Erica Azim Performance and Workshop @ Winthrop University


Winthrop University will host Erica Azim September 5-6 for a concert and intensive workshop! Erica was among the first Americans to study mbira in Zimbabwe in the early 1970s (when the country was still called Rhodesia).

Thursday, September 5, 2013 – Concert, Traditional Shona Mbira Music of Zimbabwe – Barnes Recital Hall, 7:30 pm, admission FREE.

Friday, September 6, 2013 – Workshop, covering multiple aspects of Shona mbira music and culture – CMUS 120, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm, admission FREE. All welcome!

These are approved GLOBAL events.

Erica’s website:

Facebook Event:

Erica Azim is a Californian who fell in love with Shona mbira music when she first heard it at the age of 16. After studying Shona music with Dumisani Maraire at the University of Washington for two years, she decided she had to learn to play the ancient Shona mbira played in ceremonies. She began to learn the instrument by ear, using taped mbira 45’s and an mbira borrowed from a professor’s shelf. Leaving her studies, Erica worked singlemindedly to save money for the journey to the opposite side of the earth.

In 1974, Erica became one of the first non-Zimbabweans to study the mbira in Zimbabwe with traditional masters of the instrument. At that time, Zimbabwe was racist Rhodesia in the throes of a liberation war. Touched by the arrival of a young white woman who respected ancient Shona tradition — a stark contrast with the white government that reviled it — musicians extended a warm welcome.

Although banned by the racist Rhodesian government from visiting the rural areas which are the home of mbira tradition, Erica easily found many mbira teachers in the capital city of Harare (then Salisbury). After a first mbira lesson with a stranger on a train, Erica studied seriously with Ambuya Beauler Dyoko, Cosmas Magaya, Mondrek Muchena, Ephat Mujuru, and others. By studying with many teachers, Erica was able to develop her own personal mbira style. She later returned to Zimbabwe and studied with additional teachers, including Irene Chigamba, Tute Chigamba, Chris Mhlanga, Fradreck Mujuru, Newton Gwara, Forward Kwenda, Luken Pasipamire, Sam Mujuru, Fungai Mujuru, Leonard Chiyanike, Patience Chaitezvi, Endiby Makope, Gift Rushambwa, and Renold and Caution Shonhai. Erica is known in Zimbabwe as a gwenyambira – a skilled performer qualified to play at traditional ceremonies.

In 1997, Erica Azim toured the U.S. with Forward Kwenda, teaching and performing. In 1998, she performed in the U.S. and Canada with Cosmas Magaya. In 2000, Erica performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC with Forward Kwenda, and they toured together in 2000, 2001 and 2002. She performed with Ambuya Beauler Dyoko during 2000 and 2001, Fradreck Mujuru in 2003, Fradreck and Fungai Mujuru in 2004, Irene Chigamba in 2006 and 2007, Vakaranga Venharetare in 2008, Patience Chaitezvi in 2009, Renold & Caution Shonhai in 2010, Caution Shonhai in 2011, and Leonard Chiyanike in 2012. Erica also performs solo mbira around the world.

Erica is particularly adept at making mbira music accessible to American audiences and mbira students. She currently teaches regional mbira workshop groups throughout the U.S. and Canada, and internationally-attended mbira camps at her home in Berkeley, California; Hawaii; and Argentina. She wrote the article On Teaching Americans to Play Mbira Like Zimbabweans for the Journal of African Music.

Erica Azim was responsible for the formation of the non-profit organization MBIRA, and directs its day-to-day operation, supporting over 235 traditional musicians and instrument makers in Zimbabwe.





Mallet Ensemble Arrangements

Here are some newly-published ensemble arrangements for mallet percussion; Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod, and Shona Spirit (three traditional mbira tunes for marimba ensemble).

