How a Biomedical Engineer Upholds a Zimbabwean Tradition presents:

Evelyn Mu.kwe.deya

Evelyn has distinguished herself in academics by winning many laurels among which are the ‘Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) Undergraduate Scholarship, 2010, the ‘William Peyton Hubbard Memorial Award, Hydro One, 2011, the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, University of Toronto, 2011, the ‘Engineer for the World (E4TW) Award, Engineering Science Department, University of Toronto, 2011 etc.

Beside these lofty achievements, Evelyn is a biomedical engineer by training, a business analyst by occupation, and a keeper of the 1000 years old Zimbabwean tradition of playing the ‘Mbira’. recently caught with this Zimbabwean performer. Excerpt …


Evelyn on the Mbira (Facebook)

Evelyn Mukwedeya believes that “unless you try something, you will never know where it leads.” This mindset has propelled this intelligent and talented young woman to inspiring heights both musically and professionally.

Like many talented musicians before her, Evelyn’s foray into music was serendipitous. She never quite cared much for the art until after she and her siblings brought home a small keyboard from an excursion they had been on in South Africa.

After watching his children fiddle with the contraption and probably noticing some potential, Evelyn’s father suggested that they get a teacher to help them formally learn how to play musical instruments. “My parents wanted us to find what interested us … most of us loved music so my parents supported us.”

For Evelyn, this suggestion by her father was going to be a life changer.

Passion for culture and tradition

At age 8, Evelyn started taking keyboard lessons “from there, I got into music … from the keyboard, I moved to different instruments including piano and clarinet.” Noticing her predilection for music and the ease with which she picked up new musical skills, her mother advised her to try her hands on traditional Zimbabwean instruments.

Evelyn enthusiastically accepted the challenge and right there, her passion for something unconventional was born.

With the help of her school music coordinator, Evelyn found a teacher who got her started on playing the Mbira, a traditional Zimbabwean instrument that she has now been playing for almost 10 years.

Mbira has been played in Zimbabwe for at least 1000 years. The Mbira is an instrument with a wooden board and metal keys that are plucked with the fingers. Different versions of the instrument exist across Africa and by different names. 


Historically in Zimbabwe, the Mbira has been played at spiritual ceremonies in honour of the ancestors. The music from the instrument has been used as a bridge between the world of the living and the realm of the spirits. Despite its status in culturally significant events, the Mbira through generations has also been played purely for entertainment and this is the aspect that Evelyn shares with her audiences across North America.

Evelyn moved to Toronto, Canada about 10 years ago and while she pursued her professional career, her love for music and performance never waned. To stay in tune with Mbira, Evelyn would seek out materials on Mbira.

“My first CDs of Mbira where ‘Mbira Dzenharira’ and Stella Chiweshe’s. I would go to the Toronto library and listen to the recordings and try to learn from there. Another pivotal CD is called ‘Sorrow of Mbira’ compiled by Paul Belina, an ethno-musicologist. ‘Sorrow of Mbira’ is a sampling of Mbira songs by all the great Mbira playing families. I grew interested in Chimurenga style of music. Chimurenga is inspired by the war of independence and the main artiste was Thomas Mapfumo. He is also a great influence in my musical taste.”

The birth of ‘Nhapitapi Mbira’

Evelyn’s adventure with Mbira became even more dynamic once she met some of her now band mates, Memory Makuri – a Zimbabwean dancer, singer and percussionist- and Moyo Mutamba – a Zimbabwean dancer, musician and storyteller.

“I went to Afrofest and I saw a group called ‘Masaisai’ playing Mbira. I was so excited as I never thought I would ever see that in Toronto. I met them (memory and Mutamba), they asked me to come for rehearsals and I went, and I joined the band. We were playing music inspired by independence. In the band we had guitars, percussions, Mbira. With time, we split because some of us liked the traditional music while some preferred the more contemporary music … Mutamba, Memory and I moved forward with the traditional music and formed our band, Nhapitapi Mbira”

Nhapitapi performs shows and gives formal Mbira classes and dance lessons to people of all ages in Toronto and beyond.

Evelyn recounts some of her proudest moments as an Mbira player and they include the times she got to perform with her biggest influences, Thomas Mapfumo and Stella Chiweshe, in Canada.

Nhapitapi with Memory (second right), Evelyn (centre) and Mutamba (second left). Facebook

The Future and a word

“I would say as a young person you could write your destiny as nothing is set in stone. I could not have imagined the life that I have; it’s been all about taking opportunities and trying. If you never try something, you will never know where it leads. That is the mindset I have. Even if it seems challenging, just go for it because through the journey, you will learn something and you will grow stronger. Trying opens up other doors and avenues that will help you reach your full potentials.”

Evelyn who has a degree in Biomedical Engineering and currently works as a Business Analyst, wishes she could make a living out of playing the Mbira given how passionate about the instrument she is. She is aware of the slight disconnect that exists between her, a diaspora Mbira player, and the tradition homegrown players. “There is no substitute having someone who I can watch and learn from; especially the culture and things beyond the technique. My goal is … to go home and learn directly from the source. My goal is to learn the culture and the rich history behind each of those songs.”



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