From the Zambezi Traveller online Article Archive.
After enjoying a traditional dance performance given by Mwedzi Muchena, a tribal dance group, Usch Pilz, a German writer and translator who spends several weeks each year in Zimbabwe, took the opportunity to talk to two members of the ensemble. Pardon Kanda and Simbarashe Chilenga from Mwedzi Muchena were happy to answer her questions.
UP: I just watched your performance …
SC: We hope you liked it!
UP: I did – especially the harvest dance. It was very lively, and one of your guys was even breathing fire.
PK: We use fire because a good harvest calls for a big celebration. Something special.
UP: How do you choose the dances for your repertoire?
SC: We want to give people an idea of our traditional Zimbabwean culture, and there is a dance for almost every important occasion: A hunting dance, a war victory dance and – of course – a lovers’ dance.
UP: How long is a typical performance?
PK: That really depends on what the client wants us to do.
SC: It also differs with the audience. Sometimes tourists have a tight schedule and are happy with just a brief insight into our culture.
PK: And other times people want to celebrate and ask for more music and dancing, even after our show is completed.
UP: Just now the reaction of the audience was really interesting.
SC: Yes, people from African countries often simply get up and join in.
PK: Visitors from overseas are sometimes happy to just watch, but there are times when they are very eager to participate. We love that and encourage it.
UP: The name of your group …
PK: We call ourselves the Mwedzi Muchena Arts Ensemble. Mwedzi Muchena means ‘Clear Moon’.
SC: Because nights with a clear moon are nights for celebration.
UP: Tell me more about the ensemble.
SC: We have been together for about a year, but all of us have been involved with traditional dancing and music before.
PK: Most group members have known each other a long time. But some new dancers have just arrived from Harare. That means extra rehearsals …
UP: The instruments you feature …
PK: Our drums are the driving force. They power our dancing and make people move …
SC: And then we have the mbira for the quieter moments. The mbira is a very old and spiritual instrument. We think, especially our foreign guests should see it, hear it and know about it. This instrument is traditionally used for communication with the spirit world.
UP: But how about this world in the here and now? Can you make a living with the work you do?
PK: It is very hard, and we are not quite there yet. I give drumming lessons and do fire shows as well. Sometimes I teach gymnastics or help other artists with their training.
UP: Pardon, I think, I have seen you on TV!
PK: (laughs) Yes, together with a friend I was hired to do a fire show for a German production called Million Dollar Model. We were breathing fire and juggling with fire for a whole day while the models were posing for the cameras.
UP: How about you, Simba? What’s your background?
SC: I have always wanted to dance. Even as a little boy. I was lucky: My mum was a performer as well, and she took me along, but I had to behave. Later I studied performing arts at the Zimbabwe College of Music in Harare for three years. That’s where I learned more about choreography, script writing, poetry and theatre. I think that knowledge is useful when we plan a performance.
UP: What do you think – what makes clients book your group?
SC: We hope they see the dedication and commitment of Mwedzi Muchena. We are trying to improve our performance all the time and take every single gig very seriously. A performance has to be powerful to be successful.
UP: And what is your biggest success so far?
PK: We have managed to secure a contract for greeting clients who do sunset-cruises. But we also perform in restaurants, hotels and at private functions.
UP: What are the future plans of the Mwedzi Muchena Arts Ensemble?
SC: First of all we need to do some more work on our kits and costumes, even get more drums. We would also like to offer awareness programs for local communities as well as sharing our culture with visitors from abroad.
PK: Training for other musicians and artists is an option as well. And of course, we hope to perform at festivals and functions with international visitors.
UP: You seem to be very focussed and busy.
PK: Yes, sometimes there is not even enough time to sleep.
SC: But sometimes, after work, we go dancing in a club. Just for fun.
Contact details for Mwedzi Muchena and the author of the article:
Pardon Kanda: Pardonkan@yahoo.com; +263776606376
Simbarashe Chilenga: Simbarashe_Chilenga@yahoo.com; +263775631531
Usch Pilz: firstname.lastname@example.org +49 7144 334711
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 12, March 2013)