Fungai "Zhanje" Mujuru
(written by Denver Banda based on a 2003 interview, edited by Erica Azim)
Fungai "Zhanje" Mujuru was born 9 August 1951 in Dewedzo, Rusape, at Dambatsoko village.
Muchatera Mujuru named his son after the famed musician Zhanje who played at the court of Chaminuka, one of the most powerful Shona spirits. When Fungai was two years old, he fell ill due to his connection with the shave (talent spirit) of the late Zhanje. The family nurtured and taught him how to play mbira at a very young age. Fungai's older brother, Musekiwa Mujuru, was his first teacher and playing partner. Caspian Dumba and VaRuka, musicians from Rwizi who played at Mujuru family ceremonies, also taught him. By the time Zhanje was seven years old, he was playing with the older members of the family, a thing he recalls with much joy. Zhanje was having dreams of a banya (house for ceremonies) at Dambatsoko where a very old man played and he listened...in the morning, Zhanje would practice what he had dreamt.
In 1958, Fungai had a problem with his school teachers, who despised the mbira because they had been indoctrinated with Christianity and Western belief systems. Zhanje's school grades suffered, but he found solace in the mbira. Mujuru noted that he had no favorite songs, because his shave would tell him what to play. The hatred of his teachers resulted in Zhanje leaving school with the concurrence of his father. The very day he left school, he walked a great distance to his mother's homestead, where he performed his first bira ceremony as a serious player.
From that time, Zhanje's father Muchatera taught him complex mbira pieces. Zhanje's dreams increased in intensity, and from them he derived the strength and tenacity to play, because they were an embodiment of his shave. In 1963, Zhanje played for a stubborn female spirit. Because he was able to bring the spirit with his mbira, Zhanje was now considered an adult for his accomplishment. Zhanje and his brother Musekiwa were regularly hired to pl;ay mbira at ceremonies all over the region. Fradreck, a nephew of Zhanje's, confirmed that in 1968 Zhanje and his brother were summoned to play for someone who was presumed to be dead in Nyanga. When they played. the person awoke as a great spirit who went on to right the wrongs the families were facing.
In 1973, Mujuru went to work in Bulawayo in a hotel, but his heart told him that it was not the right place for him. While he was away at work, someone sold his instrument back home. As a result, the sickness that he had when he was two years old recurred. Modern medicine failed to treat him and he was only saved by buying a new mbira from Matidenha, a mbira maker from Murehwa. From then on, Zhanje realized that he could not stay without the mbira. He moved to Harare and started to play with his nephew Ephat Mujuru, and Eric and Mondrek Muchena.
Commenting on the change of mbira from the sixties to the seventies, Zhanje strongly believes that the church and the Rhodesian government killed most of the traditional rituals that used to take place. The situation was worsened by the war of liberation, which displaced and killed many rural folk...and with them the old ways. Zhanje's own father was not spared by the war and this led to a temporary halt to the annual ceremonies at Dambatsoko. Fungai recalls the 1968-73 period bitterly, because some of the Westerners who came to do documentaries and record their music at his rural home "never paid a penny, but gained knowledge for their PhD's and reputations".
The coming of Independence in 1980 revived the ceremonies at the village, and Zhanje has been in attendance ever since. In 1986, Zhanje and Ephat Mujuru travelled to Sweden and recorded over four albums. These may not have been released, as the Mujurus received no payment or royalties for them. Adding to their disappointment, their mbiras were stolen by jealous musicians in Chiredzi upon their return.
Fungai "Zhanje" Mujuru has recorded a video, an album with Ephat and has appeared in numerous documentaries. Zhanje made an extremely popular appearance at the Zimbabwe Music Festival during his first visit to the U.S. in 2004, as well as performing and teaching on both the east and west coasts of the USA.
From the time he left Bulawayo until now, Fungai has not worked for anyone - he plays mbira and pursues subsistence farming. He has managed to send his children to school through money from music sales and performances overseas and local ceremonies. Zhanje says that mbira is his survival stratagem. Currently he is nurturing the next generation of Mujuru village musicians: Admire, Augustine, Washington, Paradzai, Kudakwashe and Nyarai, a girl. All are in their early teens to early twenties. Fungai reports that they play during rest periods at the annual ceremonies in the village. "This way, what I learnt will stay alive after I am gone".
To those who listen to his music, Fungai says
"Mbira is not for moneymaking or play, we use it to sustain our survival through prayer. In sickness and in health, in hunger and drought, we always go back to the roots to appease the ancestors. If we stop doing it correctly, we will be handicapped. I am there to teach anyone interested in keeping the histories and traditions the way they were, and bear in mind that the mbira is not a guitar, it is holy and unifying to all."