September 06, 2011

Zimbabwe percussion kicks off music series

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Season Four of the Southern Illinois Improvisation Series (SiiS) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale opens with an evening of traditional Shona mbira music.

The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 in the Old Baptist Foundation Recital Hall, and features special guests Caution Shonhai and Erica Azim.

The mbira is a percussion instrument with metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard.  The mbira is often placed inside a large calabash resonator for amplification. In addition, metal beads, bottle caps or shells mounted on the soundboard add a distinctive buzz.

Shona mbira music originates in Zimbabwe.  The program notes for the performance explain the cyclical pattern of Shona mbira music, and the collaborative leading and intertwining parts when two musicians play together.

The two guest musicians are mbira master musicians.  Shonhai is a native of Nyamweda in rural Zimbabwe.  He comes from a family of mbira players, and is the descendant of famed mbira musician Nzuwa.  Azim became one of the first Americans to study mbira in Zimbabwe when she traveled there in 1974.  She visited SIUC in 2007, when she performed and hosted workshops.

SiiS, founded in 2008, is a School of Music ensemble that studies and performs non-idiomatic improvisation.  Percussion faculty member Ron Coulter established the ensemble to provide an environment for students to explore other-than-traditional music generation and expression, and to expand into multi-media creative productions.

The SIUC Fine Arts Activity Fee and the SIUC School of Music provided funding for this event.