Looking Beyond: Music, Memory, and the Mbira

Pitt Rivers Museum Object


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Our speakers respond to objects from Zimbabwe in the Pitt Rivers Museum as a way of talking about their relationships with archaeology, music, and heritage.  Who can perform music and create sound at the World Heritage site of Great Zimbabwe?  What is the oldest mbira ever found and how do you excavate sound as an archaeologist?  What does it mean to perform and create music with the mbira today?  How do these objects tell us stories of independence and resistance?  


Dr Ashley Coutu is a Research Fellow at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Her research is interdisciplinary, reflecting interests and training across fields such as historical and medieval archaeology, African archaeology, isotope ecology, zooarchaeology and historical ecology. Her research contributes to historical ecology by unravelling the relationship between humans and elephants in the past and applying that knowledge to modern conservation as well as preserving cultural heritage in protected landscapes such as national parks and game reserves.

Dr. Joshua Kumbani (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) is a music archaeologist and heritage practitioner.  He is interested in how people have made music in southern Africa from the last 10,000 years through the study of sound-related artefacts from the archaeological record.


Miles Ncube (Co-founder of MZIMBA Theatre Dance) is a professional musician specialising in playing the mbira and co-founder of a theatre dance company performing contemporary African music and dance.  Miles is from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and now resides in London. 


Dr. Ashton Sinamai (La Trobe University, Australia) is a cultural heritage specialist and archaeologist who has written about the relationship between music, communities, and archaeology in Zimbabwe.  Growing up a few miles from the World Heritage site of Great Zimbabwe, he has spent a lifetime thinking about memory, ancestry, and music in his home town. 


Professor Shadreck Chirikure, University of Oxford, UK is an archaeologist with expertise in ancient materials, technology, and state formation in southern Africa.  His recent book, Great Zimbabwe: Reclaiming a ‘Confiscated’ Past explores the politics of archaeology and heritage at Great Zimbabwe, revealing new finds from excavations by his team at the site and its greater landscape.


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You can read more about the Looking Beyond Project here. 


Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the
future  Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.