Rarely has rootsfan seen so many people dance, and so enthusiastically, at the Blue Chair in Edmonton. But to the “jazzed up” sounds of Mbira Renaissance, there were many dancers, indeed. Dancing at the stage. Dancing at the bar. Dancing at tables. Dancing everywhere to the great sounds from this Edmonton-based collective of like-minded musicians who have coalesced around the socialization of Zimbabwean music through the mbira instrument. The Mbira is more a symbol for Zimbabwean music than it is the central tenet of the band itself. Mbira Renaissance is all about hypnotic African rhythms, syncopated vocal harmonies, significant reggae infusion, lots of integrated sound from the musicians, and a healthy does of camaraderie and abundant showmanship. This band is fun.
Co-founded 3 years ago by Zimbabwean Chaka Zinyemba and Edmontonian bassist James Stuart, the band includes a core group as well as others who join the band for specific gigs. In addition to Chaka and James, the Blue Chair ensemble included drummer and singer Chiedza Nezungai, guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Vinay Jhass, marimba artist (amazing) Sandy Ockenden, with additional vocals and mbira playing by Ronald Nyandoro.
The set list comprised both traditional and original compositions and had an air of social conscience, love, affirmation of life’s good moments. Even the traditional songs had some non-African influences, making the entire show both original and easy to accept. An interesting fact conveyed to rootsfan by Chaka was that traditional Zimbabwean music does not include a guitar-like instrument; thus, the guitar riffs played so well were adapted from the mbira itself, especially tuned by guitarist Campbell.
All in all, a great act; a great band. A certain truth: it’s the first time that rootsfan has ever seen a band member jump off stage and dance with the crowd. That was a nice touch and it felt genuine. Mbira Renaissance mostly plays festivals, but rumour has it they could be back to the Chair in the spring. Check that show out!