I recently discovered a fantastic new Masters Thesis on Andrew Tracey, son of Hugh Tracey, by Laina Gumboreshumba. Laina's father was Andrew Tracey's first teacher of the mbira dzavadzimu. You can download the entire thesis by clicking on the above link. The thesis explores the impact of Andrew Tracey's work on African ethnomusicology, and focuses on the mbira and kalimba.
I will be trying to set up an interview with Laina in the future, but right now I would like to share with you some work that Andrew Tracey did which he calls The System of the Mbira, and I learned about this work through Laina's thesis. Andrew wrote a paper by this name in 1989, and it is a description of the chord progression cycle that undrerlies most mbira music. But even more than a description, it is a generative principle that can be applied to other instruments - guitar, piano, and especially kalimba.
When I first started Kalimba Magic, I would periodically get requests for traditional African music on the kalimba. Well, at that time I didn't know any traditional African music on the kalimba. Remember, the Hugh Tracey Kalimba is an invented instrument from 1954, with many features derived from many traditional African lamellaphones - we gave a history of the Hugh Tracey kalimba in last month's newsletter. The Hugh Tracey kalimba plays western music very beautifully, but at first I was at a loss as to how to play African music on this exotic musical instrument.
Two years ago, I released an instructional download that translated a set of ten traditional pieces for Karimba (aka mbira nyunga nyunga) to the Alto Kalimba. The songs really jump off your thumbs on the karimba, but are a bit harder to play when translated to the alto kalimba.
But now, using the Mbira Cycle, a generative system based on Andrew Tracey's research on a wide body of traditional mbira music, I hope anyone who so desires will be able to create their own mbira-like songs on Alto or Treble kalimbas.
To learn how the Mbira Cycle works and gain proficiency in African mbira chord progressions, stay tuned to the Wednesday Tips for the next 10 weeks.
On the other hand, if you don't want to wait that long, I invite you to read Laina Gumboreshumba's Master Thesis (2009) - it is a great read and will enlighten you on a number iof different issues.
By the way, Laina is the person who purchases traditional Shona mbira for AMI, which we resell here.