The African lamellophone, thumb piano or mbira (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Once upon a time, Erika Hayashi traveled to Zimbabwe and found herself completely surrendered to the irresistible charms of mbira music.
Back in my wily youth, my mom had an mbira, an instrument also known as a ‘hand piano’. Additionally, there were a few djembes and some wind instruments lying around the house that I was not allowed to touch because they were there as part of a Back to Africa thing she was going through at the time, not as musical instruments. Luckily, the mbira was playable and over the course of an afternoon, I taught myself how to play one short song: the Nickelodeon fanfare, because duh. I was pretty proud of the accomplishment, but never thought to take it any further.
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Not so for Erika Hayashi. She was touched deeply by the mbira’s sweet sound – and probably also the Zimbabwean culture it represents – so much so that she went back to Japan and opened two mbira schools, obviously.
WONDER GUCHU explains:
She has quit her nursing job to goose up Zimbabwean music by performing for tourists visiting the 333-metre broadcasting Tokyo tower where tourists come to view the city.
“I used to admire Florence Nightingale when I was growing up hence I became a nurse, but certainly mbira has become an integral part of me,” Erika explained.
Apart from goosing up the mbira, Erika has also written a book titled ‘Ngoma in Japanese’, which is used as a learners’ guide to mbira music.
You could fill a bathroom or a small backpack with books about alleged Japanese appropriation of Black culture. Is j-jazz REAL jazz? Is j-rap REAL rap? The question of authenticity has started many “intellectual” arguments and ended as many friendships. Everyone has their own opinion on whether music come from place or race, and I wonder what those types think about something like this.
Perhaps the appeal lies in ancestral sounds handed down from the distant past. Perhaps the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the instrument and its sounds appeal to the collective consciousness of many Japanese people. Whatever the case, if Katsuhiro Otomo lost his mind and directed another Akira film, the mbira doesn’t sound like it would be out of place in the cacophony of choral arrangements, shamisen grinding and gamelan insanity.
What do you think? Is j-mbira an AUTHENTIC musical form? Crass imitation? Does it even matter? Perhaps this man’s message to Japanese people will offer some insight!
BIzarrely, another Erica, this one American, has a similar story reported by WONDER GUCHU. Coincidence or glitch in the Matrix. YOU DECIDE.