Bachovich Danse Macabre COVER

During the summer of 1990, I was on the artist faculty at the Brevard Music Center in Western North Carolina. Since I had planned a Halloween concert for the Winthrop Percussion Ensemble the following fall (and had no clue what to program), I spent most of my free time that summer writing the  two concert transcriptions presented here. Both arrangements (the Saint-Saëns and the Gounod) were taken directly from the orchestral score. Danse Macabre is scored for glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 vibraphones, 5 marimbas, and string bass (a bass marimba plays the string bass part on the recording below). The historical significance of Danse Macabre is important to percussionists, as it is the first orchestral composition employing a xylophone (to imitate the rattling bones of a skeleton dancing at midnight on Halloween).



Bachovich Funeral March COVER

Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, originally written for piano, depicts the funeral procession of a broken marionette. Immediately following the first bar, containing only two notes a tritone apart (the “Devil’s interval”), a silent fermata announces, “The marionette is broken.” The somber adagio that follows depicts “murmurs of regret from the troupe.” The procession begins with the now-famous tune known by most as the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” As the key changes from D minor to D major, the score reads, “Here many of the principal personages stop for refreshments,” and the recapitulation of the famous theme marks the “return to the house.”


Bachovich Shona Spirit COVER

The Shona people of Zimbabwe have a rich musical tradition.  Both vocal and instrumental musical expressions largely depend on the concept of a constantly recurring harmonic cycle over which improvised variations are layered, often in an interlocking fashion.  This concept is epitomized in the music of the mbira, in which the kushaura (leading part, melody) line is complemented by the kutsinhira (responding or supporting part) line to create an interlocking “kaleidophonic” texture.

All the marimba parts in these arrangements are derived from actual mbira parts, and are marked either kushaura  or kutsinhira  in order to facilitate the ensemble’s understanding of this important interlocking principle.  An effective performance may be rendered by starting with the kushaura lines together, followed by the kutsinhira lines, and finally by the composite line performed by the lead soprano voice. Other imaginative layering techniques may be explored as well in order to give the audience a glimpse into the intricate internal structure of each piece.

Although the marimba is indigenous to Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and other nations of Southeastern Africa, it was not introduced in Zimbabwe until the early 1960s at the Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo.  The marimba ensemble, patterned after those found in neighboring countries, was chosen as a practical vehicle for preserving traditional Shona musical experiences and concepts without favoring any particular cultural or ethnic group. The Zimbabwean marimbas come in four sizes (soprano, tenor, baritone, bass) covering a four-octave range.  The tuning of most marimbas found in Zimbabwe today is diatonic, usually in the western C major scale.  (Many of the indigenous African marimbas and xylophones are tuned to pentatonic or heptatonic scales.)  The keys are laid out in one manual, and the soprano and tenor instruments are provided with both F-natural and F-sharp keys, thereby affording them the opportunity to play in the keys of C major and G major.  Because of the single-manual diatonic layout, the playing of these instruments depends more on aural awareness than the more visually-oriented western chromatic instruments for which these arrangements are written.

In these arrangements, the basic cycle for each instrument is notated along with suggested variations. The lead soprano voice (mushauri) is afforded the most freedom, while the supporting sopranos and tenors (vatsinhiri) have considerably less leeway for improvisation.  In most cases, the supporting soprano voices play a fixed pattern.  The baritone and bass voices (mazembera or mahon’era) usually outline the cyclic harmonic progression, and may vary their patterns occasionally as long as they maintain the chord progression.


According to Stella Chiweshe, Mahororo is the name of a small river in Zimbabwe. The interlocking melodic lines found in the tune Mahororo create a flowing effect that Chiweshe likens to a flowing river. She further states that people used the song to welcome hunters back to the village following an extended hunt. Forward Kwenda translates the title as “Baboons’ Voices” (onomatopoeic sound of baboon’s voices created by the interlocking mbira lines) or “Freedom following victorious struggle.” Likewise, Chartwell Dutiro describes it as a “song played after achievement.” Mahororo is harmonically derived from the older song Nyamaropa. The tune’s flowing rhythmic style results from the interlocking of the mbira player’s right and left hands on every other underlying pulse. One will note that Mahororo (as well as Nyamaropa) has a key signature of two sharps, although the tonal center is clearly “A.” This reflects the standard mbira tuning (also known as “Nyamaropa tuning”) in mixolydian mode (major scale with flat 7th). The key center of  “A” was chosen for these works in order to accommodate a performance along with mbiras pitched in that key.


