Mystique of Nyamasvisva’s 30-year old locks


In the thriftiness of the night, he wakes up from deep slumber to an unknown voice singing into his ears.

The song, delivered by a ghostly figure, whose face he cannot quite see, is not only gothic and primordial but also eerie and profound.

Immediately, he shakes off the lethargy of sleep, grabs his cellphone, presses the recording button and starts singing, regurgitating the song from the occult. On the bedside, his wife is not amused by this frequent norctunal act and continues with her sleep, as if nothing has happened.

The following day, he repeats the tune and lyrics again and again, and again and again, again and again, until it sticks. Music is set! The ancestors have sung. And, indeed, the spirits want the message sent to the masses through music.

Welcome to the world of Wilfred Tichaona Mafrika, the affable Mbira musician, known by his legion of fans the world over as Nyamasvisva. Nyamasvisva itself is not a mere sobriquet; it is his totem from the elephant clan.

“At times I get my music from dreams. There is this man, an ancestor whose face I cannot quite see and when he appears he sings into my ears until I wake up to record the song on my cellphone.  The following day I play back the song again and again until I can remember the tune and the lyrics by head.

“Of course, some of the songs I also compose myself, for, not all songs come from my ancestors. This is how I have built my music, that runs into six albums since I formed my band in 2005,’’ says Nyamasvisva.

For many revellers in the showbiz and many residents of Norton and Zengeza, Nyamasvisva is a natural mystic, with cabalistic long ropy dread locks that drop down to his hips. He is a complex riddle, always smiling and respectful but sophisticated. His dark skin and a rare glint in his eyes, adds to the matrix of his mystique.

The locks are his treasure and he guards them jealously. “It is a big invetsment. I invested in the dreadlocks! They define me.”

Like the Biblical Samson, are the long dreadlocks the source of his powers? Hell No! It is an African traditional hairstyle, that he adopted in 1993 and he has since not shaved. Now dropping more than a metre from the scalp to the hip, the locks make him look a natural mystic.

“I started growing my dreadlocks by mistake. Each time I got shaved I would develop pimples and wounds on the back of my head. It irritated me big time so I decided to keep my hair and lock it in 1993. The problem stopped and I became comfortable until today.

“Of course, the dreadocks mean a lot to me and they fit into the dress code of my music genre. I have no plans to shave any soon,’’ says Nyamasvisva in an interview from his Chitungwiza home on Thursday.

Born 1969 in in Mariga Village in Zvimba, western Zimbabwe, Nyamasvisva, plays the spiritual Mbira Dzevadzimu’s Nhova Pasi instrument (an equivalent of the base guitar) and is the leading vocalist of his 8 –member band Mawungira Enharira.

Translated directly from Shona, the band’s name means the Echoes from Nharira Mountains. Suffice to say, the Nharira Mountains are sacred rocky granitic promontories located on a ridge between Harare and Norton, along the highway to Bulawayo on the right and known for being the spiritual home of traditional Shona autochthones.

Here, I use the word autochthones to loosely refer to the original ancestors believed to have emerged from the ground in ancient times to occupy the land.

Nyamasvisva’s music plays a leading role in the Shona religion and culture.

“I was born in Zvimba in 1969 to my father Phineas Mafrika and mother Matiketa Margret Shayanewako. After they separated in 1976, I moved to stay with my grandfather on my mother’s side.

“At the age of 11, I started playing Mbira copying from my uncles and they used to make me play the instrument for them while they drank beer. I later discovered that I had the talent and learnt a lot about the instrument.

“Things changed when I went to stay with my brother who worked at Hunyani Pulp and Paper in Norton, after my O’ levels. There, I met Samaita Gahamadze, who had just returned from studies in Germany but had a band that played guitars only,’’ says Nyamasvisva.

He added, “I actually met Samaita who now leads Mbira Dzenharira when I was going to buy bread and I was with my Mbira instrument. He asked me to play then invited me to his place, where we started playing together.  I thank Samaita for encouraging me to develop Mbira into serious music.”

A few months later the team was given a contract to play at Sagonda Hotel in Norton by Mr Raz Manjengwa who had returned from Europe and was running the hotel.

“He was bringing a lot of Europeans and wanted them to have a feel of our traditional music. By that time, I had taught Samaita how to play the mbira instrument and we were a good team. It was a Dare, just a meeting of men.

“But, we did not have a name and Raz Manjengwa pressured us to have a band name. That is how we came up with Mbira Dzenharira, after the famous sacred mountains,’’ he said.

That time Mbira was not very popular with the studios so the band found it difficult to record even once. Shed Studios, Zimbabwe Music Corporation, Grama Records and and Record and Tap Promotion, all refused to record Mbira.

In 1997 they were to get wind that some white music promoters frequented Harare Gardens so one wintry morning they took of the gardens. There, to their shock, they found seasoned Mbira players Chiwoniso Maraire and Mbuya Beulah Dyoko being patronised by many white people.

They decided to play a few songs and it attracted the ears of ZBC producer Sylvester Tapfumaneyi, who invited them to Mbare studios. At the studios he recorded them the six-track album Rinemanyanga and it was a gem. The recording journey started in earnest.

“We were shocked by our product and proud to continue recording.  Each album I had three songs and Samaita three songs. We conquered the world. Mbira Dzenharira became a big band that toured many foreign countries like China and got great acceptance.’’

In 2005, Nyamasvisva decided to go solo and formed Mawungira aNharira after feeling that he had grown big. he immediately got recording contracts with RTP nd recorded his first album Mawunira.

“I am grateful to the experience given to me by Mbira Dzenharira and it helped me start my own band.  I wanted to experiment and I am happy, I made it.

“I now have six albums Mawungira, Chinamanenji, Ndodyiwa neMakava, Hurongwa and a DVD recording titled “Nhoroondo.under my sleeve and more is coming.

“I run an 8-member band and my wife as joined in as a backing vocalist and shakers player.”

he has so far pocketed two National Merit Awards (NAMA) as the Best Mbira Player of the year and has toured the Unted Sates of America, China an germany, among other countries. He now has six albums.

When he is not on stage, Nyamasvisva is teaching people how to play Mbira and traditional dance.

He is married and has three children.

When the history of Mbira music is finally written in Zimbabwe it will be told that Nyamasvisva plays inventive type of mbira music, the type that reverberates cuts across the primeval past with the modern mystic.

He uses six types of Mbira instrument four different types of mbira, rattles and the drum, giving his music a shifting tapestry of sounds.

Besides performances, Nyamasvisa also teaches playing the mbira.

He is also an iron smith who makes the instrument.

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