The Sunday Mail
MY father, the late Cosmas Magaya, who was a world-renowned mbira master, succumbed to Covid-19 in Harare on July 10 this year.
Zimbabwe lost a giant, a cultural ambassador and a national music treasure.
Magaya was a distinguished mbira (finger harp) performer and teacher who taught traditional mbira to both Zimbabweans and non-Zimbabweans.
More specifically, he played and taught mbira dzavadzimu, which can be played both for entertainment and in traditional, spiritual ceremonies. He was often invited to play at bira ceremonies throughout Mhondoro. He also travelled the world performing and teaching mbira.
Over the years, he had many residences at universities teaching mbira dzavadzimu. His students described him as a patient, thorough and a devoted educator who had an incredible ability to tailor his teaching style to each student’s needs.
Mbira music is passed down orally from one generation to the next. With modernisation and increased exposure to Western cultures and music, the number of people that play contemporary mbira music has increased. While this is a positive development as it puts mbira music in peoples’ conscience, it also puts traditional mbira music at risk of extinction.
Magaya appreciated contemporary music and encouraged people to listen and play it, but he also wanted to play a critical role in preserving traditional music. He was concerned that Zimbabweans would lose their mbira heritage.
Through his collaboration with ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, with whom he had a friendship that spanned 50 years, he worked on a preservation project where they collected, recorded and transcribed traditional mbira music. The results of that work is a book that was released before Magaya’s passing called “The Art of Mbira: Musical Inheritance and Legacy.” (Berliner 2020).
They also worked on another yet-to-be launched book called “Mbira’s Restless Dance: An Archive of Improvisation.” (Berliner and Magaya, 2020).
It will be released in the coming months.
Now that we have lost our legend, what is next for mbira music and the various projects he was steering?
While Magaya worked hard on making sure that traditional mbira music was documented, he was a strong believer in the oral traditions of our culture.
Humwe — the Cosmas Magaya Cultural Arts and Education Centre — was created to honour his many contributions to the global mbira music community, as well as his many contributions to his community in Mhondoro.
Humwe will pick up from where the legend left.
Its mission is to preserve traditional music and culture. The centre currently has 35 students who are in primary and secondary school.
Humwe provides them free mbira, hosho, marimba and dance classes. It also focuses on educating the youth on Shona traditions, rituals and culture.
Historically, women and girls were not allowed to play mbira; therefore, Humwe has made special efforts to include girls in the programmes.
For over two decades, Magaya trained his son, Mudavanhu (Muda), on how to play and teach mbira. Muda will be the lead mbira teacher at Humwe. Magaya had many colleagues who are great mbira players in their own right, some of whom have participated in Humwe activities and are committed to its future success. They include Fradreck Mujuru, Irene Chigamba, Musekiwa Chingodza, Patience Munjeri and many more mbira players that are in the Mhondoro area and beyond.
Post-Covid-19 activities will restart at the centre.
There will not only be classes but there will be multi-day camps that will bring people together to celebrate traditional music and culture.
The camps allow Humwe students to perform for the community and showcase what they are learning.
Other efforts are happening throughout the country to promote traditional mbira music, like the Ubuntu Learning Village in the Gutu area.
Magaya’s wish was for Humwe to collaborate with those organisations. He was also an avid farmer; a village headman (Sabhuku); director of Nhimbe for Progress, a community development project in Mhondoro; and executive director for Humwe.
Magaya is survived by his wife, Patricia Nyamande, son Mudavanhu Magaya and daughters Matilda Magaya (project manager of Humwe), Rutendo Magaya and myself. Magaya’s first wife, Joyce Magaya (nee Zinyengere), whom she married in 1976, died in 2000.
Tsitsi Mellody Hantuba is the late Cosmas Magaya’s second-born child. She is a certified public accountant based in the United States and founded Humwe to honour her father, and to give back to her country. Tsitsi shared her views with Prince Mushawevato last week.