Episode 68: Meet Wamkanganise naGaadza, Zimbabwean mbira maker, teacher, and cultural ambassador

Salani Wamkanganise naGaadza (center) with his wife Kelly Takunda Orphan playing mbira during a virtual live concert that was organized by the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. Photo: Mosquito Media.

We speak with Salani Wamkanganise naGaadza, and Kelly Takunda Orphan, a husband and wife who are ambassadors of African music and culture. Salani, a Zimbabwean-born virtuoso, doesn’t just make music and teach people how to play mbira; he makes the instruments himself in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lives.

Since 2017, Salani has performed and recorded with various mbira ensembles and bands. In 2020, UNESCO inscribed the mbira to be on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and Salani was one of two featured cultural ambassadors during the filming of the project in Zimbabwe.

Salani’s wife, Kelly Takunda Orphan, a San Francisco Bay Area native, has been singing, dancing, drumming, and writing songs for decades, often collaborating with the finest artists from Zimbabwe. In 1994, after recording and touring with Babatunde Olatunji and the Afro-pop band, African Rain, Kelly studied ethnomusicology at the University of Zimbabwe.  She performed for such luminaries as Nelson Mandela and various African presidents, with both the University of Zimbabwe Choir and Mhembero Dance Company. 

From 1998-2001, she toured nationally and internationally with groups like Keith Terry and Crosspulse, Mutama, and Kotoja. Kelly started The KTO Project in 2004 and has recorded and released her debut recording Give it to the People, produced by Bay Area percussionist Kenneth Nash.

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