MBIRA - the non-profit organization devoted to Shona mbria music

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    Mbira Singing

    Traditionally, vocals are added to the Shona musical mix by both mbira players and listeners. The kushaura (lead) singer is often one of the mbira players or a vocalist who is a member of the mbira group. Kutsinhira, also called mabvumira or kudaira, response vocals may be added by other mbira players or anyone else present.

    Huro (singing) includes mahon'era - low-pitched syllabic singing without meaning; chigure/magure - high pitched syllabic singing without meaning, including yodelling; and song texts.

    Mbira song texts vary in length from a few words to lengthy poems. Texts may include both lyrics specific to a certain mbira piece and lyrics which may be sung with any mbira piece. Some texts are ancient wisdom in "deep Shona," while others may be contemporary personal commentary on current events. Non-musical Shona oral literature such as tsumo (proverbs) and nhetembo (praise poetry) may be included in mbira singing. Singing during the course of an mbira piece may be a collection of "one-liners," a cohesive text, or both. Meaning of mbira lyrics is often symbolic, and listeners interpret it in a variety of ways - which may or may not include the meaning intended by the singer.

    Mahon'era and magure singing styles use the voice as a musical instrument, imitating the mbira melodies, and responding and interweaving with them. The mbira singer enjoys great freedom of personal expression, both in text content and musical improvisation.

    Shona traditional belief is that mbira singing, and well as mbira playing and mbira dancing are inspired in the individual directly from the spirits.

    Instruction in mbira singing is included in workshops and mbira camps offered by MBIRA, the non-profit organization.

    Vocables for Mbira Singing

    Use these "vocables", which have no meaning, to sing along with melodic lines you hear on the mbira:

    Pronunciation:     a as in father, e as in they, i as in free, o as in hoe, u as in who

    Used most for bass lines:           ha, he, hi, ho, hu, hiya, heya, huwa, hereha

    Examples of combinations:          ha hiya he, heya ha hu, ha huwa huwa                            
    Used to imitate the mbira exactly:   nde, nda

    Example of combination:                 nda nde nde nde 

    Used most in high shaura (lead) singing:        iye (yodelling from high to low),

                                                                   ngore (from low to high pitch),

                                                                   iya, aye, iyere, ayere, iyerere, iyare

                                                                   ayowe, ayowerere, iyowerere,

                                                                   iyo, yu, ya, o, ye                       

    Used any time: wo, woye 

    ALL of the above can be combined in many ways!

    MBIRA, Box 7863, Berkeley, CA 94707-0863, USA, tel (510) 548-6053, email info@mbira.org