Drawing on the syncopated rhythms of ensemble performance, participants at Zimbabwean musical events often execute complex clapping patterns. Whether played with bare hands or on a pair of wooden clappers, this practice is commonly referred to by Zezuru speakers as makwa or manja, and by Korekore speakers as kwenje. While wooden clappers may be crafted specifically for the purpose of playing makwa, Sekuru Chigamba’s narrative account tying clapping patterns to dance also describes how a pair of wooden staves, or zvikeyi, may also be borrowed from a cattle yoke.
Makwa is one among many participatory practices common to indigenous Zimbabwean musical performance, which also include muridzo whistling, rhythmic dancing that may feature magavhu leg rattles, improvised mahon’era vocal lines and responsorial mabvumira singing, and other forms of active participation. Together, these varied expressive forms offer participants many opportunities for direct musical engagement, resulting in a deeply participatory musical aesthetic typical of Zimbabwean music making.
Makwa clapping patterns range from straight-forward articulations of the main pulse to virtuosic performances of complex, and often improvised percussion lines. Makwa plays a primary role in some Zimbabwean musical styles, such as the ngoma genre known as mbende, which features contrasting sections of musical material that incorporate prominent makwa lines. Also known as jerusarema, mbende has been designated an official form of intangible human heritage by UNESCO. Mbende songs typically move between alternating sections of contrasting musical material, and features a distinctive makwa pattern played on wooden clappers. This example of jerusarema features participants at a kurova guva ceremony held in Zengenene village, in the rural district of Murewa. Commonly performed the year following a family member’s death, the ritual of kurova guva transforms the spirit of the deceased into a mudzimu ancestor.