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"Ndabaiwa" from Talking Mbira (Piranha)
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Talking Mbira (Piranha)
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Layer 2
Global Hit

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The World, Global Hit >>

Music is often used to express emotion. It's sometimes used to express a belief. In some cases, as in today's Global Hit, music speaks to the spirits. The World's Marco Werman meets one of Zimbabwe's best-loved musicians.

STELLA CHIWESHE: My name is Stella Rabisa Chiweshe. I come from Zimbabwe. I play mbira music. This mbira music goes over the boundaries of the human being's thinking. Because mbira it goes back to when the land was one without divisions.

MARCO WERMAN: Stella Chiweshe is speaking more than hyperbole. The mbira is a home-made instrument found all over Africa, borders notwithstanding, with different names. In the US it's often called the African thumb piano, and that's a fairly accurate way of thinking of it. For Stella Chiweshe though, the mbira is more than an instrument. In the years before Zimbabwean independence in 1980, according to Stella Chiweshe, the colonial government would send you to jail if you played mbira or any other traditional instrument, even if you just tapped on gourds, or calebashes.

STELLA CHIWESHE: One day, somebody came telling everybody in the villages to hide everything that belonged to our ancestors. The mbira belongs to our ancestors. And everybody including me, I went into the field, I dug a very big pit, and I put all my calebashes, and all my mbira there. And then one day as I was sitting, I said to myself, "I don't mind if they will take me because of playing mbira." So I went back to the field after some days, and I dug out for my mbira. And all the calebashes had become rotten. And what I only found was my rusty mbira. And I polished it. And from that day, I kept on playing.

MARCO WERMAN: Playing the mbira is Stella Chiweshe's way of reminding Zimbabweans of their past. These can be painful memories. That's evident in one of her best known songs, "Musandifungise."

STELLA CHIWESHE: There are two voices there. One voice, the deeper voice, is saying, "Remember that day when you were left in tears." And then the other voice is saying, "No, please, don't remind me, please don't remind me."

And then the backing vocals come in and say, "Ahh, eyaoh, ahh, nday," and those voices are saying, "Yes, OK, we will not remind you," and I am saying, "Don't remind me of how my father died, don't remind me of all my relatives who passed away." And they say, "Yahh, nday."

MARCO WERMAN: Many of Stella Chiweshe's songs look to the past. She says she doesn't like to talk about contemporary politics in her music. The songs, she says are simply about her people, alive and dead.

STELLA CHIWESHE: Mbira for me is a bridge to link living people and those without bodies. That is mbira.

Elsewhere on the web:

Stella Chiweshe biography

Stella Chiweshe discography

Piranha Musik

More World Music at BBC Music Online 02/10/03 >> go there
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