Ephat Mujuru exemplifies a unique generation of traditional musicians inZimbabwe. Born under an oppressive colonial regime in Southern Rhodesia, his generation witnessed the brutality of the 1970s liberation struggle, and then the dawn of independent Zimbabwe, a time in which African music culture—long stigmatized by Rhodesian educators and religious authorities—experienced a thrilling renaissance.
Under the tutelage of his grandfather, who was a respected spirit medium and mbira master, Ephat showed an early talent for the rigors of mbira training, playing his first possession ceremony when he was just ten years old.
By then, guerilla war was engulfing the country and his grandfather Muchatera tragically became a victim of the violence, a devastating blow to the young musician. In the midst of the liberation struggle, mbira music became political.
Eventually, the Rhodesians were defeated, but rather than return to the past, the nation of Zimbabwe was born and a new future unfolded. Ephat threw himself into the spirit of independence, singing of brotherhood, healing, and unity: crucial themes during a time when the nation’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Shona and the Ndebele, were struggling to reconcile differences.
Ephat’s band would eventually follow the popular trend and add electric instruments. But before that, he and Spirit of the People released two all-acoustic albums, and they may well be the most exciting and beautiful recordings he made in his career. Mbavaira, the second of these albums, was released in 1983.
As the independence years moved on, there would be fewer and fewer commercial mbira releases. But for the moment, Ephat had the required stature and reputation. Also, with the energy and drive we hear in these recordings, and the unmistakable lead vocals by his Uncle Mude—truly one of the greatest mbira singers of the 20th century—the album could easily rival the pop music of its day.
Within a few years after the release of Mbavaira, it and albums like it became harder to find in Zimbabwean record stores. Ephat adapted to the times and formed an electric band. Hey recorded more albums over the years but none of them have the particularly delicious energy of Spirit of thePeople in the first years of Zimbabwe’s independence.