29 September 2008

Monday's mp3: Chi's Modernized Mbira

Chiwoniso: Rebel Woman

Chiwoniso is a woman poised for success. The Zimbabwean singer has just released her third album, but it's far and away her most mature, engaging, appealing work to date. After two sparsely distributed albums (Ancient Voices and Timeless) and contributions to a number of compilations including the delightful Women CARE, Chiwoniso has hooked up with dynamic label Cumbancha for her latest, and also has rounded up a crack team of musicians including guitarist Louis Mhlanga and Oliver Mtukudzi drummer Sam Mataure.

The songs on Rebel Woman feel clearly rooted in Zimbabwean traditional music, partaking heavily of mbira riffs in particular, though all 12 tracks are originals. With the insistent rhythms created by a tight rhythm section of bass, drum kit, and rhythm guitar, this is clearly very modern Zimbabwean music. The touches of Chiwoniso's musical influences can be clearly inferred: Tuku on "Nguva Ye Kufara," Hugh Masekela on "Listen to the Breeze," and elsewhere Stella Chiweshe, Thomas Mapfumo, and others. There might be a bit of Angelique Kidjo in there as well, particularly on the near-Afrobeat drive of "Gomo."

[mp3] Chiwoniso: Gomo
from the CD Rebel Woman

Chiwoniso sings mostly in Shona, though a fair amount of English is also heard on the album. In an exclusive Spin the Globe interview, the singer dismisses critics of this choice, asserting that both languages are part of her identity, particularly since she was born in Olympia, Washington, and spent a good portion of her childhood there. (Her father, the esteemed mbira and marimba teacher-musician Dumisani Maraire, lived in the USA for a number of years, helping to create the culture that now results in the annual Zimfest.)

Deeply spiritual, Chiwoniso champions women's rights and anti-police-violence causes. That her songs include positive messages is just one more argument for Chiwoniso to finally get widespread recognition for her compelling music.

more info:
Chiwoniso video interview about censorship
Chiwoniso performing with Kris Kristoffersen (!)

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