CANADA: Munya Mataruse tells his Zimbabwe-to-Yellowknife story at NACC

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YELLOWKNIFE – Musician Munya Mataruse will take to the stage at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) on Saturday to share songs and the story of his journey from Zimbabwe to Yellowknife.

Mataruse grew up in a fishing town about 40 kilometres west of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and has been living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada since 2020.

His musical talent and engaging performance style have brought him success on both continents. In 2004, Mataruse started his professional music career at Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Zimbabwe, under the mentorship of celebrated musician Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. Mataruse later toured with Mtukudzi internationally.

In Yellowknife, Mataruse has gained recognition too. Last summer, he played at Folk on the Rocks after winning a competition for a slot on the festival’s main stage.

In Saturday’s performance, Mataruse will be telling the story of how and why he ended up in Yellowknife.

“A lot of people have been asking me, ‘Hey, man, I think with your talent, you have to be staying in big cities like Toronto, Edmonton, things like that.’ So I feel like I have to answer everybody that night,” he told Cabin Radio.

The performance will showcase his history, interspersed with both songs from his journey and new music.

Mataruse shared a bit of his backstory with Cabin Radio, although he said the show will cover much more.

A lifelong musician, Mataruse started playing music as a child and hardly ever stopped. He sang in church and for a traditional dance group. He also played percussion at school and in a marimba band. In high school, his family told him to tone it back to focus on his studies, he said. But after graduating, he took music lessons in secret.

“If music is inside you, it’s going to haunt you,” he said. “You want to continuously play.”

Music is also what brought Mataruse to Canada. While touring with Mtukudzi, he visited the country and found that he enjoyed bringing Zimbabwean music to audiences abroad. He also noticed a market for it.

“I’m seeing that a lot of people from Africa, they’re coming this side as well. And they miss that music. Most of the times, they just go on YouTube,” he said. “Those people, they still need music from back home.”

In 2015, Mataruse opted to stay in Canada. He lived in Edmonton for a few years before moving to Yellowknife.

Getting audiences involved

Mataruse describes his music as Afrofusion, blending African and western instruments. He said he sings in Shona but, during his performances, explains what he is singing about.

On Thursday, Mataruse played two songs for Cabin Radio – one on mbira, a traditional Zimbabwean instrument, and one on acoustic guitar.

The mbira, Mataruse said, is like a meditation instrument. Traditionally, the Shona people of Zimbabwe played it to communicate with their ancestors, he said, adding that mixing mbira with foreign instruments was considered taboo.

“Not now, these days, it’s being fused with a lot of instruments,” he said. Mataruse said he likes to combine the mbira with guitar and electric drums, for example.

So far, Mataruse has found the reception from Yellowknife audiences to be “huge.” He thinks his music is a good fit for the city. People in Yellowknife tend to work really hard, he said, and having good musicians in town helps release some of that pressure.

On Saturday, Mataruse said people can expect his characteristic style that gets the audience involved in the show.

“If you control them really well, they can be part of your band,” he said.

He said the audience can produce a good choir. “Some of them, they can clap really well with a good rhythm,” he added. “Trust me, most of the time, I’d say more than 75 percent of the audience will be in time.

For those who don’t have rhythm, he said, there is still fun in trying.

“It’s all about making them happy,” Mataruse aid of his approach of getting the audience engaged. “That’s the main reason why we have music.”