Saturday, July 28, 2012
Chris Berry is a master of both mbira (thumb piano) and the ngoma drum, from the Shona people of Southern Africa. He has earned the title of gwenyambira (“one whose music calls the spirits”), a distinction reserved only for those who have achieved the highest fusion of the technical and the magical in Shona music. His record sales have reached platinum album sales in Zimbabwe and Mozambique for his work with the band Panjea.
Berry was born in California, and at age 18 left for Africa to study music there with his mentor Titos Sompa, with whom Berry had been studying since age 13. After originally arriving in Congo’s Brazzaville, his fascination of Zimbabwean mbira music eventually led him to Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, where he settled and studied under mbira master Monderek Muchena for ten years.
While studying in Zimbabwe, Berry became one of the first Westerners to be accepted among the elder mbira masters as one of their own.
“I played for a lot of ceremonies where people would become possessed,” said Berry. “Some of the old ancestors who came back spoke to me through these people: ‘What are you doing here? There are lots of misguided people, lost and confused people, in your country. They’re killing each other there. It’s time for you to take what you’ve learned and bring it to your own country because they need it more than we need it here. That’s your job. You’re the bridge maker.’ ”
After over a decade living in Africa, Berry has now settled back in America.