Nzira Ye Mbira : John Falsetto

Mbira Magic's 'Nzira Ye Mbira' Feature Series introduces:

John Falsetto (John Lenon Pfumojena) see, I had never touched an African instrument until I landed in Zimbabwe in 2002. Little did I know how much my life was about to change. 

Prince Edward School in Harare was my new world, and it was here that my initiation began. Together with my new classmates, we carried prefects' bags to the main school. Every morning. ...and coincidence had it that my prefect's luggage would include an intriguing round black bag

I carried that curious thing for a whole year. 

Looking inside was inevitable, and as my eyes explored this fascinating 'thumb piano', a new obsession was born. Maybe the months of carrying had somehow connected us, and on that day a yearning to know it was born. 

I had no idea how to approach the instrument, and soon enough, the struggle to ‘operate’ its keys would only fuel more passion within me. I took every opportunity there was to learn more. Keenly observing my prefect, I watched him practicing, performing at school functions, and winning awards with his ensemble.

This was my mbira beginning! I had embarked. 

To this day, I have never left the Nyunganyunga Mbira. I was soon to befriend Chiwoniso Maraire, who guided my relationship with this instrument beyond the point of no return.

Chiwoniso performing 'In This Life' at The Sanctuary for Independent Media on September 16, 2008.

Six years passed; after school concerts and festivals, Eisteddfod honours, trophies and awards, and my mbira journey led me to Harare's Book Café

Perhaps the most happening and vibrant live music culture space in Harare – Book Café is the platform that launched my career. I had my own shows, concerts, collaborations, posters… I wouldn’t have imagined it, ever. 

Incredibly, my hard work and good fortune paid off even further. Soon I was sharing festival billings with Chiwoniso (late), Sam Mtukudzi (late), Oliver Mtukudzi, Salif Keita and Ismaelo.

"Sometimes I imagine I hear your voice in the trees whispering - Chiwoniso Maraire we always shared moments. Priceless."

...and now I proudly carry my own round black bag. 

Falsetto fans know that my attitude is one of persistence. Where there is a space and even a one-person audience, play mbira. I'm playing in my room, in my living room, in other people's living rooms, at their get-togethers, on the street in Norway, in the theatre in Germany, at the airport in Switzerland and everywhere else there are ears for this entrancing music. 

I have learned that mbira music is as transcendent, trans-effective, gripping and emotional as one allows it to be. There is an inexplicable depth about the sounds evoked by plucking at this ancient instrument. Mbira is a path. One that ceaselessly rewards the player with new revelations.

Now is the time for us all to share the magic of mbira 

Having experienced the transformative power of this instrument, my mission is crystal clear. Make mbira popular and accessible. Make it more appealing to the younger generation. Period. each day, I wake up and feed mbira curiosity to the people. Everywhere. Brick by brick the vision comes together, song by song, and soul by soul. 


John is a creative powerhouse and a prolific promoter of the instrument. He actively shares new songs, videos and updates about his journey on these Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube accounts. Take a look at what he is up to today. 

Sign up to the Mbira Magic Newsletter and we'll keep you posted about the release of his forthcoming Urban Mbira album and the launch of a new style of mbira he is designing in partnership with Nicolas Manomano of Kutinya Arts.

Are you working to promote mbira in youth or urban settings? Maybe you're like John, exploring new styles of music on the instrument. Post a comment telling us what you're up to and what you think of John's music.