Visiting Artist SeriesForward Kwenda, mbira
The Williams College Department of Music presents Forward Kwenda sharing his command of the mbira dza vadzimu (mbira of the ancestor spirits) with the Williamstown audience on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 8 p.m. in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on the Williams College campus. This free event is open to the public.
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.
Forward 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 genuine and unique, yet it is also universal and never fails to reach an audience. Regardless in what tradition we might be inclined to classify him, Forward Kwenda transcends all categories but one: master musician.