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  • Lorraine Johnson

[72] Under The Shade

They keep the bzinyanga in a sack on the veranda of Phoinde Vinte's house in the village of Mpadwe in the Province of Tete. It's much easier to maintain them when they're all together.

It all started when his grandfather asked him to accompany him to a dance in Nyambvu in the district of Changara. They were playing traditional flutes—that sing and dance. They were playing the nyanga. Enchanted by its sounds, Phoinde asked one of the players if he could try. So he put flute to mouth and no sound came out. He blew and blew. But nothing. The next day he began again. He blew and blew until, to his delight, sounds began to emerge from the horizontally stacked bamboo reeds of varied heights.

But the nyanga is played in an orchestra—never less than 22 and never more than 36 traditional musicians—30 is ideal. There are 22 varied sizes, each bringing their own sound to the melodic tunes—and always accompanied by song and dance. So Phoinde needed to learn how to play in group and he struggled to coordinate his mouth and legs. He begged one of the players to lend him his nyanga so he could practice back in his village. It was in Mpadwe where he was introduced to Ntopandewo, an elder in the community. Ntopandewo taught him how to make the instrument—using bamboo reeds of different lengths, organized in a certain order, and tied off with ncewu, a string made from the leaves of a palm tree. And he learned from the elder how to play its reeds. He learned the musical tradition of his culture.

He learned that the phakira is the primary instrument of the 22—the smallest one comprised of four reeds usually not more than 10 inches long. It is the instrument that is used to tune the others, it has the highest "voice" and initiates the other flutists to start to play. The conductor. The largest of them all, and considered the most superior, is the master base called mphondolo, the Cinyungwe name for "lion."

The people play the bzinyanga when there is a death—accompanying the body during the wake, on its way to the cemetery, and throughout the burial. And they play when there is joy. And traditional beer—badwa—is never far away. The chief of the group will blow a whistle, calling the community to join. And once gathered, he will start to play the phakira, calling the musicians to join in and respond to his chosen tune. And as the players blow sounds over the top of their bamboo reeds, they dance, with seed pod rattles on their legs. And the people join in. They're given a hand rattle, nkhoco, and they enter into the middle of the circle made by the flutists. And they dance and shake the nkhoco. And the earth is moved and the air twirls with soil uplifted by the dancers' feet and enriched by the captivating, wind-filled sounds of the bzinyanga.

And so it was told by Phoinde, now chief maker of the nyanga in the village of Mpadwe, under the shade of an Ntondo tree in 1993.


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