Lansing State Journal, Concert Preview >>
Zimbabwe, Africa – Mbira Music
Known as the “Mbira Queen of Zimbabwe,” Stella Rambisai Chiweshe is one of the most well known players of the mbira, also known as a thumb piano. Made from a gourd with metal strips set into it, the mbira dza vadzimu us a sacred instrument used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe to call on the spirit of their ancestors in ceremonies called bira. In these traditional ceremonies the repetitive, chiming melodies and rhythms of the mbira combine with hosho (gourd rattles), singing, and sometimes drumming (on the ngoma) to inspire the ancestors to offer advice and guidance through a spirit medium.
Born in Mujumi Village, Mhondoro, in 1946, Stella started to sing when she was very young while herding cattle with her grandfather. She learned how to play the mbira in 1966, just as her deceased grandfather had prophesizes. Although members of her village disapproved of her participation in an exclusively male activity, by her 20s she was acknowledged by them as a master, performing during funerals, weddings, and other ceremonies. Because the powerful mbira music was forbidden by the colonial government and was punishable by prison, Stella performed mostly at night while working as a domestic during the day. After Zimbabwe independence, she joined the newly formed National Dance Company of Zimbabwe as an mbira soloist, actress and dancer. She has since embarked on a solo career and is known both as Amuya Chiyarke, “Grandmother of Traditional Music,” and for her fusion of mbira with other musical forms. She has released more than 20 singles of Mbira music and Kashawa, her first single, went to gold in 1975.
At the 2003 Great Lakes Folk Festival, Stella is accompanied by Maruva Chikwatari (hosho), Michael Kamunda (alto marimba, vocals) and Alphias Tichatonga Chikazhe (soprano marimba, vocals). 08/02/03