Journey of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the illustrious mbira master Ephat Mujuru's lifelong aspiration to integrate his inheritance as a traditional mbira player with his personal vision of making music that would be accessible and entertaining to modern audiences everywhere. The album contains a mix of traditional Shona songs and several original compositions, which maintain the same spirit while integrating modern elements and the sounds of other cultures. Notably, the Cuban band Mezcla contributes vocals and tsekere on 'Africa Meets Africa', expressing Ephat’s observations that the African "flash of the spirit" is alive and well throughout the Americas.
In this all-acoustic, state-of-the-art recording Ephat plays a variety of mbiras as well as the traditional hosho (shaker) and ngoma (hand drum). The nuances of Ephat's astounding mbira technique create an other-worldly atmosphere that invokes the ancient ceremonies and displays his traditional role in the spiritual lives of his people.
Ephat Mujuru (b. 1950 - d. October 2001)
Ephat Mujuru was a master of the mbira from Zimbabwe who became world-famous yet never lost his childlike spirit. Although he played the traditional spirit music of his Shona tribe he also experimented with a variety of modern musical forms. Raised in a small village, he was taught to play the mbira by his grandfather, Muchatera Mujuru, a medium for Chaminuka, one of the most important ancestor spirits in Shona cosmology. At the age of ten he played his first possession ceremony and in his teens he formed his own band, Chaminuka, whose massive 1970’s hit “Guruswa” (Ancient Africa) spoke out against the oppressive colonization of Zimbabwe in cleverly worded lyrics. He renamed the band ‘Spirit of the People’ following Zimbabwe’s gaining independence in 1980.
In the 1990's Ephat spent time in the United States performing, teaching and studying. Although he played all five kinds of mbira, he mainly focused on the mbira dzavadzimu, an instrument with 22 iron prongs arranged in three registers that he claimed represented "the voice of the children, voice of the adults, and voice of the elders." He recorded several albums, including 'Shona Spirit' with Music of the World, and collaborated with Kronos Quartet on their “Pieces of Africa” album. He was looking forward to the release of ‘Journey of the Spirit’ at the time of his untimely death.
"Shona Mbira music embodies all the qualities which positive music should have: it is healing, happy, entertaining, reaches the heart, it has beauty and it moves. Mbira music is spiritual because it transmits positive energy. It is like a deep cleaning of our thoughts. The purpose of this album is to create a special atmosphere which will clean our minds, so needful in this world of too much information." ~ Ephat Mujuru
On October 27th, 2001 Ephat was on his way to teach in the United States, flying from Zimbabwe to Grinnell College in Iowa. Disembarking in London after the long night flight from Harare, Mujuru felt hot and weak. Paramedics were called in but nevertheless he died of a pulmonary embolism, enroute to the hospital.
In Shona culture the functions of mbira are many, but its most profound is in the matter of death ceremonies. A mbira is played for a week following the death of a chief before the community is informed of his passing. For the next year it is considered that the spirit is suspended, wandering and homeless. During this time the family preparest to welcome the spirit back into the community through a medium, usually the oldest son of the person who has died. Approximately one year after a person's physical death another ceremony (bira) is performed and the individual's spirit is welcomed back into the community to take its place amongst the ancestors.
During the year after Ephat's passing his musical community in the United States also worked to prepare his welcome by finishing up the album -- mixing, mastering, artwork and liner notes. Journey of the Spirit was recorded over a period of several years and it is interesting that, despite many efforts, this album was not to be released until after his death. As we prepared this offering for release, we felt Ephat’s gentle lovely spirit nearby as we dedicated ourselves to this work.
'Journey of the Spirit' was released exactly one year after Ephat’s physical death. It is our greatest wish that his family, friends and fans will play this album and by doing so welcome his spirit home from its ethereal journey.