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November 27, 2009
There have been heavy
rains all over Zimbabwe for a few days now. The clouds are lowering
outside. We sit round the dining room table in the gathering gloom,
having an interview. Myself, a tallish slim young man, called Golden,
and another young man in a blue overall and profuse dreadlocks.
There has been no electricity since about nine in the morning -
the power wasn't to return until the next day in the afternoon.
Too light to light a candle, too dark to see easily without.
I was inspired to have
this interview by the sight one sunny day of this young man putting
the finishing touches to a marimba he had made and tuning it. He
had a marimba stick in one hand and he was playing each note in
turn. I could tell that the keys were all in perfect tune. I could
have told too if any of them had been out of tune. But the marimba
maker - how did he know that? How did he know that the marimba he
had made was in perfect tune? He can't hear.
Sitting there in the
dim light, I was asking Golden questions and he was translating
them to the young man, who goes by the name of Charles, in Zimbabwean
Sign Language - a trilogue in the fog. Catherine, who was behind
the camera when the making of "Handspeak", our 13-part
television series in Sign Language, was being filmed, asked me on
that occasion why I was the only one in CHIPAWO who can't speak
Sign Language. That was about three years ago. I still can't.
I thought that a maker
of musical instruments who is quite deaf and cannot hear how beautifully
his instruments play, is both sad and joyful at the same time. Yes,
it is sad that he can never hear the music he is making possible
with his handicraft yet joyful that despite his deafness he is able
to make it possible for others to play.
Charles Kunzvi was born
25 years ago in the Glendale commercial farming area of Zimbabwe.
He has been deaf since birth. In his family his mother and his father
are both hearing but of his siblings, three can hear and two others
He is a graduate of Emerald
Hill School for the Deaf where he studied Bible Studies, English,
Agriculture, Woodwork, Maths, Geography and Science up to Form IV.
CHIPAWO ran an arts education for development and employment centre
at the school for many years and Charles participated fully. He
took part in many performances both at the school and in various
CHIPAWO activities, including the End-of-Year Concert and the annual
The high point of his
involvement was his visit to the World Children's Theatre Festival
in Lingen, German, in the play, 'Cry Thinking', which was about
the experience of being born and then growing up deaf.
He joined CHIPAWO in
2006 and started work in the musical instrument manufacturing unit.
He says he didn't have much of a problem doing well in the unit
as he had learnt woodwork at school. The making of marimbas and
above all the tuning of marimbas he was taught by another CHIPAWO
graduate from the Mbare CHIPAWO centre, Sam Chimusaro, as well as
the founder of the musical instrument manufacturing project in CHIPAWO,
the music-teacher and musician, Farai Gezi,
Charles says (in Sign
Language) that he particularly appreciated Sam's tutelage because
Sam did not think deaf people were stupid and he taught him with
infinite patience. Asked how he manages to tune an instrument which
he cannot hear, Charles said that it is obvious. He uses a tuner.
Indicating how the needle might move either to the left or the right
of the note, he graphically demonstrates how he tunes each note.
In addition to tuning
the keys, Charles has learnt to weld. He cuts and welds the steel
frames, whittles down the keys according to the standardised dimensions
and varnishes them, and also prepares the PVC resonators. He prepares
the sticks and finishes off all the other little details that need
finishing to make a perfect marimba.
Asked what his ambition
is, Charles says he would now like to construct a chromatic marimba,
one that has two keyboards like a piano, featuring all the sharps
and flats as he has heard they do in other countries. As for mbira,
well, he has a rudimentary idea as the previous mbira-maker in CHIPAWO,
Dingane Juma, taught him a little but he has not yet mastered all
Most of the tools required
for producing the musical instruments have been bought, thanks to
the capacity-building assistance of the Norwegian Embassy. However
CHIPAWO has had lots of problems finding and paying for a decent
workshop so as to site and use the tools and machinery effectively.
Charles says he dreams
of the day when he does not have to make musical instruments with
hand tools in someone's garage but can work safely and efficiently
in a proper workshop, properly equipped with all the machinery required.
He says if he could get something like that, he would work wonders.
Judging but what he already
achieves in difficult circumstances, I am sure he would.
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