Monday, July 29, 2013

Goodbye to Zimbabwe Mbira Queen

Goodbye mbira queen

Sunday, 28 July 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

It is very rare for an apple to fall far away from the tree and, even if it does fall that far, it still retains its sweetness. Growing up in a household that had mbira instruments strewn all over the place, it was hardly surprising that Chiwoniso Maraire, daughter to mbira maestro Dumi, fell for the instrument at a fairly tender age. With the father moving to Washington, the United States, to study and teach ethnomusicology, it was only a question of when, rather than if, the daughter would take after him.

When he decided to give her a mbira instrument for her ninth birthday, the world was never going to be the same for the little girl. And when the largely talented family — Mhuri yekwaMaraire — relocated to Harare in 1990 (when she was nearing 15), it was with little ease that she fitted into Keith Farquharson’s Peace of Ebony. Natural talent was running through her veins.

But as the world mourns one of the most talented mbira instrumentalists of our generation, it might be opportune as well to reflect on the background, life and times of Chiwoniso, and the tragedy that comes with dying at a tender age of 37.

Raised in a family of 10, not necessarily born of the same mother, her mother, Linda Maraire, was to die in 1997 in the United States at the age of 44, a pretty early age to die, given the country she was staying in.

She had opted to stay behind in the States to run a catering company when Dumi relocated to Harare.

But because of the impact and influence she had had on her daughter, Chiwoniso was to pen Mai, off her 1998 album Ancient Voices, probably one of the most enduring songs on the local musical landscape. Not only was the album laden with talent and emotion, it was to win her a number of international accolades, notably Radio France’s Decouvertes Afrique ’98 award.

Dumi must have revelled in the heights his daughter was scaling and he took to the stage in Harare to help his daughter launch Ancient Voices. But his joy was short-lived, for a year after the release of the album, and two after his wife had passed on, he followed her to the heavenly choir. It must have been devastating for Chiwoniso, losing mother and father within a space of two years.

But her sorrow in losing father and mother was soon to be lessened as she found love in Andy Brown, whose band, The Storm, she had become a backing member of. It soon Chiwoniso stresses a point during an interview with this publication at her house.

On the wall is a picture of her late former husband Andy Brown with one of their daughters.

Chiwoniso stresses a point during an interview with this publication at her house.

On the wall is a picture of her late former husband Andy Brown with one of their daughters became a celebrated union, producing two daughters along the way, Chiedza and Chengeto.

But Andy Brown’s band might have been unwittingly named, for soon reports of raging storms were to be reported in the celebrity couple’s marital set-up, such that by 2001, some four or so years into the relationship, she was quitting, not only the Storm but the marital storms as well.

And it has always been an open secret that Chiwoniso’s life, as well as Andy’s, got off its hinges when that marriage cantered off the rails. Soon she was to go on a roller-coaster, both in love and social lives.

When her romance with Cde Fatso, a protest poet, failed, the rumour mill in Harare was always full of stories about her sightings.
And some of the sightings went on to suggest a life that had gotten off the rails for good, for at one time she is said to have confided in a friend that she could not stomach male-female relationships any further.

That her personal life was becoming more of a tragedy could not have been helped much by her temper, which was not exactly mild as, every now and then, reports would filter in of Chiwoniso losing her temper, be it at a live show, public place or, just love gone wrong.

But that her life had so many shortcomings should not mask the immense talent that was somehow genetic to her. (In fact, in 2012 she presented her two daughters live on stage for the first time.)

Whether she was singing her own compositions or Shona folklore songs, Chiwoniso was a marvel to watch and emotional to listen to.

Her music was enchanting and some of her listeners would go into a trance upon connecting with the rhythm.

Besides the emotive Mai, she had Wandirasa, another equally touching song, or Ivai Nesu (Mwari Baba), which bordered on gospel.

Family feuds over Chiwoniso

July 29, 2013 Local News
Problem Masau Arts Correspondent

The body of Chiwoniso Maraire was yesterday denied entry into her Bluffhill home in Harare because of a family feud.

The late mbira queen is set to be buried today at her rural home in Chakohwa Village in Mutambara. The casket was left in a car for more than five hours. No body viewing was done at the residence.

Maraire’s brother Ziyanai said the family would issue a statement.

“The body is not in the house as you can see and we have our reason for doing that. We will issue a statement after the burial,” he said.

Speaking to mourners yesterday, Zanu-PF Politburo member Abigail Damasane described Chiwoniso as a person who lived her life fully.

“Though Chiwoniso died at a tender age, she lived the life of a 75-year-old. She was able to perform in front of more than 35 heads of state in 1999 when she was just 24. She recently performed in front of more than 60 chiefs,” she said. Cde Damasane said artistes in should advocate a huge budget in the fiscus.

Novelist and film maker Tsitsi Dangarembga made shocking claims that riled the public over weekend when she claimed, in a post on her Facebook Wall, that Chiwoniso had succumbed to a shortage of ARVs.

Dangarembga, using the name Efie Dangarembga, wrote:
“Am going to have to take a few days off to recover from the #Chiwoniso Maraire disaster. Cannot stop crying. Our country and the world treats African, especially Zim women artistes like garbage. All that girl needed was a course of #ARVs and she couldn’t even get that. . . ”

Dangarembga received a tongue lashing immediately after the post.

Those that commented argued that it was not her place to make such claims.

She then pulled down the post which she replaced it with an apology.

The damage had, however, already been done as the post found its way to other users’ walls after being shared.

Chiwoniso succumbed to a chest infection.
She is survived by two daughters, Chengeto and Chiedza.

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