Classical music for all: Top pianist

Sekai Mei (right) with a colleague at a Miombo photo shoot

Sekai Mei (right) with a colleague at a Miombo photo shoot

Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe Lifestyle Editor
Pianist Sekai Mei Zengeza hopes to get more Zimbabwean children interested in classical music. She feels that this is an avenue that should be open to any inclined children and not remain a preserve of the elite.

“I’d like to get young people excited about classical music. It has so much to offer for everyone and can inspire ideas in all genres of art.”

Speaking to The Herald Entertainment by e-mail from the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival which runs until 12 July in South Africa, the multi-talented musician said that she is geared to take her career to greater heights after a hiatus.

“I took a break from music in order to take up a position to study civil engineering at Princeton University. For about six years, I did not do much with music. I was quite active in theatre, though, and have tried to add some of those elements into my music performances, which recommenced when I returned to Zimbabwe in June 2014. Since last year, I have been setting new goals for myself with my classical music training.”

Prior to that in 2008, Sekai Mei had received an award to study advanced piano in Paris for three months.

Her presence at the festival was made possible by The Culture Fund HIVOS Artist Mobility Fund.

Sekai Mei believes that classical music is something that can be taken up by anyone who gets exposed to it, not a genetic inheritance.

“I started playing the piano at the age of ten. I don’t remember any particular reason for starting to play the piano but I had played a bit of recorder before that and didn’t mind doing music too much. It seemed worth continuing with a more “serious” instrument. My parents are not musical so there was not much of an influence from them, though they were always supportive of school and extracurricular activities.”

Sekai Mei was born in Botswana to a Zimbabwean father and Malaysian mother and the family moved to Zimbabwe when she was around six years old. Her love affair with music would continue throughout her schooling years. The rich mixed heritage has helped her open and she actively seeks to engage people from all walks of life.

“During junior school, I also played the French Horn in the orchestra. It was only when I was about 14 that I really connected with piano. I quickly became a relatively prominent musician in the classical music scene in Zimbabwe, winning numerous awards at the NIAA Eisteddfod competitions and also different local bursaries. I enjoyed venturing into other styles of music and was Bagpipe Sergeant of the pipe band at St John’s College and later learnt a bit of mbira.”

Like many other artistes, Sekai owes her development to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) and has developed a passion to pass on her skills.

“My first taste of international musicianship was in 2005, when I took part in Hifa. I also performed in Hifa during 2007 and 2012. I’ve been quite active in training the music ensembles at my high schools and other schools that need assistance in the music department or a piano accompanist for choirs or theatre productions.”

She has is making a name as a performer of note and has appeared at Vee Mukarati’s shows in the Book Cafe/Mannenberg jazz club in March this year, and at Zimbabwe Has Talent late last year. She runs marathons enjoys exploring the boundaries by fusing classical music with other genres.

“Apart from classical music, I also enjoy collaborating with artistes from different genres. Earlier this year, I incorporated work by visual artist Kombo Chapfika into one of my recitals. I have also collaborated with Rob Burrell (from the band Mann Friday) at the Miombo Magic Festival and will be playing with Vee Mukarati in September.

Her future in music is set.

“I also hope to continue with my training in piano alongside my other work — transport engineering — and to make time to carry on performing. I envision myself acting and playing in theatrical productions and performing occasionally with small chamber groups.

She is also aiming to represent Zimbabwe and raise the flag high at more international festivals.

“I also love sharing and expressing with others during festivals, so I’ll definitely be signing up for more of those. They are great networking and learning experiences and inspire me to work harder. . .”

Pianists who have made a mark on behalf of Zimbabwe include the inimitable Jeanette Micklem and Deirdre Kambasha.

Sekai Mei’s next solo piano recital will be on July 18 at Arundel Chapel at 5pm.

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