Nhemamusasa, meaning “temporary shelter,” is a tune once associated with war that is now considered a hunting song. The title has to do with building a temporary shelter, called a musasa, which soldiers or hunters could use while away from home. Nhemamusasa differs from the other two tunes most obviously in its tonal center, a fourth above the lowest note on the mbira. Given an instrument pitched in “A,” Nhemamusasa would have a tonal center of “D,” the key in which this arrangement is written. The harmonic progression found in Nhemamusasa is identical to that of Nyamaropa and its derivative pieces, but with a higher tonal center. Unlike Mahororo and Nyamaropa, the kutsinhira line for Nhemamusasa is noticeably different in rhythmic character from the kushaura line, creating a rich polyrhythmic tapestry.


Nyamaropa (literally “meat and blood”) is generally considered among the most ancient of mbira compositions. Some musicians say it was the first piece composed for the instrument. Andrew Tracey calls it the “big song” for mbira, probably because it is the prototype for so many other mbira pieces such as Mahororo, as well as several others. Possibly originating as a war song “to raise emotions before a battle,” the piece is now considered a hunting song, its title suggesting the scene following a successful hunt.

These arrangements are available at


MbiraTab Series

The MbiraTab series of four volumes of mbira transcriptions in tablature notation are up on the Bachovich website ( I’ve prepared preview videos for each of the four volumes so folks can hear what each tune sounds like. Volumes 1 – 3 are for instruments in nyamaropa tuning (Mixolydian mode). Volume 4 is in gandanga tuning (Phrygian mode). Accompanying recordings for volumes 1-3 are done on an instrument pitched in B. Volume 4 recorded examples are in Bb gandanga tuning.

Bachovich Mbiratab 1 COVER

Volume 1 features Baya Wabaya, Kariga Mombe YeKare, Nyamamusango, and Shumba.

Bachovich Mbiratab 2 COVERVolume 2 has transcriptions for Hangaiwa, Shumba, Chipindura, and Bukatiende.


 Bachovich Mbiratab 3 COVER

Volume 3 includes Chakwi I, Nyuchi, Chakwi II (Ephat Mujuru version), and Dangurangu (Ephat’s version in nyamaropa tuning)


Bachovich Mbiratab 4 COVERVolume 4 includes four tunes most closely associated with gandanga tuning: Marenje, Dangurangu, Mbavarira, and Vasina Katura.

These are great resources for delving into new repertoire for mbira. My students at Winthrop University have been learning some of these tunes and many have performed them on recitals! It’s great to share this wonderfully deep music.




Bachovich Music Publications


I am pleased to announce several new compositions recently published by Bachovich Music Publications. Bachovich was founded by NYC percussionist Andrew Beall. You can view their extensive collection of cutting-edge compositions for percussion at their website, Future blogs will discuss details of individual pieces with video/audio samples.

Andrew Beall

Andrew Beall

Hand Drums – Rhythmic Journey Series

Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 1 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 2 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 3 COVER

Hand Drums – Other Works

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVERBachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVERBachovich Maqsumed COVER


Mallet Ensembles

 Bachovich Danse Macabre COVERBachovich Funeral March COVERBachovich Shona Spirit COVER

MbiraTab Series

Bachovich Mbiratab 1 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 2 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 3 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 4 COVER



Andy Cox “Stradivarius” Mbira

Andy Cox has made some fabulous mbiras for me over the years, but this one is particularly special. It has 26 extra firm keys in a stunning mirror finish and a deep, rich sound. Being a visual artist, Andy enhanced the look of this wonderful instrument with some impressive artwork.

