Julia Tsitsi Chigamba, grew up in the cultural traditions of Shona music and dance, guided by her parents who are both from a long line of musicians and storytellers. Julia is the first master Zimbabwean dancer to make her home outside of Zimbabwe. Her father, Tute Chigamba, is a master mbira player and her mother was a master dancer. Julia’s brothers, sisters and cousins were members of the Zimbabwean National Dance Company and later founded their own mbira and dance ensemble, Mhembero. The Chigamba family lived in poverty during colonial times, when ceremonies were banned, but they held onto their traditions. The family thrived following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1981, when traditional music was in demand. However, Julia was forced to relocate to the U.S. in 1999, when Zimbabwe’s economic downturn began. She left three children, ages 4, 7 and 9 years, in the care of her parents, until she was finally able to bring them to live here in the U.S. in 2010. Two years after moving to the U.S., she established the music and dance company the Chinyakare Ensemble in Oakland, California, to share the beauty and wisdom of her culture. Julia and the Chinyakare Ensemble have continued to perform throughout the Bay Area and across the U.S. In 2015, Julia founded the non-profit the Kumusha Foundation in order to continue to preserve and promote traditional Zimbabwean music and dance. In addition, in 2014 she started her own clothing line of African inspired designs, the Tsuro Collection.
Julia’s professional experiences include tours of Africa, China, Europe, Canada and the South Pacific with Mhembero. She has performed at such prestigious venues as the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles; Davies Symphony Hall and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Julia has performed at social consciousness raising events at the University of California, Berkeley and the East Bay AIDS Walk in Oakland. Julia and Chinyakare have performed in the Bay Area for Princess Nandi Zulu and Archbishop Ndungane from South Africa and have opened for Zimbabwean musicians Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo. She is featured on recordings including Zviri Kufamba Zvishoma (Boka Marimba – 2000); Kushinga Mhavambo, (Kusinga Mhavambo – 1998); and Pasi Mupindu (Mhembero Mbira Ensemble – 1998). Julia has also taught Zimbabwean dance in schools throughout the greater Bay Area since 1999, and currently teaches dance at Destiny Arts in Oakland.