From left to right: Winnefrider Ndava, Tendai Mavengeni, Joyce Warikandwa, Irene Chigamba, Rhoda Dzomba, Chipo Wazara, and Patience Munjeri

AMBUYA: Zimbabwe’s Women Mbira Players

The mbira dzavadzimu is widely recognized as Zimbabwe’s most iconic musical tradition. While the mbira has historically been played primarily by men, a growing number of women have also begun taking up the instrument. Like their male counterparts, these women actively perform at ceremonies held for the vadzimu ancestral spirits. They also frequently bring the mbira into contemporary contexts ranging from nightclubs to concert stages, both at home and abroad. Yet women’s participation in mbira music remains a contested part of Zimbabwe’s musical landscape. Ambuya: Zimbabwe’s Women Mbira Players explores evolving relationships between music and gender in Zimbabwe through artist profiles, musical recordings, and song lyrics. These materials are accompanied by brief interpretive essays and a detailed teaching guide written by ethnomusicologist Jennifer Kyker.

This digital humanities project is a collaboration between Jennifer Kyker and members of the all-female mbira group Mhare DzeNhare, whose music and stories are featured on this site. The project was made possible by a Mary E. Woolley Alumnae Fellowship from Mount Holyoke College, and by additional support from the University of Rochester’s Digital Scholarship Lab.