Asked about his experience of playing mbira, Forward Kwenda says:
“When I pick up my mbira, I don’t know what is going to happen. The music just goes by itself, taking me higher and higher until I can end up crying because the music is so much greater than a human being can understand.” and “I just have to get out of the way so spirits can make my mbira play.”
Recordings Available From MBIRA
Listen to samples of Forward Kwenda’s many albums.
Forward Kwenda was born 5 April 1963 in the rural Buhera area of Zimbabwe, an area known for its fierce resistance to colonial rulers and respect for Shona tradition. As a young boy, Forward excelled in traditional dance and recitation of ancient poetry. At the age of 10, he began to play ngoma (drums) and hosho (gourd rattles) for his mother’s gombwe (rain-making) spirit. He was given the name “Forward” because of his curiosity about many subjects, enthusiastic involvement in many activities and his singing for liberation war freedom fighters.
“The Coltrane of Mbira”
By 1985, Forward was playing in a unusually complex style – much to the amazement of master mbira players two and three generations his senior. This style was first recorded in 1985 and 1986 by his American friend Glenn Makuna, who dubbed Kwenda “the Coltrane of mbira.” Some of those early recordings have been released as MBIRA albums. Kwenda also recorded several 45 rpm singles in Zimbabwe during the 1980’s, playing a less complex style.
Later, Erica Azim and friends recorded Kwenda extensively, from 1991 through 2006. Some of Kwenda’s mbira partners during the early and mid- 1990’s included Christopher ‘Doubt’ Chaitezvi, Pasivillias Tandi, and ‘Samaita’ Vitalis Botsa…musicians playing a similar style to Kwenda.
In 1997, Kwenda toured the US with Erica Azim, and they recorded the CD Svikiro: Meditations of an Mbira Master on the Shanachie label. In 1999, Azim’s 1996 field recording of Kwenda on a Zimbabwean mountaintop at sunset was included on Ellipsis Arts’ Trance 3 CD. In February 2000, Kwenda performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC with Erica Azim, and they toured the US during 2000, 2001 and 2002. Kwenda has continued to tour internationally, including Japan.