Chris Berry is a master of both mbira (thumb piano) and the ngoma drum, from the Shona people of Southern Africa. He has earned the title of gwenyambira (“one whose music calls the spirits”), a distinction reserved only for those who have achieved the highest fusion of the technical and the magical in Shona music. His record sales have reached platinum album sales in Zimbabwe and Mozambique for his work with the band Panjea.
Grammy award winning Chris Berry is an eclectic singer and songwriter, multi-instrumentalist virtuoso, and highly energetic performer and teacher. From his humble beginning during Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, he has blasted his powerful Afro-infused sound around the World for over twenty years; rocking audiences from NYC's Irving Plaza to sold out stadiums in South Africa and Sydney, Australia's famous Opera House. He has released over a dozen albums; 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), Fugee's producer Handel Tucker and many more.
Chris was born and raised in California where he began his apprenticeship with Master Drummer Titos Sompa (one of the founders of the African drum and dance scene on the West Coast of the U.S.) as a fifteen-year-old boy. This relationship led him into a ten-year journey through Africa. After originally arriving in Congo’s Brazzaville, his fascination of Zimbabwean mbira music eventually led him to Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, where he settled and studied under mbira master Monderek Muchena for ten years. Eight of these years were spent in Zimbabwe during the Mugabe Regime. During this tumultuous political period, Chris found himself living in the ghettos and villages of Zimbabwe where he sought to study the music of the Shona people, adding to his growing repertoire of Traditional African Music. While studying in Zimbabwe, Berry became one of the first Westerners to be accepted among the elder mbira masters as one of their own. He became initiated by the village elders into their heritage and learned to speak their language fluently. Immersed in the culture of all-night Mbira Ceremonies, Chris found his voice singing among the polyrhythmic harmonies commonly found throughout Zimbabwe and most of South Africa. It was soon after that his musical career took off.
Encouraged by his teachers to create his own compositions, he formed the band Panjea which fused Funk with elements of 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 on an album they recorded with Zimbabwean-based Gramma Records. As Chris Berry and Panjea's popularity rapidly grew, Chris was warned to leave Zimbabwe due to his lyrical opposition to the oppressing government, and instructed to take his music back to his home land, but it wasn't until four of Panjea's band members succumbed to AIDS that Chris left Zimbabwe.
From there, Chris has toured extensively around the globe including North and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Asia and Africa as a frontman and bandleader. He performed the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia; co-wrote for Paul Winter's Grammy Award Winning 2009 "Winter Solstice" album; taught music and culture as a guest faculty member at Oberlin and Berklee Colleges of Music, University of Colorado Boulder, Williams College, Stanford University as well as his own Panjea Foundation for Cultural Education; and has headlined in major music festivals around the World.
In the last few years Chris has collaborated with Steve Kimock, members of the Brazilian Girls, Baaba Maal, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mutukudzi, Manu Dibango, Xavier Rudd, String Cheese Incident and spent six months working and recording with the Central African Republic Pymies to score the soundtrack for the film "Oka!"
Based out of Brooklyn, NY and Hawaii, he is now collaborating with Maverick label Kanaga System Krush with whom he is releasing his newest album, "King Of Me". On this latest project, Chris breaks through to a whole new level expanding the Mbira's tonal range and electrifying the instrument through a special bass and guitar rig; singing and simultaneously playing bass, rhythm and melodies over Ivorian powerhouse, Abou Diarrassouba on drum set. Chris starts his new tour on June 14, 2013!