In response to the Bira ceremony, a state-run newspaper that is slanted towards an extreme anti-white position published the following article. Tour manager Matt Smith sent me the following note:
I just got off the phone with Michael Kang and he said certain insiders have called them to warn them that there have been death threats put out on their lives in Zimbabwe upon Chris's return. They are stopping for the night to reconsider their trip into Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, Chris will not be going to Zimbabwe; however, Michael may still continue with the trip to help with the Bira in any way possible.
They will be writing a response tonight, and I will forward that when it arrives in my inbox in the next few days.
I spent the day on the phone with the Zimbabwe embassy in Washington, D.C. Although most of the article is fictional spin created by the government, they absolutely see him as a political threat to their society.
This is the article from The Herald:
Controversial Bira Planned
By Entertainment Editor
In what could be a show of arrogance, the American Chris "Murehwa" Berry, the lead vocalist of the Zimbabwean music group Panjea, intends to hold a three-day Bira in Domboshava's Chiriseri area early next month.
The Bira (traditional ceremony of supplication to the ancestral spirits), according to information available, seeks to "offer prayers to end the suffering that has plagued Zimbabwe for so long."
The three-day event will be held in the sacred Dindinyongwe mountains between March 9th and 12th with 20 different traditional groups, spirit mediums, and a few American musicians invited. It is understood that a certain Sekuru Mandere, who is based at the Dindinyongwe Hills where the Berrys own property, will co-host the Bira.
Invited too are people from the Diaspora who would be asked to contribute towards food, accommodation, and musicians' fees.
Probably the only connection Berry has with Zimbabwe is his marriage to Rujeko Dumbutshena and his involvement with the group Panjea as a drummer, vocalist, and mbira player.
Berry, who came to Zimbabwe via Congo-Brazzaville and ended up learning how to play mbira, claims that he was the first Westerner to be accepted among the elderly mbira masters as one of their own.
"I played at a lot of ceremonies where people would become possessed," he claimed. Some of the old ancestors who came back spoke to me through these people: 'What are you doing here? There are lots of misguided people, lost and confused people in your country. They're killing each other there. It's time for you to take what you've learned and bring it to your own country because they need it more than we need it here. That's your job. You're the bridge maker.'"
He further claims that an edict was given to him by African ancestral spirits to make a difference by "launching a slew of new activities to convey his message of justice and peace."
"And so back on his native soil we find him today, preaching an uplifting transcontinental message of hope to contagious dance beats based in the Zimbabwean mbira and sacred Congolese ngoma drum rhythms," one website wrote about him.
Berry, who is fluent in Shona, was not very well known during his stay in the country. Government yesterday condemned Berry's move, especially his claim that the bira was meant for offering prayers to end the "suffering" in Zimbabwe.
"This should not be a surprise and it is not entirely new that a white man would try to use the African way of life to destroy Africans. Remember Bill McLeod used to do the same by claiming that he was possessed by Mbuya Nehanda," Cde George Charamba, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, said in reference to the late Rhodesian white man, who arrogated to himself the role of a seer and prophet "sent by the spirits to guide and heal the country."
Cde Charamba also said that the involvement of locals who are working with foreigners in parceling out and selling off Zimbabwean culture was worrying.
"Biras are our way of life, our being, our future, and once we surrender them to foreigners, we would have surrendered a critical aspect of what we are. This is an abuse of our culture."
One mbira player described Berry's intentions as "disrespectful."
"It is like a Zimbabwean going to Italy to organize a mass with some Italian disregarding the Roman Catholic head."
Research shows that Berry came to Africa when he was 18. After arriving in the Congo-Brazzaville, he took a ten-day boat trip up the Congo River until he got to a remote village where he stayed and "immersed himself in the culture and music" before coming to Harare.
Following his arrival in the capital, he found his way to legendary mbira master Monderek Muchena's home with whom he stayed and learned from for ten years.
Continue reading for the Chris Berry's response to The Herald article...