Washington Post, Stella Chiweshe, Footloose to a Fault >>
Taking a band on the road is expensive, which may be why Zimbabwean musician Stella Chiweshe performed unaccompanied Wednesday night on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. After a few minutes, however, another theory offered itself: Chiweshe is a solo act because no group could accommodate her free-form approach.
Chiweshe began by entering through the audience, trilling as she approached the stage. Forgoing the Millennium Stage's customary introduction, she started singing, clapping and swaying before sitting down to play the mbira, a metal-keyed instrument sometimes called a "thumb piano." Within moments, though, she hopped back to the stand-up microphone for a few remarks. The rest of the show was equally unpredictable, with Chiweshe alternating between intense playing and chatty asides. "We are here to listen to mbira," she said more than once, as if reminding herself as much as her listeners.
The mbira is traditionally used in trance ceremonies, and Chiweshe played one song that she said always summons the spirit of her father. She asked people "to listen without thinking about anything," which was possible when Chiweshe played the mbira. She sent sharp, cyclical riffs rippling above the more resonant tones of the lower-pitched keys, suggesting both nature sounds and Balinese gamelan music. A deep trance was not likely, however, since Chiweshe kept interrupting the music with stories, dances, singalongs and qualified praise for the audience ("nice people" but not very animated singers). Chiweshe's set was followed by comments from Zimbabwe's ambassador, who admitted he had been scheduled to introduce her. If Chiweshe can't wait for the ambassador, it's no wonder she doesn't have the patience for a band.
-- Mark Jenkins 02/14/03 >> go there