The Mbira


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About the Author

MAHEALANI UCHIYAMA is an award-winning dancer, musician, composer, choreographer, recording artist, teacher, and author. She is the founder and artistic director of the Mahea Uchiyama Center for International Dance (MUCID) and director of the Polynesian dance company Halau KaUaTuahine, with whom she has toured internationally. Uchiyama's unique perspective on the mbira is informed by her status as an initiated priestess (Iyanifa) of Ifa, a spiritual tradition of West Africa. She has studied Shona music for two decades both locally and in Zimbabwe, and her work with the mbira has been recognized by the City of Oakland's Cultural Funding Program and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. She is the former President of the Board of Directors of World Arts West, is currently co-artistic director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, and serves as vice president of the nonprofit organization MBIRA. She is also the director of the African American Mbira Project, an initiative to introduce, support, and perpetuate the music of the mbira of Zimbabwe within the African American community. She is the author of Haumana Hula Handbook for Students of Hawaiian Dance.


"As she is one of the few female African Americans who play mbira, it is really important to hear [Mahea Uchiyama's] perspective of mbira and how it has worked in her life."
-From the foreword by Patience Chaitezvi Munjeri, Gwenyambira

"This is an important introduction to Zimbabwean mbira music for those from other continents. If you are attracted to mbira music, but are unfamiliar with its history and cultural significance and perhaps wonder whether it's really OK for you to play it, this book will answer all your questions!"
-Erica Azim, executive director of MBIRA (

"Mbira music and its culture teaches us to embrace our ancestors and tap into the spiritual richness that lies within ourselves. This book will take us on this magical journey."
-Sheree Seretsem director of the Anzanga and Zambuko Marimba Ensembles, Seretse African Music Collective, University of Washington

"Mahea highlights a compelling perspective and outlook into the discovery of the mbira music culture and that of the Shona culture. A must-read for those on a journey to understand their ancestral lineages through the powerful mastery of mbira music. Well done!"
-Laina P. Magaya, a.k.a. Piwai, award-winning recording artist, percussionist, and Gwenyamibra

"I wholeheartedly recommend Mahealani Uchiyama's book for western mbira students, beginners and experienced players alike. She takes a holistic approach to learning the music and its place within Shona culture rather than just breaking down the musical sounds. Central to her perspective is wise commentary on our roles as westerners in engaging with Shona music, pointing out that 'True respect for the mbira and its rich heritage must begin with an acknowledgment of the long history of Western peoples consuming, modifying, and decontextualizing artifacts and practices of other peoples.'"
-Claire Jones, PhD, Zimbabwean Music Festival Coordinator

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