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Biography

  • Born

    8 July 1946 (age 74)

Stella Rambisai Chiweshe is one of the few women playing the male-dominated mbira-based music of the Shona people. Born in the late 1940s, Chiweshe grew up in Zimbabwe's forest region of Mhondoro, about 45 miles from the capital city, Harare. Chiwese began learning to play the mbira dza vadzimu in 1964. It was very unusual for a girl to play mbira at that time and Chiweshe had to face the dissaproval of her community, where woman performers were often treated as "loose women." Chiweshe perservered to become perhaps the best known player of the instrument outside Zimbabwe.

The mbira dza vadzimu is a sacred instrument used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe to call on the spirit of their ancestors in ceremonies called "bira." In these traditional cermonies the repetitive, chiming melodies and rhythms of the mbira combine with the hosho (gourd rattles), singing, and sometimes drumming (on the ngoma), to inspire the ancestors to offer advice and guidance through a spirit medium.

In 1974, Chiwese recorded her first single "Kasahwa," useing a borrowed mbira, The song was a hit and she went on to record 24 singles over the next six years. She joined the National Dance Company in 1981 and began to travel to other countried to perform. These days Chiwese maintains a home in both Zimbabwe and Germany and tours extensively throughout Europe and the Eastern United States. In early 1998 she appeared as one of three women showcased on the Global Divas tour (the other two acts being Susana Baca and Tish Hinojosa), which toured all over the U.S.

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