Washington Post, CD review >>
Spirits of Liberation"
Learning to play the mbira was merely Zimbabwean musician Stella Chiweshe's first revolutionary act. The metal-keyed instrument (sometimes called a "thumb piano") had been the exclusive domain of men, because its ringing tones were used in Shona healing rituals. Even when Chiweshe was accepted as a mbira player, she still had to perform in private because the Rhodesian government had banned the instrument and the ceremonies that used it. Then, after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Chiweshe broke yet another code by combining the mbira with guitar, synthesizer and marimba, a Westernized melodic percussion instrument of African origin.
"Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation" opens and closes with solo performances. Although not as densely textured as her past releases, these two songs are hardly stark; the notes that cascade from Chiweshe's mbira provide a rich backdrop for her earthy, striving voice, which is multitracked into a chorale on the final tune, "Huvhimi." The other tracks incorporate drums, guitars, marimbas and choral singing, but Europop influences are pronounced in only two: "Chachimurenga," a dub-mixed freedom-fighter anthem, and "Musandifungise," a lament that features a Celtic-rock guitar riff. All the tunes rely on the polyrhythms and call-and-response vocals customary in African music, and Chiweshe's shimmering mbira melodies are infectious whether the arrangement is technocratic or traditional.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Wednesday at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. To hear a free Sound Bite from Stella Chiweshe, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.) 02/07/03 >> go there