Ghost-Summoning Drums
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Vimbuza, Amaliya Group. Photo by Happy Mphande
Art + Stories, Experiences

Ghost-Summoning Drums

The Vimbuza Ceremony in Malawi
Jan Błaszczak
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time 10 minutes

There is a music ritual in Malawi, included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is said to cure illnesses and chase away demons through dance and drum music. In Poland, there is a small record label producing documentary and experimental records. Piotr Cichocki, an ethnographer and the director of the 1000Hz record label, told Jan Błaszczak more about the Vimbuza ceremony and the work on this unusual album.

You can listen to the Umoya Wa Muthempire (Live In the Temple) album here.

Jan Błaszczak: The Umoyo Wa Muthempire (Live In the Temple) album is a documentation of the Malawian band Tonga Boysexcursion to a temple where the Vimbuza ceremony is held: a dance during which performers are possessed by the ancestorsspirits. Its a ritual and medical practice that UNESCO considers part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. On the other hand, though, local authorities and the Christian Church are critical of it. So lets start with the basics: what is the status of Vimbuza in Malawi?

Piotr Cichocki: It’s complicated. On the one hand, it was the Malawian authorities who submitted the required documents to the UNESCO committee to register Vimbuza as part of the country’s immaterial heritage. The museum in Mzuzu, the region’s capital, created an exhibition on Vimbuza to celebrate the occasion. Efforts were made to present it as part of the local culture and to encourage its promotion as a tourist attraction. On the other hand, most Malawians view Vimbuza dance as directly connected to their ancestors’ spirits and the fight against witchcraft. To many Africans, witchcraft is simply a social fact.

What do you mean when you say Vimbuza fights witchcraft?

Vimbuza emerged

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Sound of Body, Sound of Mind
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“The Lutenist”, Hendrick Martensz Sorgh, 1661. Source: Rijksmuseum
Good Mood, Soul + Body

Sound of Body, Sound of Mind

The Science of Music Therapy
Enis Yucekoralp

The well-tempered powers of music are age-old. Whether elegiac in its pathos or buoyantly uplifting, music has always been a euphonic tonic for the body and the soul. From Apollo to Florence Nightingale to the Nordoff-Robbins school of thought, music-as-therapy has a time-hallowed timbre. Music’s remarkable link to our emotions and the mind, to our synapses and somatic signals, makes it a natural remedial instrument. As a modern practice, however, music therapy can be understood as a goal-oriented psychological clinical intervention that can involve making, listening, discussing and largely engaging with music. In its active form, it entails playing instruments or wider forms of music-making; receptive music therapy involves a client listening and responding to music to alter mental states and bodily chemistry. Using the innate mood-influencing qualities of music, its therapeutic methodologies can help with improving emotional expression, as well as having empirically-proven physical and mental benefits. Under the right conditions, music therapy can improve heart rate and stimulate the brain, mute anxiety, muffle mental health conditions and silence stress.

Music has been used in the treatment of range of neurological conditions, including dementia. Globally, around 50 million people suffer with its deteriorating effects on memory, cognition, and emotional and social behaviour. In 2020, an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Castilla-La Mancha conducted a review into the therapeutic efficacy of music in the treatment of dementia. Promising results in the meta-analysis allowed them to conclude that passive music therapy improved the quality of life of people suffering with the syndrome by improving patients’ emotional wellbeing and cognitive functions. Combined with pharmacological and other psychosocial therapies, the positive neurological effects of listening to music allowed the Spanish research team to suggest that “music could be a powerful treatment strategy” for dementia.

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