvida (Rhythm guitar), Nicholas Zacharia (Lead guitar), Alick Macheso (Bass), Silas Chakanyuka (Drums) and Zacharia Zakaria (Sub Rhythm guitar). A great number of these artistes have gone on to forge successful careers with their own bands whilst Nicholas Zacharia has remained as the leader of the band and is still active as of 2008.

Alick Macheso performing in 2012

James Chimombe, whose romantic ballads and the influential sungura guitar melody (consisting of lead, rhythm and bass), made him a favorite in the late 80s.

The 90s was dominated by musicians include Leonard Dembo, the effervescent Khiama Boys, veteran Simon Chimbetu and upcoming artistes Alick Macheso, Tongai Moyo and Somadhla Ndebele. The star of the decade was Leonard Zhakata, whose musical project was a spinoff of the double play[clarification needed] Maungwe Brothers, an act fronted by Zhakata and his cousin Thomas Makion. The decade 2000 till present has been characterised by a wrangle for the crown for the kingship of Sungura between the two most Sungura musicians of the decade, Alick Macheso and Tongai Moyo. Having dominated sales, tour and concert attendances, the heckling and counter-heckling by the artists at shows and in some recorded material is strong proof that the current feud is far from over.

Other artists to come through this decade include Joseph Garakara, Gift Amuli, Howard Pinjisi and Daiton Somanje. And of late, Alick Macheso has become popular with his dance zoraaa butter.

System Tazvida, Simon Chimbetu, John Chibadura, Leonard Dembo, and Thomas Makion have all died.

Afro Jazz ( Zimbabwean Jazz)

Afro Jazz is a term used for Zimbabwean music influenced by a style of township rhythm that evolved in a Southern part of Africa over the last century. One can also trace similarities from Kwela, a pennywhistle-based, street music from the southern part of Africa with jazzy underpinnings and a distinctive, skiffle-like beat. It is also closely related to Marabi which was the name given to a keyboard style (often using cheap pedal organs) that had a musical link to American jazz, ragtime and blues, with roots deep in the African tradition. Early marabi musicians were part of an underground musical culture and were typically not recorded. An example of such an artist in the early 1940s is August Musarurwa of the Skokiaan fame. It has continued to develop and you can even see traits of this music in his grandson Prince Kudakwashe Musarurwa.

Chimurenga music

Chimurenga music is a genre developed by Thomas Mapfumo named for the Shona language word for struggle.[1] Mapfumo and his band, the Blacks Unlimited developed a style of music based on traditional mbira music, but played with modern electric instrumentation, with lyrics characterized by social and political commentary. Mapfumo's music was a "tool of the liberation war" criticizing the Rhodesian government of Ian Smith, but shifted after independence to speaking out about perceived corruption and mismanagement of the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe.[1][11]

Tuku Music

Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi was a prolific recorder who also appeared in films like Jit. He played in a plethora of styles, and was known for penetrating lyrics; for example, he wrote a second song about AIDS in Zimbabwe after Paul Matavire's hit song "Yakauya AIDS iriko".


Mokoomba at the music festival "Bardentreffen" 2013 in Nuremberg, Germany

Zimdancehall is a term used for Zimbabwean music influenced by Jamaican Dancehall music. A lot of debate is around the question of who started Zimdancehall in the country. Notable names in the genre are Souja Luv, Killer T, Enzo Ishall, Jah Signal, Winky D, Ras Caleb, Kinna, Chillspot records, Seh Calaz,freeman,Boss Pumacol,Uncle Epaton.

Mokoomba at the music festival "Bardentreffen" 2013 in Nuremberg, Germany


African Rumba, or 'Soukos' is mostly associated with the Democratic Republic of the Congo but its popularity has inspired Zimbabwe's own brand of rumba in musicians such as Simon Chimbetu and Leonard Karikoga Zhakata. Soukos has been an influence on other artists such as The R.U.N.N. family.


Gospel music became popular in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s. Jonathan Wutawunashe has been described as "Zimbabwe's first real gospel star".[1] Other population musicians in this genre include Jordan Chataika, Freedom Sengwayo, Mechanic Manyeruke, and Brian Sibalo.

The early nineties saw the rising of new gospel stars in the mold of Ivy Kombo - Moyo and Carol Mujokoro of the EGEA gospel Train whose debut album Mufudzi Wangu was released in 1993 and contains tracks such as "Be Thou My Vision", "Ndotarisa Kumakomo" and "Utiziro" among others. The two went on to pursue successful solo musical careers and released "Ndaidziwanepi Nyasha" and "Ropa RaJesu" as their debut solo albums respectively.

Gospel artists who emerged from the mid nineties include Lawrence Haisa, Brother Sam with his hits "Makanaka Jesu" and "Cherechedza", Elias Musakwa, Rita Shonhiwa, The Gospel Trumpet of the "Rose Of Sharon" fame and Shingisai Suluma who only became popular in the early 21st century with the hit song "Mirira Mangwanani"; though she first recorded in the nineties.

In the late-nineties, Charles Charamba, a rising artist, grew in popularity, and currently holds gospel sales records. His music became popular into the first decade of the 21st century, most likely due to his Sungura-based contemporary style.

In the early 21st century, a lot of gospel artists also recorded, though a few really rose to stardom. These include Fungisai Zvakavapano - Mashavave who has risen to become the most dominant female gospel musician in the current era, Stanley Gwanzura (Pastor Gee), Kudzai Nyakudya and gospel a cappella outfits like Vabati VaJehovah and Shower Power.


