Chaka neMbira

Chaka Zinyemba’s family has long had connections with Canada.  His parents lived in the famously-cold North American country in the 80s, and his four sisters live, work, and study there.  So moving to Canada after his A Levels was almost a given for the young Zimbabwean.   Now an artist and musician currently living in Edminton,  Chaka draws on his Zimbabwean roots and family as, for inspiration for his work.


Life in Zimbabwe was good for Chaka.  The only boy in a family of five children, he was the Headboy at St.George’s College in 2007.  “I’m a Georgian through and through”, he says, having donned the red blazer since his primary school days at St. Michael’s.  It was at high school that Chaka first got interested in art.  He took it up as a subject at O Level, and although he didn’t take it further than this, his love for art continued, even after he left school.  As  grateful as he was for all that St. George’s, and Zimbabwe, had taught him, Chaka wanted a change of scenery.  “I was looking for something new, a new environment to start afresh.”  So it was off to the University of Alberta, where he graduated with a BA in Human Geography and Music.




Chaka learnt how to play the mbira during the gap between the end of his A Levels, and the move to Canada.  However, it was only when he went to Canada that he started taking mbira seriously.  He has his new city to thank.  Thanks to an oil boom, Edmonton is becoming an economic and cultural hub, and Chaka wanted in on the action.   “If you have an idea, chances are you are the only one having that idea.”  With his art and his mbira skills, Chaka fit right into the Canadian city’s art life, but he does also work with Zimbabwean artists.  He’s just produced a CD with the help of two people: his cousin Free (“zvese zvese anobata!”), and  Peter Muparutsa (“he’s a mdara”).  Recorded at Shed Studios, the production was really a cross-Atlantic effort: Muparutsa worked together with a Canadian producer to produce the album.  Recorded in Zimbabwe, and sold in Edmonton, Chaka was able to successfully the two communities he knows and loves to create his own distinctive sound.



Even though he studied human geography and music at university, Chaka never forgot about his art.  Eight years after he dropped Art, he picked it up again, with his fiancée’s (now wife) encouragement.    “From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by women.”  This female presence extends to his artwork.  Dominated by strong, colourful portraits of different women, Chaka’s learnt to find his own style of painting, choosing not to get any formal training.  “As much as I respect institutions,” Chaka explains, “the fact that I’m not formally trained gives me more freedom.”  Having produced and sold several paintings, Chaka’s making a name for himself, and he hopes one day to come back home and show Zimbabwe how far he’s come.  “It’s always great to go back home and show ‘hey, this is what I’ve learnt and developed’.”


Hardworking and resolute, Chaka’s drive and creativity mirrors the efforts of many Zimbabweans living abroad.  “MaZimbo, takawanda!” He says, laughing at how even in Edmonton, there is a small but growing Zimbabwean community.  He’s glad that he can contribute to his country in any way he can, whether it be his with music, a paintbrush, or his geographic skills.  “We can tell our own story.  We have the tools and technology at our fingertips to create our own narrative.”  So Chaka sits, thinks, and he creates.



Contact Information:

Chaka nembira Studio

Instagram: @Zibeans

Facebook Page: Chaka ne Mbira

Twitter:   Chaka Zinyemba @Chakanembira


Pieces of Home: Honde Valley

Silence.  That’s all you hear as you stand there, above the valley but not quite at the top of the mountain.  For the first few minutes,  it’s maddening.  No cars.  No music. No loud conversations.  Just you and the valley.

Honde Valley is a slither of land  near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.  Cloudless skies with a yellow sun illuminates the valley, and if you squint, you can see the border.  The mountains, already gargantuan in size, look even bigger, their sharp peaks grazing the endless the endless blue above.


Then the weather turns.  Fog crawls up from below, until the whole valley disappears under the mist.   The temperature drops, and when it starts to rain, the lush green Earth gets brown and soggy, making it a nightmare  for drivers trying to hillstart.  But even then, with the cold and the damp, the Valley is still beautiful.


Honde Valley wouldn’t be what it is without the mountains that encircle the community.  The mountains themselves are as diverse and interesting as the trees and shrubs that dot the valley in the summer.

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Honde Valley is a haven of peace and serenity.  From vast green forests, to small tea and coffee plantations, it’s not just a static valley of trees and rocks, but a bustling environment of animals, vegetation and people living and working with and for each other.  Now, it seems that it may very well become a bona fide tourism destination.  There are already a few resorts and B&Bs, with a clear view of Mtarazi Falls, Honde Valley’s claim to fame.



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The primary school at Honde Valley. It happens to be my mother's old school

The primary school at Honde Valley. It happens to be my mother’s old school

Honde Valley during the dry season

Honde Valley during the dry season

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The houses in the area also have their own story to tell, from the traditional huts with thatched roofs, the rundown shacks, to the modern homes equipped with TV, fridges, and electricity.  There are even ruins of an ancient storehouse, just behind my grandmother’s house.  It’s nothing more than a large trench lined with granite stones similar to the ones at Great Zimbabwe.  But those ruins are a piece of our history, a look, however tiny, into the life and times of Zimbabweans before the advent of colonialism and modern technology.