As Oregon moves into summer, Zimbabwe faces winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Even when there’s not a pandemic, winter is a time when viruses can hit people the hardest, possibly including the coronavirus. Coupled with the nation’s ongoing water crisis, this makes it nearly impossible for many in Zimbabwe to follow recommended hygiene guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
On June 26, Zimbabwe-born, Eugene-based musician John Mambira will perform as part of The Black Freedom Concert, a three-hour live-stream event to raise funds for clean, easily accessible water in Zimbabwe.
“Back home, just because of the dysfunctional government, they go five days without water,” Mambira says. As a musician, Mambira is perhaps best known for his work with the Afrocoustic group Bongo Love. “During COVID times, we are encouraged to wash our hands regularly. How can we do so without water?” he says.
In addition to Mambira, the virtual concert will feature a full lineup of Zimbabwean artists now calling Eugene home, including the legendary Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks, featuring acclaimed guitarist Gilbert Zvamaida, formerly of the Zig Zag Band and Mapfumo’s group Blacks Unlimited.
Eugene musician Claire Ratidzo Dangarembwa, better known as RatieD, will also appear at the event, performing twice. First, she’ll play with Not Applikable, a trio of local musicians including Jelani Imamu and Marcus Holloway that blends traditional music of Zimbabwe with hip hop.
RatieD will also play a set from her forthcoming new album still in production, combining Zimbabwean music with the influence of jazz, pop, rock and gospel.
RatieD underscores the urgency of the water crisis in Zimbabwe. “Water is essential for the people to cook, to bathe, to wash their laundry,” she says. “They don’t have laundry machines like we do out here so they wash their laundry by hand. The water is not clean to drink so they have to boil the water or buy bottled water.”
“If we are able to bring enough funds then we’ll be able to erect a well at a youth center that will serve the community,” she says.
Despite feeling overwhelmed by current events, RatieD says she is writing more new music than usual. “There was a time in the last two years when I felt like I wasn’t really able to create. Now, since I’ve been having more time at home I have that inspiration again,” she says.
Describing her creative process, she says, “Most of the time I just feel, or hear, or dream of a melody. Then I just keep hammering it over and over. If it’s joyful then I write joyful music. If it’s sad then I write sad. I write according to how it feels to me.”
Accompanying RatieD on saxophone for the Studio 541 live stream will be Idit Shner, professor of saxophone and jazz studies at the University of Oregon. Schner appreciates RatieD’s approach to fusion.
“Ratie plays a really interesting mix of Zimbabwe music and jazz,” Shner says. “She does a lot that’s traditional, but she adds bass, and she adds keyboards. She mixes things.”
Above all, streaming live from Eugene to audiences back in Zimbabwe is something RatieD is thankful for, particularly since travel is restricted due to the pandemic. “Thanks to technology, we are able to connect with our families. It’s something I’ve been longing for,” she says.
In addition to live music, Mambira says the live stream will feature video clips from people in Zimbabwe discussing what life is like right now during COVID-19 and how to help, as well an open discussion about what life is like for African American artists living in Eugene.
The virtual concert is produced in conjunction with Studio 541 Productions and the Mambira Foundation. Located in West Eugene, Studio 541 Productions specializes in music-based events, including streaming live performances on Youtube.
Founded by John Mambira, the Mambira Foundation produces a variety of fundraising opportunities to enhance cultural diversity and gender equity, while benefiting disenfranchised and underserved populations with cultural, technological, health and recreational programming.
The Black Freedom Concert, a benefit for clean water in Zimbabwe is 11 am (8 pm Zimbabwe time) Friday, June 26, on the Studio 541 Productions YouTube channel and Facebook page; FREE, donations encouraged. For more information go to Studio541Productions.com or Mambira.org. RatieD also performs 6 pm Thursday, June 18 as part of the Hult Center series Hult Happy Hour live on the Hult Center’s Facebook page and Youtube channel.