Chris Berry Trio mixes electronic, ancient African influences
Group performs tonight at Ghost Ranch Saloon
Steamboat Springs — When Chris Berry first heard the delicate, melodic drops of the mbira, also called a thumb piano, he was moved to tears.
The California-born musician instantly knew he would follow the instrument wherever it might take him.
“What draws anybody in to something, and why does anyone do anything?” Berry said. “It just grabbed my heart.”
He followed the handheld percussion instrument, which has the hollow, watery sound of a marimba, to a village in Zimbabwe, where he studied mbira and witnessed the power of music lift up an entire population of people.
Music “was used for just getting together and having a party, and it was used for the most serious ceremonies when they needed to call the rain for the people that were starving,” he said. “Music is one of the greatest tools that we’ve been given as humans.”
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Electric mbira in hand, Berry will perform at 9 p.m. today at the Ghost Ranch Saloon alongside percussionist Aaron Johnston, of the band Brazilian Girls, and guitarist Zivanai Masongo, a Grammy-nominated electronic artist.
The sum of the parts, called the Chris Berry Trio, combines the ancient influences of African traditions with contemporary electronic music.
Ghost Ranch Saloon general manager Josh Eckhaus said Chris Berry Trio is “without a doubt” a dance party.
The band played at Ghost Ranch once before, but with a slightly different lineup that included Michael Kang, of the String Cheese Incident.
“It was an awesome show,” Eckhaus recalled. “Definitely look for Chris Berry Trio, but look for maybe something a little different with him mixing it up and bringing in some new people.”
Berry claims his is the only mbira in the world that’s been electrified, but there are other remnants of his experience in Zimbabwe that he incorporates into his Afro-dance groove compositions.
“It’s an electronic and organic experience,” he said. “I try to pull that off in some of the lyrics and songs — that I’m not just there to make everybody dance and think about romantic love, but that (Zimbabwe people) use music for deeper issues like politics and issues in the community.”
But it was those very political issues that forced him to leave Zimbabwe in 2001 after 10 years in the country. Civil unrest under the regime of President Robert Mugabe threatened his home and his people.
Berry witnessed several violent and terrifying moments as his people were forced to hide, and those who were found were executed.
Nearly 10 years later, Berry is looking forward to returning to the home and land he holds in Zimbabwe as the political situation improves.
But he said his music has a place in every corner of the world.
When he first returned to the United States and played with his full band, Panjea, he said the African sound felt foreign to many of his listeners.
But as the digital age bridged oceans, Berry said music began breaking out of genres.
Blending the electronic and the acoustic, Western civilization with ancient traditions has been embraced and respected.
“What I do used to be called world music,” he said. “Now, everything is really world music.”
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