Cutting Branches-The Undead

On this edition of New Sounds, John spotlights the traditional piece of Shona mbira music "Nhemamusasa" or "Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter," as heard on the classic, 1970s Nonesuch Explorer series disc. Originally recorded in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) using two mbira (thumb pianos) and one rattle, this recording inspired many Western musicians to craft their own arrangements of this charming, beautiful song. Here we feature variants by Glen Velez, Kevin Volans, and the Penguin Café Orchestra.

PROGRAM #147: "Cutting Branches" (Original Broadcast Date: 10/23/88)


Africa: Shona Mbira Music

"Nhemamusasa" (instrumental) {2:30}

Nonesuch Explorer #H-72077 LP. Rereleased on CD as "Zimbabwe: Shona Mbira Music"; Nonesuch #79710

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

"Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter" {2:30}

EG #EGM-113. Most PCO albums are on the EG label and are available online:

Glen Velez

Seven Heaven

"Sweet Season" {5:00}

CMP #30.

Kevin Volans

private tape

"Mbira I" {8:30}

Not commercially available.

Africa: Shona Mbira Music

"Nhemamusasa" (vocal) {3:00}

See above.

Bob Siebert

6 Lyric Pieces

"Inside the Music Box" {3:00}

Aerial #482. Rereleased in 2002 as "Pieces of the Trans-World Suite"

Kevin Volans

White Man Sleeps

Kronos Quartet: "White Man Sleeps, Pt. #1" {4:30}

Nonesuch 79163

Kevin Volans

private tape

"White Man Sleeps, original version" (excerpt)

Not commercially available.

Toumani Diabate


"Alla L'aa Ke"

Hannibal #1338.
Available at*