Mbuya Chiweshe is home on one her frequent visits from Germany. She has performed at Village Pakare Paye at the Zimbabwe Carnival Cultural Fiesta and, on the occasion of Europe Day. Aside from concert performances scheduled at Book Café (next performance is scheduled for Saturday 5 July), she is in Zimbabwe to launch and develop Chivanhu Trust at a prominent public discussion to be held at Book Café on Thursday 26th June from 5:30pm.
Mbuya Stella Chiweshe is the great grand-daughter of Va Munaka, who was the medium of Tateguru Kaguvi the resistance fighter beheaded by the British. Not only did she fight the colonial mentality that prohibited and discouraged indigenous worship, Mbira and spiritual activities to honour ancestors who pass the prayers to our Creator, she also had to play the Mbira that was mostly played only by men those days.
For over 40 years and counting, Mbuya Chiweshe has blazed a trail. Refusing to be relegated to the role of an Mbira spectator, Chiweshe was driven from within to convince her uncles and grandparents to teach her how to play the Mbira.
After two years trying to persuade her uncles to teach her, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe finally gained instruction from one of her mother's uncles. Long before independence, Mbuya Chiweshe was risking imprisonment performing at 'underground' Mbira ceremonies. Her very first single in 1974, Kasahwa recorded at Teal Record Company, went gold.
Researcher Florian Hertz quotes her follows:
"I first learnt mbira in 1966, in Mhondoro. I was taught by my mother's uncle, he was very kind. During those days, men mbira players thought they could not teach a woman to play. For two years, I had a burning lump in my chest – a pain like when a close person dies. But when he said 'come learn', the pain stopped right there and I felt good. It didn't take a long time to learn which keys to play. What takes a long time is how to play for a long time. It is like the wheel when going round and round. At a ceremony a mbira player must be able to play for the whole night. Blisters have to be ignored to make the pain stop and that (blisters) happens only to those still at the learning stage.
After independence in 1980, Ambuya Stella Chiweshe trained in stage work for five years from 1981 to 1985 in the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe. She was a dancer, musician, actress and also took on other roles. She integrated marimba with mbira in 1986, a groundbreaking innovation at the time. Critics suggested she was dis-honoring tradition but for her, marimba and mbira served the same spiritual purpose. By integrating the two, Mbuya Chiweshe persuaded many young people to understand their heritage, at a time when youth were disoriented from colonial disinformation.
Mbuya Stella likens the 23 keys of her mbira to 23 voices. The unwritten lyrics of songs can come through dreams and visions so deep that only few may understand them. Mbira music has such powerful spiritual qualities for those who appreciate Zimbabwean culture.
Her international acclaim has scaled heights few Zimbabwean artists have attained, bringing the spirit of Mbira to many parts of the world. Here is how music critic Bob Tarte (USA) reviewed Ambuya Stella Chiweshe's solo concert back in 2002:-
"Plenty of artists claim to play "trance music," but Zimbabwe's Stella Chiweshe delivers the genuine article. Portions of her repertoire come from religious rituals of the Shona people, and audience members at her concerts have claimed visits from spirits in response to the beautiful melodies she coaxes from her mbira. Her CD entitled 'Talking Mbira' shows her in full command of her talents. The nicely balanced blend of material ranges from the tradition-based opening song "Ndabaiwa" to modern fare like "Chachimurenga," a chimurenga liberation song that gets a dub-style treatment. Chiweshe layers her meditative mbira on "Ndangariro" for a densely interwoven sound more intricate than a tapestry. "Paite Rima" is not only a powerful vocal arrangement, it's a plea for world peace. Bob Tarte.
The countries, stages and festivals where Mbuya Stella has performed, solo and with her various ensembles from 1981 is a long list comprising 45 countries, with performances across Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia. In 2003 she was awarded an honorary Masters in Arts degree by the University of Zimbabwe. She is an accomplished actress, and has been awarded a number of music accolades locally and internationally. In 1994 she performed solo to 12,000 people at the WOMAD festival with Peter Gabriel. When Africa's greatest jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim visited Zimbabwe in 2001 (to open the Mannenburg jazz club), his request was that he meet Mbuya Chiweshe.
The Chivanhu Trust, created and conceived by Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, seeks to reignite the spirit and passion for Zimbabwean cultural legacy, especially amongst the youth. More than this, the vision behind Chivanhu Trust is to accord elderly folk of Zimbabwe their traditional respected role in social life by understanding and listening to their wisdom. In this way, youth and elders become connected so younger members of society may understand their own legacy. One African proverb says "Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one person can embrace it", another says "When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground".
Mbuya Stella has travelled the world mingling with many cultures, yet her own culture has never been eroded. In these travels she has strengthened cultural respect and linkages, as equals. Where colonial conquest sought to belittle African culture, Mbuya Stella has built respect. Her passion for deeper truth through culture, for Zimbabwe to rediscover cultural identity after colonialism, as well as her spiritual strength has won respect of all. In this journey, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe has learned lessons she would like to share, simple courtesies and ways of cultural exchange that sit alongside profound cultural beliefs and philosophies.
Book Café invites people of all walks of life and background, and interested people of all ages to join open and free discussions about culture, Mbira, legacy and the values of our culture and spiritual life.