Sekuru's hands remain busy, tying the bottle caps onto the metal pieces with wire. Now he takes up one of the metal pieces with its vibrant majaka and, using pliers, bends the ends into 90 degree angles to fit onto a gwariva, held sideways between his knees. With small nails he attaches one end to the side of the board and then flips the gwariva around to do the second side. It seems rough to me, hammering something into a sacred instrument, but this is how it's done, and from other mbira I've seen, both old and new, Sekuru's are refined and highly crafted.
"Sekuru," I think to ask, "when did you start making mbira?"
"I begin making them after I broke a key on my mbira. I went to the maker and you know, he wanted money to fix it so I said, 'Well maybe I can do it myself.' So I pounded the key and it was like the others so I said, 'Oh yeah, I can do this.' Then I wanted to see how the keys were tied to the gwariva, so I cut the wire in the back and took it apart and then I put it together again the way it was. The first mbira I made someone came and said, 'Oh, who made this mbira?' I told him I made it and he said, 'I want to buy it,' so I had to sell it. Then I made another one and someone came and said, 'I want to buy it, I will give you 70 dollars.' I said, 'No, I do not want to sell it, it is my mbira to play but he said, 'you must sell it to me,' so I said, 'Ok, the price is 5 dollars.'"
"But Sekuru," I scold, not even knowing which dollar he is referring to, "you sold it so cheap when the man wanted to give you more!"
He shrugs his shoulders. "That was the price for an mbira back then . . . 70 dollars," he shakes his head, "it was too much."
I giggle at his response, in part to cover my shame at misunderstanding the personal ethics and economic ordering of my teacher. He reaches for another gwariva, where they are lined up together on the ground by his right side and begins the process of attaching the majaka. The three finished ones lean against the base of the guava tree. All he must do to these now is tune them, by ear, using his own mbira as a guide.
"The third mbira I made the keys were so stiff I think, 'No one will want to buy this,' but someone came and said they wanted it . . . but I said: 'No, this mbira is for me.' That was the one before the one now."
"And now your mbiras cost over $200 in the States, Sekuru."
Sekuru shrugs his shoulders again and grins slightly.
"Yes, that is the price now," he says with a twist of humble irony in his voice, as if the price has no true value anyway: 5, 70, 200 . . . numbers in one sense are arbitrary, especially for someone who is living under Zimbabwe's alarming inflation rate. He leans another finished mbira up against the tree; I like the way they look standing there together, as if waiting at a bus stop to be sent out into the world.
"Sekuru," I say, extending support for all the work he's done, "you have a third of them ready now."
He glances at the four mbira lined up together against the tree and then turns away to pick up another from the unfinished pile. "After the majaka, I still must put the hungwe on the back of each gwariva."
In my mind's eye, I can see the symbolized fish eagle, the hungwe he makes using a flathead screw driver and a hammer to impress the line drawing into the wood. Another eagle, Chapungu is on the country's flag, layered over of a bright yellow, five-pointed star and based on the ancient figures found at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe &ndash Sekuru's actually look like these.
"Why do you put the hungwe on your mbira Sekuru?"
"I carve the hungwe on each gwariva because it is my mother's totem." He pauses and then his tone turns very soft but direct. "You see, women are mini-gods, if you want to pray to Mwari, to God, pray to your mother if she has passed away and she will take the message to Mwari. I respect my mother and my wife. This is why I put the hungwe on the back of my mbira &ndash then my mother is with me and with the mbira, too."
He grasps the gwariva sideways between his legs, preparing to attach the metal piece with the majaka to its side, but pauses again before hammering.
"You know," he says, looking at me, "this is something you cannot get with money."
Mbira Maker Blues |
| ©2008 Virginia Barrett