Performer and master craftsman Fradreck Mujuru is widely considered the greatest living maker of the intricately designed and spiritually potent mbira dzavadzimu (‘thumb piano of the ancestors’), and Erica Azim is a respected performer and leading American teacher of Shona mbira music, an entrancing and virtuosic tradition. They began collaborating in 1994 in Zimbabwe, performing and teaching in the US from 2003-05, followed by an extensive US concert tour in 2014. They play mbira together in a wide variety of tunings, including the low-pitched Dambatsoko tuning traditionally played by the Mujuru family, the low-pitched Phrygian mode nemakonde tuning, the high pitched Dorian-mode Katsanzaira tuning and the more common nyamaropa and mavembe (gandanga) tunings.
Mujuru and Azim also support and promote traditional mbira music and culture in Zimbabwe through the non-profit organization MBIRA, which Azim founded in 1998. In a country with an estimated 70-90% unemployment rate, MBIRA provides critical support for Zimbabwean mbira makers in the daily struggle for survival.
Mujuru, who hails from the largest extended family of mbira players in Zimbabwe, has played the instrument since the age of 8. After touring Europe and South Africa in the 1990’s, he taught and performed in the US, including residencies at Grinnell and Williams Colleges in 2001, and the University of Michigan in 2012. Mujuru teaches mbira, drums and singing. At home, he plays mbira in traditional ceremonies, builds the instruments with his apprentices, hosts numerous international student musicians, and facilitates the Zimbabwe operations of two small non-profit organizations, including MBIRA. Mujuru plays the songs and the style that have been used heal the sick and call ancestors to earth to give advice to the living, from time immemorial.
California native Azim has played Shona mbira music for over 40 years. She has lived and studied in Zimbabwe, and played on commercial solo mbira recordings, as well as recording and touring with Zimbabwean musicians. She has played mbira at venues, ranging from Zimbabwean village ceremonies to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Azim conducts regional mbira workshops throughout the US and Canada, and holds internationally-attended mbira camps in California, Argentina, Bali, Germany and Zimbabwe.