The sound of the African drum, which was a key part of social and religious events such as harvest feasts, threshing parties, rain-making, exorcism ceremonies and announcements of deaths or births in ancient Zimbabwe, is slowly becoming rare.
Urbanisation and social change are slowly eroding the old ways of life, replacing them with modern fashions. The drum culture is fading into oblivion.
Berlin-based music school Global Music Academy and the Music Crossroads Academy of Zimbabwe launched two documentations in Zimbabwe to preserve ancient music cultures in the southern African nation and incorporate traditional music cultures into music courses in schools.
The two projects “The Drum Cultures of Chiweshe” and “The Mbira and Sungura Guitar Styles of Zimbabwe” were launched on October 26 at the Zimbabwe German Society in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.
They are a result of months of research by a team of researchers from the Music Crossroads Academy with technical assistance by experts from the Global Music Academy and funding from the Culture Preservation Programme of the German Foreign Office.
“One of the motivations is to enable young Zimbabweans to study traditional music using modern teaching methodologies,” said project director Will Ramsay, who is also artistic director at Global Music Academy.
“The other reason is to capture and preserve the traditional music so that it will never become extinct. Lots of the uses for traditional mbira music for example have died out because of urbanisation and social change but we believe it’s possible to take the music and find new uses for it.
The traditional styles could be developed through new playing techniques and the material could be taken and developed as curricula for music schools.”
A guest of honour at the launch was German Ambassador Thorsten Hutter, who highlighted the influence of cultural heritage on cultural identity and how it promotes inter-cultural dialogue.
“Cultural heritage passed from our ancestors must be preserved for the benefit of all,” said Hutter.
“And in an era of globalisation in which the world is becoming smaller and smaller, cultural heritage helps us to remember our cultural identity, develops mutual respect and renews dialogue among different cultures.”
Emmanuel Mujuru, head of pedagogy at the Music Crossroads Academy said the project would be used to develop a new music curriculum for schools and colleges which currently lack material on local traditional music culture.
“We realised that most of the drum rhythms have not been documented,” Mujuru explained. “There was no literature to cover the drum cultures in most parts of the country. This is the gap we want to fill. This is part of preserving our culture. Culture is important because it connects people to their roots. If we are not connected to our cultural roots we suffer an identity crisis.”
Collin Tom, a drum teacher at the Music Crossroads Academy described the research as “an eye opener.”
“What I realised is that there is a lot of information that is just lying untapped,” Tom said. “Research is not merely about internet searches. I realised that there is a lot to learn and that our country has a wealth of rhythms.”
The drum cultures of Chiweshe comprises interviews with drummers, cultural leaders and guardians explaining the different drums, beats and their uses.
The Mbira and Sungura Guitar Styles booklet is about two of the three guitar styles that arose in Zimbabwe in the 20th century and which have had a significant impact on the development of contemporary music in southern Africa.
“No attempt had been made to comprehensively document the different styles and develop a methodology for teaching these styles in music schools,” Ramsay said.
“In addition we felt that the enormous contribution made by the musicians to the development of these styles is often overshadowed because of the focus on the artistes who use the results of their work to produce their recordings.”
Global Music Academy is a music school based in Berlin, and has worked in several countries in Africa including Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Sierra Leone to develop teaching materials for music schools.