The Oregonian, ZIMBABWEAN ARTISTS PLAY AS SPIRIT MOVES THEM >>
Spirits -- they're everywhere. And mbira calls them.
The resonant, 22-keyed hand piano of the Shona culture is the foundation of Zimbabwe's traditional music, in which it is used to summon the spirits of ancestors, of stones or trees or rivers. Forward Kwenda, who will perform at the Zimbabwean Music Festival this weekend, is considered a master because spirits manifest themselves before he has even finished his first song.
Stella Chiweshe, known as the Queen of Mbira in Zimbabwe, will perform Thursday at the Oregon Zoo. She thinks mbira music helps us "experience the world as it is: filled by spirituality."
"There are spirits around us all the time, but people don't notice," she writes in the notes to her CD, "Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation." And the spirits, not the performer, are responsible for the flowing, polyrhythmic sounds. As Chiweshe says, "Mbira sings by itself. I live it, not being the one who is playing it."
Chiweshe's concert offers one of three opportunities this week to tap into African culture. The Zimbabwean Music Festival runs Friday- Sunday and the Homowo Festival of African Arts, a version of Ghana's traditional harvest festival that includes pageant, crafts and foods as well as music and dance, is Saturday and Sunday. Both festivals strive to educate as well as entertain; this comes easily with African music, which traditionally accompanies daily as well as sacred activities.
The Homowo Festival provides the most diverse window on African culture, with appearances by artists from Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, as well as Ghana. Many of the groups in both festivals include Americans who have learned from African teachers.
Under the direction of Obo Addy, the Ghanaian master drummer who has resided in Portland for 25 years, the annual Homowo Festival will open with a stately parade of musicians and community members, dressed in bright ceremonial garb, who move to the beat of bells and hand drums.
A recipient of national and regional awards whose work has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet, Addy, 67, will lead both his traditional group, Okropong, and his electric fusion band, Kukrudu. Also appearing will be the Afropop group of Ibrahima Camara, a drummer and former member of Senegal's National Ballet; the folkloric singer Nawal, with her mix of Indian, Arabic and southern African sounds; a group led by Guinean balafon player Nabi Camara; and the R&B-juju fusion of Portland's Nojeem Lasisi.
The colorful music and dance ensemble Chinyakare, led by Julia Tsitsi Chigamba, will appear at both festivals.
Founded by students of the late Seattle marimba master Dumisani Maraire in 1991, this annual festival has expanded its original focus on marimba to include a variety of traditional performing arts plus some electric fusions, such as the music of Zanga Zanga. 08/08/03