The Ndebele-dominated region of the southwest of Zimbabwe, including the city Bulawayo, has been instrumental in the development of Zimbabwean music. Seminal 1950s guitarist George Sibanda had a following across Africa and was the writer for the hit song Guabi Guabi which is sang all over the world[12][13], and Dorothy Masuka was a major player on the South African jazz scene, for example. Among the most popular performers of the region within Zimbabwe, however, was 1980s Ndebele pop sensation Lovemore Majaivana. Ndebele musicians who are active are Black Umfolosi, Insingizi Majahawodwa Ndlovu, Sandra Ndebele, Lwazi Tshabangu, Kuxxman, Go Boyz, Achuzi, Beate Mangethe, Vusa Mkhaya, Afrika Revenge and Ramadu. The marginalisation of Bulawayo artists in Zimbabwe saw the influence of South African music dominating hence the emergence of kwaito music in Bulawayo pioneered by Go-Boyz in 1996 and more groups like GTI, Achuzi, Amagangsters, etc., emerged. A brand of Jazz was created in Bulawayo, in the 1940s and 1950s, and was made popular by August Musarurwa with his African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia. He recorded the legendary song Sikokiana which went on to be recorded in USA by Louis Armstrong and many others.


Zimbabwean musicians' lyrics mostly contain encouragement of upholding good social values in the family and society as whole. Such lyrics can be seen in songs by artists like Oliver Mtukudzi, Simon Chimbetu, Nehoreka Louis Mhlanga, John Chibadura, Steve Makoni, Bhundu Boys and many others. Of note however is Thomas Mapfumo, whose lyrics are mainly political and encourage good leadership and rising against bad governance - Most of his albums are named after a word meaning Uprising or War of Liberation, "Chimurenga". His music has earned him the wrath of the ZANU-PF government resulting in the banning of most of his music on state owned radio and TV. Another outstanding musician with striking lyrics is the late System Tazvida of the Chazezesa Challengers. His lyrics were mainly centered on the subject of "Love" and this gained him popularity with songs like "Anodyiwa Haataure", "Ukarambwa Usachema", "Vanotipedzera Mashoko" and "Dai Hanzvadzi Yairoorwa". With the coming of "Urban Grooves" the lyrics content resembles that of American RnB, Hip Hop and Pop music which the younger generations listen to. One artist Maskiri is known for imitating Eminem's style of controversial lyrics.

Urban Grooves

Coming on the music scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Urban Grooves takes in American Rap, Hip Hop, R&B, Soul and other international music genres, often melded with traditional Zimbabwean music.

Artists such as Sanii Makhalima, Roy and Royce, David Chifunyise, Leonard Mapfumo, Roki, Stach, Betty Makaya, Extra Large, Maskiri, Kactus and Nehoreka laid the groundwork for the new genre, which gained increasing popularity among the youth. The style was helped by the 100% local content policy in effect at the time, which required all radio stations to play only music by Zimbabwean artists.

A second generation of artists such as Alexio Kawara, Drum Dada, Q Montana, Mokoomba and Nehoreka have come to prominence more recently.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kendall, Judy; Eyre, Banning (1999). "Jit, Mbira and Chimurenga: Play It Loud!". In Broughton, Simon; Ellingham, Mark; Trillo, Richard (eds.). World Music Volume 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. London: Rough Guides Ltd. pp. 706-716. ISBN 1-85828-635-2.
  2. ^ Hancock-Barnett, Coralie (February 2012). "Colonial resettlement and cultural resistance: the mbira music of Zimbabwe". Social & Cultural Geography. 13 (1): 11–27. doi:10.1080/14649365.2011.635799. ISSN 1464-9365.
  3. ^ Sounds of life : music, identity and politics in Zimbabwe. Mangena, Fainos., Chitando, Ezra., Muwati, Itai. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2016. ISBN 978-1-4438-8856-1. OCLC 938788274.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b Berliner, Paul (1978). The Soul of Mbira (1st Paperback ed.). Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-520-04268-9.
  5. ^ Brown, Ernest D. (1994). "The Guitar and the 'Mbira': Resilience, Assimilation, and Pan-Africanism in Zimbabwean Music". The World of Music. 36 (2): 73–117. JSTOR 43561389.
  6. ^ Berliner, Paul (June 1993). The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. University of Chicago Press. pp. 52–64. ISBN 978-0-226-04379-1.
  7. ^ "mbira musicians". Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  8. ^ "Musician Biographies". Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  9. ^ Bakare, Lanre (August 9, 2017). "'We feel like aliens': Shabazz Palaces, the hip-hop duo beamed in from another planet". The Guardian. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  10. ^ "Jon Dennis analyses John Peel's top 20 albums". the Guardian. 2005-10-12. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  11. ^ "Book: Lion Songs, Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe". Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  12. ^ "The Legendary George Sibanda / RootsWorld Recording Review". Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  13. ^ Miller, Bruce. "The Legendary George Sibanda/Zambia Roadside". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  14. ^ Denselow, Robin (April 25, 2013). "Mokoomba: Zimbabwe's new sound". The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2017.

Further reading

  • Kendall, Judy and Banning Eyre. "Jit, Mbira and Chimurenga: Play It Loud!". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp. 706–716. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External links

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