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Zimbabwean singer and mbira player Chiwoniso

by Daniel Brown

Article published on the 2008-12-12 Latest update 2008-12-14 09:22 TU

Chiwoniso Maraire with the mbira(Photo: D Brown)
32-year-old Chiwoniso Maraire has come a long way since she won the RFI Discoveries award ten years ago. She has matured into one of southern Africa’s leading players of the thumb-plucked mbira, as well as one of Zimbabwe’s most articulate artists.

Radio France International has been following the career of 32-year-old Chiwoniso for over a decade now. She is a compact yet slight singer that harbours a disarming smile behind her round glasses and short dreadlocks.

Her fourth international release, Rebel Woman, reflects Chi’s indomitable nature and talks of issues like equality, freedom and love.

There is a steely determination that she reveals in her latest album Rebel Woman. On it Chiwoniso composes, sings and plays the mbira. The plucky Zimbabwean has had to leave her country for personal and professional reasons. Now she is adapting to the challenging horizons of her place of birth, the United States, where she is fronting her acoustic group Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture.

Chiwoniso Maraire showing the interior of the mbira(Photo: D Brown)

Chiwoniso Maraire showing the interior of the mbira
(Photo: D Brown)

The mbira, with its wooden board and metal tines continues to be at the heart of her arrangements. Her latest album modernises and electrifies this traditional instrument. Rebel Woman took three years to assemble and was recorded in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Britain and the US. Songs include the poignant “Matsotsi” (“Land of thieves”, inspired by Zimbabwe) and “Listen to the Breeze”, a song which came to Chiwoniso in a dream.

Music is a family tradition for the Maraires. Chiwoniso’s father Dumisani Maraire was a musician and ethnomusicologist who allowed his children free rein to explore his instruments and their sounds. Chi often performs songs her father had done a generation earlier, including “Vanorapa”, the opening track on Rebel Woman.

But the mother-of-two has become a far greater ambassadress of mbira music than her father. In recent years, she has collaborated with the likes of Sinead O’Connor, Kris Kristofferson (for a Music Freedom Day launched by the NGO Freemuse) and Marie Boine.

More recently she recorded with the Zimbabwean white rastaman Comrade Fatso and his Chabvondoka band. Their duo “Bread and Roses” on the album House of Hunger is starting to make inroads on world music charts in Europe. Meanwhile, Chiwoniso is already reflecting on her follow-up album where she is likely to turn her critical eye to realities in her newly-adopted homeland.

This World Tracks was made partly thanks to publicist Simon Veyssière.

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