PROUDLY in support of tsubvubone (black is beautiful) and one of the finest mbira players, as well as jazz musicians to emerge from Zimbabwe, Hope Masike (HM, pictured), dedicated much of her time during the Covid-19-induced lockdown exploring different ventures, including compiling her second poetry anthology Dhuku Rangu , whose launch is set to coincide with World Poetry Day on March 21. This follows her maiden poetry book titled Ask Me Again, which was premiered at Delta Arts Gallery on February 20, 2020. In an interview with IndependentXtra’s Gumisai Nyoni (GN), Masike said while the lockdown, which came into effect in this country on March 30 last year, had its fair share of disadvantages to the arts sector, it accorded her ample time to shift her focus from live concerts to fulfil her poetry dreams. Below are the interview excerpts:
GN: How have you managed to distinguish your music to appeal to local and international audiences?
HM: I haven’t made an express effort to that end. I just make music as the spirit leads, give it my all, give it to the people and those who vibe to follow it.
GN: How have you managed to overcome Covid-19-induced effects, especially in the absence of live shows?
HM: An artist’s work is broad. Beyond live concerts lie many other stages artists work on. I considered these lockdowns a gift from God, as they awarded me ample time to work on other things. I am glad I have finished my second poetry book Dhuku Rangu that I had not got much time to work on. Editors, who otherwise have been difficult to get, were now available. I also uphold the prayer that ‘God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change’ and this acceptance works wonders as it is the only way one can harness the blessings in those things we cannot alter. Heavy as it is, Covid-19 has been one of those.
GN: Do you have international concerts lined up in the event the current lockdown regulations are relaxed.
HM: Certainly, whether they shall be virtual or actual tours remains unknown.
GN: Do you have new projects that were disrupted by the pandemic.
HM: Yes, plenty. But for some we still managed to go ahead virtually and successfully so. For instance, last year I had a one day conference on fibroids. Even though I had had other plans to congregate and share knowledge physically, it still went ahead online and was a resounding success.
Those interested can access the live videos on my Instagram — which is one of the wonders of doing events online — they can stay available for those who catch up later. Lockdowns also gave me a very special time to learn more about fibroids and women’s health in general. I had a fibroid matter that needed quiet time for me to deal with. In the lockdowns I got this time. With a heavy gig schedule, I wouldn’t have had time to relearn nutrition and many other things important to women’s health. I read a lot on all available research on this matter and a year later, I am at a better place. Women’s health is now one of the things on my philanthropy portfolio.
GN: What inspired you to play mbira and jazz?
HM: These two were among the first musics I got introduced to in music school. Mbira was the first instrument I learned with so much ease, near effortlessly. So, naturally I also started writing music to mbira easily and quickly. As for jazz, the day I heard and started learning how to sing Autumn Leaves (the first jazz standard I was introduced to by Filbert Marova at the Zimbabwe College of Music), I fell in love immediately. I fell in love even more when I discovered more jazz standards. Learning about singers or composers’ histories and the general history of African music, to what it has evolved into today, also intrigued me. The themes sung about, in addition to the life histories of the singers, were a new and fascinating phenomenon to me. I naturally gravitated towards jazz because of all this, playing ancient music scenes of black people in New Orleans (United States) in my head. One Duke Ellington Sacred concert we once did back in school was heaven to me. I guess I was such an old soul as both mbira and jazz have strong ancient story of black people to them.
GN: How does it feel representing Zimbabwe on the international arena and how do you perceive other local artists.
HM: I had been on quite a number of international stages, yes, but certainly nowhere near my goal. But in those few times I’ve toured other continents, played mbira and sung in shona to an audience that understood neither the language nor the instrument, yet still enjoyed it, I understood the universal nature of music. I thank our ancestors for leaving us gifts such as mbira. And thank God, Unesco finally recognised mbira as Recognised Intangible heritage of the People of Africa.
I mention this because, much as there are millions of different African music genres that have it internationally, I find it’s the music that has its roots in people’s cultures that often flourishes, from the old age world music to new Afropop. Whether, it’s the entire orchestration of your sound or something as hidden as the percussion, if one infuses their sound with their roots, it is most likely they will strike gold with a fresh sound.
I believe local musicians have it correct and are in the winning lane. I am excited by all the new sounds coming out of Zimbabwe, with a touch of say, jit or dinhe in the background. That is precisely how we move with times without copying other countries’ music, but refusing new sounds rooted in our culture. I trust that’s the winning recipe.