Our Teachers


In Residence in Santa Cruz / Bay Area
September 12-24, 2018

Mbira Camp, Concerts, Private Lessons
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Tom Melkonian

Melissa Cara Rigoli


Tom Melkonian and Melissa Cara Rigoli are Santa Cruz Mbira resident teachers, and have been studying, performing and teaching the mbira music of Zimbabwe for many years. Tom and Melissa first met in 2000, and they have always shared a deep musical connection and friendship. Today, Tom and Melissa have been encouraged by their teachers to start teaching mbira music to their local community, and hope to inspire others with this music that they love so much. Their mbira group is called Mbira Dziva.

More about Tom and Melissa

Both Tom and Melissa were original members of Chinyakare Ensemble, Oakland-based Zimbabwean music and dance troupe led by Julia Tsitsi Chigamba, and today they are regularly invited to perform with visiting Zimbabwean mbira artists as they come through town.


Tom-portrait-mbira-200Tom Melkonian first encountered Shona music of Zimbabwe in 1989 studying and playing marimba, under the late Dumisani Maraire. Tom was a founding member of Dandaro, a successful early Zimbabwean-style marimba band in California. During the Dandaro years, Tom taught marimba classes along with Don Davidson. Tom began playing mbira in 1990 and went on to travel to Zimbabwe in 1998, where he studied with Tute Chigamba, Newton Gwara (aka Matemai), Wiri Chigonga and others. He also studied marimba with Garadziva Chigamba and the late Mataure Chigamba. Aside from Zimbabwean music, Tom is a lifelong musician who has worked professionally as a keyboardist, percussionist, trumpet player, and vocalist. Tom earned a B.A. in Music at UCSC in 1990.



Melissa-solo-web-200Melissa Cara Rigoli has played mbira for over 20 years, and has learned from many different Zimbabwean mbira masters at home and abroad, most notably from Cosmas Magaya who taught her fundamental repertoire. A Bay Area native, Melissa spent 7 years living in France, where she performed percussion internationally in the Afro-Sufi group led by the artist Nawal. Melissa has produced and participated in numerous CD recordings and international tours, and she also worked at Cité de la Musique Museum in Paris (19e), where she gave public lectures and performances on mbira. Melissa has travelled to Zimbabwe on different occasions, and attended school in Harare for a semester abroad (SIT Arts & Social Change ’99). Prior to learning mbira, she studied classical piano since she was 8 years old, and earned a B.S. in Music at University of Oregon, with a minor in Anthropology.

Today, Melissa lives in Santa Cruz, and when she is not playing music, she works as a graphic designer with Rigoli Creative. She also founded Dziva Productions to promote visionary talents that are steeped in ancient wisdom, building pathways of peaceful understanding, education and healing around the globe.


photos of Tom & Melissa by Cliff Warner



Musekiwa Chingodza is a highly acclaimed musician who performs traditional mbira music of Zimbabwe. Beloved by many around the globe, Musekiwa is known for his soulful vocals and virtuoso playing style.

Born into a family of master mbira players in rural Zimbabwe, Musekiwa began playing mbira at the age of five. Today he is invited to perform regularly at traditional ceremonies in Zimbabwe to call the spirits, and has had numerous successful tours in North America since 1999.

Immersed deeply in Shona culture, Musekiwa states, “Our music is both medicine and food, as mbira has the power to heal and to provide for people. Mbira pleases both the living and the dead.”

A multi-faceted musician with many talents, Musekiwa can teach all levels of mbira, singing, drumming, hosho (shakers), marimba and dancing. His classes are a delight, and students often comment on how they enjoy his gentle teaching style and engaging personality.

He has participated in various recording projects over the years and was also a key member of the award-winning band Panjea, founded by Chris Berry. 

Following is a discography of some of his past releases:

Thanks to Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center who is sponsoring this visit. 


Cosmas Magaya is an internationally recognized mbira player, teacher and cultural ambassador from Zimbabwe. Raised in the rural areas of Mhondoro, Cosmas played an integral role in the research of musicologist Paul Berliner’s award-winning book “The Soul of Mbira”, and also performed mbira on the accompanying audio recordings released by Nonesuch Records. Cosmas has performed internationally in Europe and the US with Mhuri Yekwa Rwizi Mbira Group and the Zimbabwe Group Leaders Mbira Ensemble, and he has held teaching residencies at many academic institutions, including Duke University, Williams College, Harvard, University of Rochester, and others.

Aside from his activities in music, Cosmas is also Program Director for Nhimbe for Progress, a non-profit organization serving impoverished villagers in the Mhondoro region of Zimbabwe, and he sits on the Board of Directors of Tariro, a grassroots non-profit organization working in Zimbabwe to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by educating young women and girls.

Thanks to Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center who is sponsoring this visit. 


Patience Munjeri (Previously known as Patience Chaitezvi) is one of Zimbabwe’s rare women mbira players, a recognized mbira master and educator who is deeply rooted in the spiritual musical tradition of Zimbabwe.

Patience was immersed in mbira music from a very young age. Her mother is a traditional healer and spirit medium, and would often request that mbira music be played in her healing sessions. As a child, Patience began performing in traditional ceremonies alongside her brothers, which struck many with amazement and wonder since it is a very unlikely role for a young girl. As a musician, Patience is skilled in the traditional arts of mbira, drumming, dancing and singing.

A teacher by profession, Patience works at a local high school in her home-town of Chinhoyi, where she is also an important advocate for the high number of orphan students. Patience is unique because it is very uncommon in Zimbabwe to have a woman who is highly educated and yet deeply immersed in the spiritual traditions of her culture. As a result, she is also skilled at explaining very complex subjects to international students.

Patience holds a BA in Divinity with a specialty in Comparative Religion. Her academic interests and vocational experience in teaching are integrated in her published books, Mapira: Shona Ceremonies (2013) and Shona for Mbira Players (2008)

For a longer biography you may visit: mbira.org 

Thanks to Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center who is sponsoring Patience’s visit. 

Samaita was born into a very musical family, his parents were both great singers in traditional bira ceremonies, and his father was also a highly regarded spirit medium. Samaita has performed at many important ceremonies throughout Zimbabwe, including with Forward Kwenda whom he met in the 1990s, and he is also a long-time musical family friend of Patience Chaitezvi.

In his style of playing, Samaita creates complex waves of sound that seem impossible to be played with only two hands. For Samaita, the most important thing about the mbira is its depth and power to call spirits.
Thanks to Mbira Organization who is sponsoring Samaita’s first trip to the USA.