Out of Africa with a hint of NY

TOUR STOP: Chris Berry plays at The Free House on Thursday night at 8pm.

TOUR STOP: Chris Berry plays at The Free House on Thursday night at 8pm.

Chris Berry 2

Chris Berry says the music he plays has such ancient roots that it connects with everyone who hears it.

“No matter where it’s played it seems to really draw something out of people,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if I’m in New Zealand, Europe, Japan, Russia; it does the same thing to everyone, speaking to an older part of us that’s in our DNA.”

Born and raised in California, he once shoplifted a few cassettes, an act of bored teenage rebellion that nevertheless exposed him for the first time to an album of African music. Obsessed, he later went to live and study music in the continent, where he spent 10 years. Eight of those were in the ghettoes and villages of Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe’s regime.

After he became fluent in the language, and the village elders initiated him into their heritage, his musical career took off when he formed Panjea, fusing funk, hip-hop, afro-pop and traditional African music.

The band quickly had No 1 hits on the radio, toured all over Africa and reached platinum record sales. As their popularity grew, Berry was warned to leave Zimbabwe due to his lyrical opposition to the government, and his teachers told him to take his music out to the world. But it wasn’t until four of Panjea’s band members succumbed to AIDS and attempts were made on his own life that Berry left Zimbabwe.

From there, he has has toured extensively and released over a dozen albums. He has also scored the soundtrack for three films; and has been collaborating and performing with some of the world’s best like Eminem, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Senegalese Afro-Pop sensation Yousoou N’dour, Cuban Legends Los Munequitos de Mantanzas, Jazz artist Paul Winter, Jamaican rhythm and production duo Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare), Fugees producer Handel Tucker, and many more.

A Grammy award winner, Berry is a multi-instrumental virtuoso and a high-energy performer and teacher. He is a master of the mbira (thumb piano) and the ngoma drum, and the Shona people of Zimbabwe have given him the title gwenyambira, or one whose music calls the spirits; a rare distinction reserved only for those who have achieved the highest fusion of the technical and magical in Shona music.


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