Visiting Artists

Visiting Artist Series
Forward Kwenda, mbira

In Zimbabwe, mbira music is played for religious ceremonies and for general entertainment.  The mbira consists of a wooden keyboard with 22 metal keys that are plucked by the thumbs and forefingers.

Though we tend to think of music as a collaboration between composer, performer and audience, this is not the only way that music comes to the world. Much of the world’s music is not written at all and composer, performer and performance are one and the same. The oral tradition implies a process of learning and performing that diverges from our traditional notions of what music is and how it is made.

Kwenda’s inspiration is deeply spiritual and in a way he sees his role as a musician who channels from a realm beyond our physical grasp. It has been said of Forward, “It is almost impossible to believe that one person, playing one time, could make so much music with two thumbs and one finger! Of course, Forward Kwenda, considered by many to be the greatest living mbira player today, says that his spirits play the mbira, not him.”

The audience and the musician share one thing in common: nobody really knows what to expect. “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”.

Forward Kwenda’s music is so genuine, so amazing and so universal that he never fails to reach an audience. Regardless of what tradition we might be inclined to classify him in, he transcends all categories but one: master musician.

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