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira - front view

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira – front view

The famous “Bird of Zimbabwe” (the fish eagle; national emblem of Zimbabwe, appearing on flags, coats of arms, and currency) is etched into the UL3 key (located on the top left rank, 3rd key from the middle).

Zimbabwe bird detail

Zimbabwe bird detail

A spider monkey dashes accross the bottom rim of the finger hole.

Monkey finger hole detail

Monkey finger hole detail

Finally, an intricate carving graces the back of the soundboard. Two elephants stroll through the deep forest vegetation.

Andy Cox Nyamaropa mbira - back view

A. Cox Nyamaropa mbira – back view

As wonderful as this instrument is to look at, it sounds even better. Andy no longer builds mbira due to physical limitations, so this “Stradivarius” of mbiras is a lasting testament to his artistic work.


My Mbira Beginnings

Bob Gailer of Hillsborough, NC wanted to know about how I got started with mbira, so I thought this would be an excellent topic for a blog post (thanks, Bob!). I first heard mbira around 1977, when I was a graduate student at Northwestern University. I took a class on the history of jazz with noted ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner. Berliner was a jazz trumpet player, but he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Zimbabwean mbira. The dissertation was published under the title The Soul of Mbira. In this jazz class, Berliner used the mbira to demonstrate aspects of improvisation. I remember being rapt by the complexity of mbira music, and fascinated by Berliner’s singing and yodelling in Shona, but at that time I wanted to be the next timpanist of the Chicago Symphony. It would be fifteen years before I would have another encounter with the instrument.


In 1992, I was teaching percussion at Winthrop University and playing in a percussion quartet with Fred Bugbee, a colleague of mine who taught percussion at Limestone College in Gaffney, SC. One day, Fred showed me an mbira he had acquired from a friend. I said, “I know that instrument. Paul Berliner played it at Northwestern.” I remember stroking the keys, saying something like, “Cool,” and going on with our rehearsal.

I thought about that instrument for days after that rehearsal, and finally called Fred to ask who made it. He said it was made by an art professor at Limestone, Andy Cox. Andy had learned to make an instrument by looking at the photos in Berliner’s book and following the tuning figures Berliner had cited. I called Andy and asked if he would make an instrument for me. Andy was gracious on the phone, but stopped short of agreeing to make me an instrument. Later, I gave a presentation for a music class at a local elementary school, and the music teacher there gave me an mbira with rattan keys from West Africa as a gesture of thanks. It looked very similar to this one from Mali.


It had two ranks of keys: one on the left and one on the right. I had purchased The Soul of Mbira and a couple of tapes of mbira music and was becoming more and more enthralled with the idea of learning to play. I took the West African rattan mbira and converted it to a karimba configuration (using toothpicks to make a secondary bridge) so I could learn to play some of the tablature arrangements in the back of Paul Berliner’s book. I felt like Richard Dreyfus’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he was carving the mountain out of his mashed potatoes. I was becoming obsessed!


I learned to play Butsu Mutandari on this instrument. When I played it for Andy Cox, he finally agreed to make a karimba for me.

From these beginnings, I developed a close relationship with Andy, and he eventually made several mbira dzavadzimu for me in various tunings. I came up with my own version of Berliner’s tablature notation, and still use it today in my MbiraTab series of tablature transcriptions, which will be available soon from Bachovich Music Publications (

Andy Cox karimba

Andy Cox karimba

Andy Cox
Andy Cox

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Road to PASIC

We made the decision to enter the 2012 PAS World Percussion Ensemble competition in late December, 2011. My graduate assistant, Sarah Hann, had been hosting other percussion students for “Mbira Monday” since she had arrived in the fall. Students would gather with food and play mbira together every week. The contest would give us an opportunity to develop a more formal mbira ensemble. We decided to perform traditional music for mbiras and to include some djembe drumming as well, so we brought in my teacher from Guinea, West Africa, Mohamed Da Costa. Mohamed came to Winthrop in February to work with the students on three traditional rhythms from Guinea: Yankadi-Makru, Sorsornet (with the song “Gombo”), and Djole. Mohamed taught dundun parts, djembe patterns, shakers and rattles, and movement.

