Mbira music has been used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe to heal physical and mental illness for more than a millennium. For the Shona, healing results from both the mbira’s sound and its power to summon ancestor spirits who influence the health of the living. The Shona describe that “when you listen to mbira, you are a spirit. Your thoughts and worries are gone and your body can heal. The sound of mbira will affect you with or without your belief in its healing power. There is no music as sacred and touching as mbira.
Mbira music is circular in form. The fundamental melodic and rhythmic lines of an mbira song repeat themselves in spiraling cycles, drawing musician and listener into a state of meditation. In this state, mind and body find balance and natural vitality asserts itself.
Erica Azim is a Californian who fell in love with traditional Shona mbira music when she first heard it at the age of 16. In 1974, Erica became one of the first people from outside Zimbabwe to study with traditional mbira masters. At that time, Zimbabwe was racist Rhodesia in the throes of a liberation war. Touched by the arrival of a young white woman who respected ancient Shona tradition—a stark contrast with the white government that reviled it—musicians extended a warm welcome. Erica is now known in Zimbabwe as a gwenyambira—a skilled performer qualified to play at traditional ceremonies and accepted by the ancient spirits of the Shona. Erica’s workshops and performances have introduced international audiences to the traditional Shona music of Zimbabwe.