The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Chiwoniso's Five-Star 'Bira' Thrills Fans

A song of unrequited love with the kind participation of great dancer Alex Mhlanga from Amawumbo Dance Company. ( Resource: Chiwoniso - Wandirasa

The Book Café reverberated to the sounds of mbira on Friday night as two of Zimbabwe's finest mbira players -- Chiwoniso Maraire and Wilfred Tichaona MaAfrika Nyamasvisva joined forces in a show that was as spritually uplifting as it was breathtaking.

And with the backing of jazz sensation Josh Meck on the bass guitar, it was a "marriage" made in heaven.

Nyamasvisva got the first segment off to a flying start with a solo effort. There was no vocal accompaniment as the Mawungira eNharira frontman let his thumbs do the "singing".

Never mind that the show started about 90 minutes after its advertised time. Nobody in the near capacity crowd was complaining as Nyamasvisva made up for lost time with a performance that had the word "quality" inscribed all over it.

At around 10pm, the "Queen of the Mbira" made her way to the stage and for the next hour it was pure, unadulterated mbira with Chiwoniso's melodious voice taking centre stage.

The two maestros demonstrated beyond doubt that there is more to mbira music than appeasing the spirits and ancestors. On the contrary, it is a medium through which its proponents communicate various pertinent messages, be it social, political or romantically inclined.

For example, in "Makagarika", Chiwoniso laments the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots and social inequalities in general, while "Ivai Nesu" is an appeal to both the Almighty and the ancestors for divine intervention.

"Zimbabwe (Yakauya Nehondo") is the ultimate liberation war song, paying tribute to veteran freedom fighters like Mbuya Nehanda and all the gallant sons and daughters who Zimbabwe who paid the ultimate sacrifice. In the track, Chiwoniso also reminds her audience that land did not come on a silver platter.

"Wandirasa" is about heartbreak -- a cry from the heart by a woman scorned by her erstwhile lover. With Valentine's Day around the corner, "Wandirasa" is a timely reminder to couples to keep the romantic fires burning.

The tempo went a gear up as the show entered its third segment as Chiwoniso and Nyamasvisva were joined by a full band led by the affable Josh Meck showcasing his guitar wizardry. With her shrill voice piercing the air and dreadlocks twirling to the thumping bass guitar, Chiwoniso showed little sign of the bout of flu she was suffering from earlier in the week, as the "bira" went into overdrive.

The United States-born mbira songstress closed her set with the timeless classic, "Nhemamusasa", while the revellers ululated and whistled as they danced the night away.

As she prepared to exit the stage, there were calls for "One more", but Sista Chi could not continue on account of her ill-health.

Like the proverbial knight in shining armour, Meck stepped in to fill the void.

And just as he did during his memorable "Josh Meck neShamwari" concert at the same venue two weeks ago, the 30-year-old prodigy treated revellers to another gem from the Chimurenga archives -- "Pidigori Waenda" -- by the self-exiled Thomas Mapfumo.

It was the icing on the cake. Wherever he is, Mukanya must be feeling proud of himself as earlier in the show Chiwoniso had also taken fans down memory lane with her rendition of "Mugarandega".

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