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"Ndabaiwa" from Talking Mbira (Piranha)
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Talking Mbira (Piranha)
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Chiweshe Pours Out Sounds of Zimbabwe

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Stella Chiweshe players her traditional Zimbabwe instrument, the mbira, she hears voices mixed with the music.  

The voices communicate messages, which are fleeting, she says.  Chiweshe invites audiences to come experience her music and listen for messages of their own.  

Known as the world’s most prominent female mbira player, Chiweshe performs from 5 to 8:30 p.m. today at MarketFest in downtown Redding’s Library Park.  

“Every time I listen to mbira I hear messages,” said Chiweshe by cell phone from Los Angeles.  “Once they pass they don’t come back.  You can listen for you own messages when I come.”  

The mbira, a thumb piano that consists of metal strips set in wood, is a primary part of Zimbabwean music.  Chiweshe says the instrument’s sound reflects the spirit of the water.  

The theme of voices is revealed in Chiewshe’s new album, “Talking Mbira.”  The release features the solo tracks of her thumb piano, as well as the instrument mixed with rhythms and vocals.  

The high spirited sound lends itself to dance, said Chiweshe, who dances during her performances and its actually a member of the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe.  

“To dance to this music is to dance to every type of music,” she said.  “Mbira is the rhythm of life and the rhythm of life is how we all dance differently  

Chiweshe learned to play the instrument from her mother’s uncle in the early 1960s.  

While growing up, she persisted in playing the instrument even though it was shunned by her culture.  In Zimbabwe, men have primarily played the instrument.  

Because the mbira was normally played in ceremonies after dinner, she was told no one would marry her because no on would want a woman who stayed up late at night.  Her grandfather, who raised her, also told her no one would marry a girl who wanted to travel and perform music.  

That sentiment didn’t deter her, however.  She went on to release more than 20 singles, one of which went gold, and seven albums.  Her song “Kumusha” won her a 1993 Billboard Music Award for performance of the Adult/Alternative/World Music Album of the Year.  

According to her bio on the All Music Guide (, Chiweshe reached her largest audience in 1997 when she joined Peruvian vocalist Susana Baca and Tex-Mex singer-guitarist Tish Hinojosa for the Global Diva Tour.  

She has toured extensively in Europe since 1963 and lives at least part of the year in Germany with her husband.

by Jim Dyar 08/07/03
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