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Trail Map Courtesy of PCTA


Shona Music

Cosmas Magaya

Cosmas Magaya has become a beloved friend and important teacher to all of us involved in the Shona music scene here in Boulder, Colorado. He has visited us five summers in a row now, and plans are already being made for a return trip in October of 2004. What a great time to look forward to just as I will be finishing RhythmWalk. He was my first mbira teacher, has always been an inspiration, and certainly represents one of the big reasons for my embarking upon this project.

Cosmas is an internationally recognized master of the mbira dzaVadzimu. As a performer, mbira teacher and leader of the mbira ensemble Mhuri yekwaMagaya, he has gained national and international acclaim for his extraordinary talent as a musician and teacher in the Zimbabwean music traditions.

As a performer, he has completed several international tours with mbira ensembles Mhuri yekwa Rwizi and Zimbabwe Group Leaders Mbira Ensemble, including two in Europe and two in the United States. His performances are featured on a number of critically acclaimed CDs.

As an mbira master musician and respected teacher, Cosmas has been invited to teach master classes at top universities in the United States including Stanford, Northwestern and Duke University as well as numerous other universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to performing and teaching, Cosmas has, since 1971, collaborated with ethnomusicologist Dr. Paul Berliner, doing field research on Shona traditional music that has resulted in a scholarly book, The Soul of Mbira.


Born in Zimbabwe in 1953, Cosmas grew up in the rural area of Mhondoro. His father, Joshua Magaya, was a highly esteemed n'anga (healer), and a farmer who was noted for his enlightened farming practices.

Cosmas first became interested in mbira at the age of eight and begged his older mbira-playing cousin, Ernest Chivanga, to teach him how to play. However, because of his youth, he wasn't taken seriously and wasn't allowed to touch the cousin's mbira. At every opportunity, Cosmas would "borrow" the mbira and, out of hearing, try to pick out what he could remember from his cousin's playing. On one momentous occasion, after he had been practicing secretly for many months, Cosmas played mbira for his family. They were astonished that he had taught himself to play and his cousin began to teach him more songs. The two were hired to play frequently for Shona religious ceremonies called bira, and Cosmas developed a reputation as a strong mbira player whose playing could call the ancestral spirits.

He was quite small for his age and played the mbira inside a huge deze (calabash). The image of this young boy, all but hidden by the calabash, with just his small legs sticking out, was one that greatly amused his audiences.

Throughout his youth, Cosmas sought out opportunities to expand his mbira song and stylistic repertoire from both elder teachers and his age group peers. In addition to his mbira studies, he completed his formal schooling and went on to study business at the Community College Business School in Salisbury. Cosmas spent many years working for the sales and promotion division of the Dairy Marketing Board as a sales representative and manager.

As his music career developed, he joined Hakurotwi Mude's ensemble Mhuri yekwaRwizi and made two European tours in 1983 and 1985. He still performs with his family group, Mhuri yekwaMagaya, which now includes his son Mudavanhu. Cosmas has gained loyal following of many mbira students throughout the United States and Canada, and he continues to teach and perform in the U.S., Canada and Zimbabwe, spending part of every year in each area of the world.

Text and Picture courtesy of Kutsinhira (www.kutsinhira.org)

See Also:
Mbira Music | Cosmas Magaya

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Loren Mach
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