006 005 Road to PASIC - Da Costa018

In the video below, Mohamed works with the dunduns on Sorsornet…

…and singing on Yankadi.

In early March, we brought in Michael Spiro to work on production issues. At that time, we had three mbira pieces (Nhemamusasa, Nyuchi, Shumba) to go with the three djembe rhythms we had worked on with Mohamed. I viewed the program as being structured in two halves: an opening mbira set followed by a closing djembe set. I should have known from experience that Mr. Spiro would have other ideas.



Michael Spiro is a master of production in the recording studio and on stage. Spiro worked with the students on seamlessly integrating the mbira music with the djembe pieces (through what he refers to as “connective tissue”) and infusing the mbira tunes with movement and clapping. In the video below, he develops clapping patterns for Nyuchi.

Here, he works on Shumba…

and cajoles the students in his inimitable way!

We presented our concert in early April, and had our entry mailed to PAS by the mid-month deadline. Here is our contest performance.

In June, I received a phone call from Kenyon Williams, chair of the PAS World Percussion committee, informing me that Winthrop University had won the PASIC contest! The ensemble would perform in Austin in November. We set to work refining the pieces we had performed that spring, and added two opening numbers: Butsu Mutandari on marimbas, and a lovely mbira duet with Sarah Hann and Allison Riffe playing Kariga Mombe. Here is the entire PASIC performance.

The group photo – thanks to the help of good friends!
Sally 1 013


Welcome Back to the New BMW.COM!



Welcome to my new website! It’s clean, neat, and….NEW! I’ve been test-driving the features and I like the way this site handles. Kudos and thanks to my webmaster and colleague at Winthrop University, Joe Miller ( Joe is a film composer/guitarist/tech guru and overall terrific guy! In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates on some exciting new ventures and experiences that have come along for me and my students at Winthrop University. It’s been a fun ride this past year and a half since I’ve been away from the blogosphere, and I am looking forward to sharing all the fun with you!

I’ll be on the road in March performing and giving clinics at the University of Central Arkansas Percussion Festival with Blake Tyson and the West Tennessee Day of Percussion with Josh Smith and Bethel University. On the way, I’ll visit Julie Hill for some djembe drumming with her students at UT-Martin. Look for more posts coming soon!

UCA Percussioon Festival

West Tenn DOP


Shumba Ya Ngwasha Revisited

Hello All,

I recently revisited Chartwell’s Shumba YaNgwasha in nemakonde tuning and discovered some errors in my original transcription. Check out the original post and you’ll find the corrected version, which includes some funky additions of the RT 1 key  (on beat 2 in the 3rd and 4th quarters) that I had simply neglected earlier, as well as an easier movement to UL 1 on beat 10 of the 2nd quarter. This correction makes for a much nicer harmonic movement that I simply didn’t hear the first time. Check it out and let me know how you like it.



Taireva Basic

Here is a version of the mbira piece “Taireva” that is a bit different from the one published in my book, “Learning Mbira: A Beginning…”  I call it “Taireva Basic” because it really is a more basic version, and includes the essential melodic material of the vocal melody. This basic melody can be heard by playing the right hand notes alone, yielding the following tune in solfege:

do sol sol mi mi

do sol sol fa mi

do sol sol mi re

re fa fa mi re

This transcription also reflects the metric orientation I hear when I play the piece alone (that is, without the kushaura/kutsinhira interlock). In this orientation, I hear the first note as a “pick up” rather than a “downbeat.” This is the version I teach to any student new to “Taireva.”  Once the student has a firm grasp of this basic version, we move on to the versions presented in my book.





Taireva BASIC

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