Jennifer Kyker '02 will perform Shona music for the mbira dzavadzimu, or African thumb piano, in a concert Friday, February 7, at 8 pm in Pratt Hall’s McCulloch Auditorium.
Kyker, an ethnomusicologist and teacher at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, studied Shona music while living in Zimbabwe. Mbira—the name of both the instrument and the music—has been played for more than 1,000 years by the Shona people, a group that forms the majority of the population of Zimbabwe and extends into Mozambique.
“Mbira pervades all aspects of Shona culture, both sacred and secular,” said Kyker. “Its most important function is as a telephone to the spirits, used to contact deceased ancestors and tribal guardians.”
A mbira comprises between 22 and 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard and placed inside a large gourd resonator. The keys are played with the thumbs plucking down and the right forefinger plucking up. Tendai Muparutsa, an internationally known performer, music educator, and bandleader, will perform with Kyker.
As an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke, Kyker received a Fulbright fellowship to conduct research on musical performances at kurova guva, Zimbabwean ceremonies to welcome the spirit of a deceased family member into the family’s lineage as a spirit elder. She then became involved in HIV/AIDS research and activism, founding the nonprofit organization Tariro to educate and empower teenage girls in Zimbabwean communities affected by HIV/AIDS. In recognition of her work, Kyker has been honored with a Leboy-Davies Fellowship in Women’s Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an alumnae fellowship from Mount Holyoke.
Working with Zimbabwean musicians, Kyker has produced several albums featuring music in a variety of genres, ranging from field recordings of instruments to a compilation of songs by popular artists
On Saturday, February 8, Kyker will talk about her career at the College’s Crafting a Life in the Arts conference, which features presentations by Mount Holyoke alumnae from the fields of architectural studies, art history, museum curating and administration, studio art, creative writing, dance, film studies, music, and theatre arts.