Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music from the heart of the Batonga

Like those 70s-era Electra/Nonesuch LPs, Africa: Shona Mbira Music and Music of the Shona People, The Kankobela of the Batonga Vol. 1 features music played on the kankobela (commonly referred to as the thumb piano), and like those records, the music contained here is a thing of lullabye-like guilelessness. In fact, this disc can be seen as the long-awaited companion to the recordings South African ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey made of the same music between 1952 and 1957. Those recordings have been reissued, along with another 20 discs worth of Tracey's material, as Kalimba and Kalumbu Songs by SWP.

The music here was recorded in 1996 and 2008 by label owner Michael Baird. Baird, who is Zambian-born, traveled to the region his birth country shares with Zimbabwe, the Zambezi valley, an area dominated by the finger-shaped Lake Kariba, in order to see what was left of the type of music he heard on those Tracey recordings half a century ago. And while the musical results are wonderful, the reality on the ground is depressing. About a decade after Tracey's initial visit, the Zambezi river was damned, making the lake and pushing the Batonga people away from what had been fertile ground. Several decades of displacement have not only taken their toll on these people's quality of life, it has caused the younger generations to turn away from the traditions, because, as far as the generations who've come of age since the lake was formed are concerned, those traditions now represent failure.

Read more and listen on RootsWorld

1 comment:

Heather Kyle said...

I am excited to see a recording involving the thumb piano. Kalimbas are a fun and easy way to get into playing a musical instrument.