Saturday, April 25, 2020

Abbott and Costello Discuss the World Health Organization

by G. Jack Urso

Abbott: Ok Lou, today we’re going to talk about the World Health

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Exactly.

Costello: What?

Abbott: No, WHO.

Costello: That’s what I said! Who are we talking about?

Abbott: Precisely.

Costello: Look, Bud, I’m confused . . .

Abbott: I’ll say.

Costello: What are we talking about?

Abbott: Not what, WHO. We’re talking about WHO.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: That’s right.


Abbott: Oh, I see your problem. WHO is an abbreviation for the
               World Health Organization. A wonderful group that does
               important work.

Costello: OK, well then, what about WHO?

Abbott: Well, WHO has come under fire recently for its purported
               close ties to China under its current leader Xi Jinping.

Costello: Xi Jingaling?

Abbott: No ding-a-ling, Xi Jinping. Show some respect why don’t

               you? Now, follow along with me . . .

Costello: That train has already left the station.

Abbott: [slaps Costello] Hey, don’t be a wise guy!

Costello: WATCH IT! So, who started all this trouble?

Abbott: No. It was probably Hu.

Costello: WHO?

Abbott: That’s right,

Costello: How can I be right? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M
                TALKING ABOUT!

Abbott: Listen Lou, it’s really quite simple. People think WHO has
               too close ties to China, led by Xi Jinping, but those ties
               were first established under the previous Chinese leader
               Hu Jintao as an effort to get WHO’s help to deal with their
               periodic epidemics.

Costello: Periodic enemas?

Abbott: Well, that won’t help with respiratory diseases, but it's
               probably better than injecting disinfectant.

Costello: What idiot would suggest that?

Abbott: Oh, I don’t know. Some stooge I suppose.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: [slaps Costello] Don’t insult Hu like that!

Costello: HEY!

Abbott: Sorry Lou, you just get on my nerves sometimes.

Costello: So, let me get this straight. You’re saying who is
                 responsible for close ties to who?

Abbott: Boy, you said it.

Costello: And who was replaced by Xi Jingaling?

Abbott: Hey! [raising his hand] You want a fresh one?

[knocking on the door]

Costello: I wonder who's at the door?

Abbott: No, its not Hu. It’s probably the landlord coming to collect

               our back rent.

Costello: You mean . . . Fred Trump?

Abbott: That’s who.

Costello: Boy, at this point I really wouldn’t be surprised at all. 


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira

by G. Jack Urso

“The mbira is not just an instrument to us. It is like a Bible; it is the way we pray to God.” — Unnamed Zimbabwe musician.
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel.
Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira, is a 1973 release in Nonesuch Records classic Explorer Series which also includes Africa, Music from the Nonesuch Explorer Series, Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music, and KĊhachiro Miyata: Shakuhachi — The Japanese Flute, covered elsewhere on Aeolus 13 Umbra. The mbira, also known as a thumb piano, is a traditional African instrument with a delicate, lyrical sound somewhat reminiscent of higher-tuned Jamaican steel drums in the soprano range. The Bantu languages native to the region, in this case Shona, utilize open syllables in an alternating consonant-vowel pattern which complements the mbira and provides both a natural and an ethereal sound — at least to Western ears.

Liner notes are provided below from the album by John Berliner, who recorded the music in the field. The complete album is provided above and the track list with links to individual songs is listed below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Matepe, a type of mbira, in gourd resonator.
All images from Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira (1973).
Liner Notes from Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbria (1973), by John Berliner

The Mbira is an ancient African instrument consisting of reed or metal keys mounted over a bridge on a hardwood soundboard. Typically, an external buzzing mechanism adds complexity to the instrument’s sound. Known by different regional names, numerous varieties of mbira are popular throughout black Africa. The mbira commonly serves as a solo instrument with vocal accompaniment, but it can also be played in small ensembles.

In Zimbabwe, there are several types of mbira, ranging in numbers of keys from eight to fifty-two. Four types represented here are the mbira dzavadzunu, matepe, njari, and ndimba. Musicians play the smallest instruments with two thumbs; the largest, with two thumbs and one or two index fingers. For amplification, musicians stabilize their instruments inside large gourd resonators decorated with shells and more recently bottle tops, which add a vibrating quality to the rich sound mix. Gourd rattles called hosho commonly provide rhythmic accompaniment.

Webster Pasipamire (left) and Erick Muchena with dried gourds
to be fashioned into resonators.
From the earliest times, the mbira has played an integral role in Shona culture. Sixteenth century missionary accounts describe its use in courts, providing music for the praise of kings and for entertainment. To this day, musicians perform the instrument at a traditional religious ceremony called a bira, in which villagers consult their ancestral spirits and make ritual offerings to them. Although mbira players are professional musicians, they commonly supplement their income through their vocations. Hakurowi Mude has earned his living as an upholster and a general store owner; John Kunaka, as a blacksmith and carpenter; Simon Mashoko, as a catechist for the Roman Catholic Church. Hakurowi Mude and Mujuru Muchatera have both served their communities as spirit mediums.

I am greatly indebted to the performers, whose conviction that mbira music holds universal meaning made these recordings possible. With the passing of Mubaywa Bandambira, John Kunaka, and Mukuru Muchatera, the recordings (made in 1972) have become precious documents of Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage. Additional information about the lives of the music’s importance in Shona culture is provided in the author’s companion book, The Soul of Mbira, the University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Track List:

1. Nhemamusada (7:03)

22-key mbira dzavadzunu. MhuriyekwaRwizi ensemble (Justin Magaya, Kuken Pasipamire, mbira; Hakurotwi Mude, voice; Webster Pasipamire, hosho.) Recorded at a bira in Kwaramba Village, Mondoro.

2. Taireva (4:02)

24-key mbira dzavadzunu. Eric and Mondrek Muchena. Recorded in Highfields, Harare.

3. Nyamaropa (6:20)

22-key mbira dzavadzunu. MhuriyekwaRwizi ensemble (Hakurotwi Mude, voice & mbira; Cosmas Magaya, mbira; Ephraim Mutemassango, hosho). Recorded in Highfields, Harare.

4. Kuyadya Hove Kune Mazove (4:25)

26-key matepe. Gibson Utsvoma, mbira; Jospeh Katvayire and Mrs. Fatsika, singers; Garage Nyamudya, hosho. Recorded in the Mkota district, Mtoko.  

Njari, a type of mbira.

5. Mbiriviri (5:54)

35-key njari. Simon Mashoko (Gwenambira), mbira & voice. Recorded at Glen Clova, Masvingo.

6. Nhimutimu (4:02)

24-key mbira dzavadzunu. John Kunaka (Maridzambira), mbira; Cosmos Magaya, hosho. Recorded at Nyamweda, Mondoro

7. Nyamaropa yeVana Vave Mushonga (5:00)

25-key mbira dzavadzunu. Muchatera Mujuro, mbira & voice. Recorded at Dambatstoko, Rusape.

8. Dangurangu (4:23)

23-key mbira dzavadzunu. Mubayiwa Bandambira, mbira. Recorded at Musondza Village, Mondoro.

9. Kumakudo (3:06)

17-key ndimba. Simon Mashoko (Gwenambira), mbira & voice. Recorded at Glen Cova, Masvingo.

Muchatera Mujuru (right) as spirit medium with his attendant, Wafawanaka Mu[fururi.