Continuing the celebration of its centennial, The Garfield Park Conservatory will feature a plethora of musicians as part of its on-going “Legacy Music Series,” which will run until September. The goal of the series is to represent the rich cultural and spiritual foundation of the Garfield Park community, allowing visitors to experience the musical acuity of a diverse line-up of musicians from around the world.
Few groups represent these objectives as well as Zimbabwe-based ensemble David Gweshe and the Boterekwa Dance Troupe. The group is comprised of Gweshe’s wife on drums, his daughter on marimba, his “junior wife” on guitar and his son on keyboard, while he plays the njari and the steel drum.
“I like to fuse my music with an element of spiritual purpose, which I believe allows it to translate on a universal scale,” says Gweshe. “I ascribe to the idea of music as evangelism. It’s as if the instruments and movements of our performances are a means of preaching to the people.”
Gweshe is a legendary musician and spiritual leader in his country. He first opened a dance troupe for children in his native country in 1977. Three years later when Zimbabwe gained its independence as a country, he and his band performed for England’s Prince Charles. He also helped open dance programs in several schools in Zimbabwe and, as a shaman, provided spiritual leadership for many in his country who were at odds with recently re-elected Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Gweshe is best known for his influential invention of the multi-octave Munyonga njari-a type of African piano, an advancement that has been critical in expanding the boundaries of traditional Shona music.
“The traditional njari only had 22 keys; however, I created one that had 52 keys because I wanted to create an orchestral sound for my performances,” said Gweshe, who was born in 1940 and is a descendant of the Budya people, a tribe associated with the Kare Kare people. He began playing the Munyonga njari at age 14 and eventually decided to add more keys to the instrument to better reflect his musical vision.
Although, arriving in America for the first time since 2004 has proven to be a “wonderful experience” for Gweshe, he admits to coming with a heavy heart as his country continues to face worldwide opposition to the recent inauguration of President Mugabe. U.N. officials are threatening to impose financial and travel sanctions on Zimbabwe over what it views as an illegitimate re-election. Reports of threatening tactics against supporters of Mugabe’s challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, have cause many nations, including the U.S. and Great Britain, to refuse to acknowledge Mugabe’s victory.
However, while Gweshe commends Great Britain and other countries for the development of Zimbabwe, he feels the conflict will only lead to “rivers of blood in the streets,” and that a peaceful solution should be reached within the country.
“I hate the bloodshed and the anger,” said Gweshe. “My fear is that the ruling power will see its power threatened and must fight to protect it. I hope both sides can agree to a resolution that does not cause the loss of life. It should be a solution arrived at by both those for and against the Mugabe regime. We need no more death.”
Gweshe says one of his goals in performing is to allow other countries to experience his country’s rich cultural heritage, while also experiencing the heritage of America.
“I’ve performed in many parts of the world and feel as though I have taken something valuable from all my travels,” he said. “I also feel like I have contributed to a greater understanding of Zimbabwean culture on a universal level as well. That’s my joy in performing.”
Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance Board member Margo Morris had seen Gweshe perform when he was last in America in 2004 and was deeply moved by the experience. “It really touched me on a spiritual level,” said Morris who heard Gweshe during the Chapunga sculptures exhibition when he provided an accompanying performance for the exhibit.
“Once we began planning for the centennial ‘Legacy Music Series’ two years ago, I knew Gweshe was someone I wanted to see again.” However, it required a true labor of love for Morris as she used funds from private donors, the conservatory, family and friends and even some of her own to assure Gweshe’s participation in the event.
“I am very excited and hope people can be inspired to learn more about the rich cultural history of Zimbabwe as I have been,” said Morris.
David Gweshe and the Boterekwa Dance Troupe will perform at the conservatory on July 17 and 24 from 7 to 8:45 p.m. on the Bluestone Terrace. Tickets are $10. In addition to sponsoring Gweshe’s performances, the conservatory is also hosting an event titled, “Women of Weya,” which features for-sale textiles created by a Zimbabwean co-op. Eighty percent of the proceeds from the event will benefit the Zimbabwe Artists Project and the other 20 percent will go to the conservatory. Tickets can be purchased on the Internet at www.garfieldconservatory.org or going.com, or at the door prior to each concert. For more information, call Garfield Park Conservatory at 773/638-1766.