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"Ndabaiwa" from Talking Mbira (Piranha)
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CD Review

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Herizons , CD Review >>

Stella Chiweshe
Talking Mbira
Spirits of Liberation
Piranha Musik Production, 2002
Review by Sheila Nopper

"Mbira has the rhythm of life," Stella Chiweshe told me. "It takes you to the source, to the roots of the human being. And it goes deeper." The revered Mbira Queen of Zimbabwe was one of the first female musicians to form her own band in her country in the early 80's. Seeking to improve the conditions of other female musicians there, in 1993 she founded (and has continued to direct) Mother Earth Trust-Network of Female Artists in Zimbabwe.

Her new CD, Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation, includes several vibrant dance tracks as well as a captivating a cappella call and response tune, but it is the traditional songs that provide the deepest spiritual connection. "Ndabaiwa," (I Survived) is an extended meditative acoustic version of "Kassahwa" from her 1994 live recording, Shungu. The soothing multi-layered melodies of the instrumental "Ndagariro" (Memories) opens and closes with Stella's heartfelt ululating wails of tribute to the spirit of her late brother who gave her the song in a dream three days after he passed on into the spiritual world.

With "Musandifungise" (Don't Remind Me) Stella recalls the difficult period when traditional instruments were banned in Zimbabwe. The song begins with a slow lament of alternating vocals between Stella and an unidentified male singer. It then smoothly segues into an uplifting dance rhythm -as if in celebration of the spiritual resilience of the people to overcome such repressive forces-with Stella commanding the lead vocals for some time before slowing down again to repeat the first portion of the song. 

"Tapera" (We Are Perishing), which comments on crises such as AIDS, volcanoes, floods, bombings and hunger, is a compelling interweave of mbira bass tones, interspersed with the sorrowful harmonious refrain sung by male chorus. It arouses a profound sense of loss and ominous foreboding while offering a sense of spiritual grounding and potential.

It's been five years since Stella Chiweshe released The Healing Tree (Herizons, Fall 1998), a 'best of' compilation selected from her previous four CDs. Yet Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation is undoubtedly her best recording to date.
Radio broadcaster and writer Sheila Nopper recently returned to Canada to live on Denman Island, BC.

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