To listen to audio on Rock Paper Scissors you'll need to Get the Flash Player

Sample Track 1:
"Ndabaiwa" from Talking Mbira (Piranha)
Buy Recording:
Talking Mbira (Piranha)
Buy mp3's:
click here
Layer 2
Talking just mbira with Stella Chiweshe

Click Here to go back.
Chicago Tribune, Talking just mbira with Stella Chiweshe >>

By Aaron Cohen
Special to the Tribune

Zimbabwean musician Stella Chiweshe says that when she was growing up, she "wanted to listen to the sound of the mbira again and again." She eventually came to feel that the best way to always hear the instrument (sometimes called the "thumb piano") was to play it. Today, she's one of her country's most celebrated performers, as her finesse of its metal keys never loses the melodic contours of the human voice. Chiweshe is also an enthralling singer.

But her life's path has not flowed as harmoniously as her music.

In Africa, playing the mbira had been considered a male-dominated province. Ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner writes in his book, "The Soul of Mbira," that one mbira player told him about the need to avoid even meeting women on the day of a performance. So when Chiweshe began practicing in the 1960s, she was not eagerly welcomed.

"I felt and I saw that the men were jealous because I brought this energy," Chiweshe says over a shaky telephone connection from Zimbabwe. "I could see that when there would be a group of six or eight mbira players, they would see me and say, `Goodbye.' I don't get this resistance today."

Chiweshe's skill and dedication gradually earned the respect of her colleagues, and she began recording and performing regularly at traditional Shona bira ceremonies. These gatherings had to be clandestine since the authorities who ruled the country when it was white-controlled Rhodesia also tried to restrict its indigenous culture. On Chiweshe's recent CD, "Talking Mbira," her song "Musandifungise [Don't Remind Me]" is her comment on the time when traditional instruments were banned and her father was killed.

Since the 1980s, Chiweshe has taken her traditions into a constantly evolving global pop music market. Chiweshe says that her home audience was the one that she had to convince about the significance of its own heritage.

"My people love the mbira with electric guitars. And when I started, I went onstage with both instruments. After some years, they started saying, `We just want to hear mbira! Play mbira! Don't play those other instruments.' So I [knew] that I had done my job."

On "Talking Mbira," Chiweshe brings together a choral group, electric guitars and keyboards, without diluting the essence of her own style. She's become experienced with all sorts of cross-cultural collaborations; about four years ago she toured the United States with Peruvian singer Susana Baca and Tex-Mex vocalist Tish Hinojosa. For Chiweshe, communication among musicians is universally intuitive.

"I don't write stuff down and I don't let my musicians write anything down. I want them to keep everything in their minds. I once went to a workshop in Germany where we were eight people and spoke different languages. We explained each others' songs and in two days we learned everyone's songs without writing them down."


Stella Chiweshe

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

Price: Free; 312-744-6630 01/31/03 >> go there
Click Here to go back.