The Herald (Harare)

19 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Shoniwa a Blessing for Zim

The U.K band groupNoisettes performing their hit song Winner. ( Resource: Noisettes - Winner

opinion

IT was on Friday November 18,1984, at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London, that I was perplexed to see this young woman jump from the audience onto the stage where Thomas Mapfumo was performing.

As I was part of the team that was looking after Thomas Mapfumo and his band, I asked my colleagues, Walla a.k.a. Walton Dangarembizi and Julian Bahula, who this woman was and what she was doing on stage. Walla said to me: "Let her indulge herself. She is Thomas Mapfumo's niece."

After 10 minutes this young woman, with beads of perspiration pouring down her cheeks, came off stage and she told me that she was so excited to see a band from home and could not resist dancing next to her uncle, Thomas.

I later learned that her name was Leoba, a Zimbabwean mother to three-year-old twin daughters at the time, Shingai and Shorai.

Leoba Kureya is known by almost all Zimbabwean musicians who visited London in the 1980s. She hosted many of them. She lived in South London, somewhere near Brockley and Ladywell. She would say: "Why go into an expensive hotel and eat tasteless food such as fish and chips when I can cook sadza, muriwo and stewed beef or mazondo for you?" Indeed, musicians coming from Zimbabwe such as The Four Brothers, The Bhundu Boys, John Chibadura and The Pied Pipers' Alois Gentala and Choas Mudoka (when they visited London to buy musical instruments), would make her joint their stopping place.

Leoba is related to many known Zimbabwean musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo, Michael Joseph of the Harare Mambo Band, Marshall Munhumumwe of the Four Brothers and Cuthbert Maziwa of Eye Q. How then could she escape falling in love with music with this legion of musicians at her doorstep?

Leoba moved to London from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) some 36 years ago and in 1981, gave birth to twins who include her now famous daughter, Shingai, whose father is the late Francis Shoniwa. She too could not escape being a musician when her mother insisted she must host the musicians who came to stay at their house in London. As Shingai puts it: "Sometimes the uncles would rehearse in the house and would ask me to play 'hosho' or something in order to keep the rhythm. That way I learned a thing or two in music."

Shingai Elizabeth Maria Shoniwa was born on September 22 1981. Today, she is best known as the vocalist and bass player for the UK-based rock band, The Noisettes.

Shoniwa was born in London and grew up in South London. Her father, who was a politician, died when she was 11, leaving her to a single mother who remarried Dr Kureya, a Cambridge University medical student from Zimbabwe. Shoniwa's twin sister, Shorai Shoniwa, is a TV presenter in the UK. On being asked about what she feels about being a female bassist, "the experience with her band the Noisettes, Shoniwa says, absolutely informs her music". "Wanting to escape from reality can inspire the greatest and most trivial creative natures in people," and "I think escapism is something that connects all of us. Everybody has their own little soundtrack, and I guess I'm trying to make my own soundtrack to my escape plan. I want people to realise that there's so much more this world can give."

She first wanted to be an actress, and for a while joined the Lost Vagueness crew as a burlesque performer. [She studied circus skills at a London youth club as a teenager. When she graduated, she attended art school and dabbled in local theatre. Her classmate and friend, Dan Smith, would hold what she called ridiculous jam sessions -- too many people strumming broken guitars thinking they're Syd Barrett (Syd Barrett is the founder member of Pink Floyd). With encouragement from her mother, Leoba, she then went on to study at the British School of Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon, South London. One day she joined Dan Smith singing, and the two quickly formed a group called the Noisettes.

Critical response to Shoniwa's performance has largely been positive. Rolling Stone magazine said that Shoniwa is a living, breathing manifestation of the rock & roll spirit, with a voice that is equal in parts to Iggy Pop and Billie Holiday. In her stage persona, Shoniwa looks like what the New Yorker called an African supermodel, and she frequently performs barefoot while wearing face paint or fur hats on stage.

Shingai Shoniwa has provided backing vocals for different artistes. Among them Annie Lennox of the Eurhythmics fame.. The track, they recorded together, which was about the fight against HIV and Aids, included 22 other renowned female artistes such as Madonna, Melissa Etheridge, Gladys Knight and Celine Dion.

Shoniwa, along with Patti Smith and Julliette Lewis, helped celebrate Jack Daniel's birthday in Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA, on October 13 2007. The three were joined by The New Silver Cornet Band for the show, which took place at the company's distillery. The event was part of the 157th birthday celebrations for Jack Daniel, who was born in September 1850. The Birthday JD Set opened to specially invited guests and competition winners only.

On November 19 2009, Shoniwa performed with rapper Dizzee Rascal at the Royal Albert Hall for an event to raise money for charity. Additional collaboration of Shingai with Rascal related to a version of UK rapper's Holyday .

Shoniwa is credited for vocals of Dennis Ferrer's Hey Hey dance/house track (released late November 2009).

On December 31 2009, Shingai was featured in the "Annual Hootenanny 2010" show (aired by BBC), where she performed together with Jools Holland a version of "Don't Upset the Rhythm" and contributed to the vocals of tail-song "Down by the Riverside".

Shoniwa is also a fashion model. She is signed with NEXT Model Management in London.

In 2012, Leoba, Shoniwa's mother, decided that it was time her daughters made a real connection with their African roots. Leoba flew to Zimbabwe with Shingai and her sister Chipo and a guitarist from the Noisettes.

They visited the high-density suburbs, their rural home and the low-density suburbs of Harare for six days which culminated in a 30-minute "show" at Mecca in Borrowdale.

Leoba felt this visit was too short and she planned another one for six weeks. Unfortunately, Shingai did not last the six weeks because she had to rush back to London in the first week of February to perform at the BAFTA awards after-party ceremony. She will be back again in April, to perform at the Harare International Festival of the Arts this time with the full backing of the Noisettes.

They have already made a name in Europe and America with hits such as "I Miss You", "The Audience", "It's Only", "A Reprise", "Leave Me Now", "Misprints", "Chromoshop No Fear of Falling" and "Phoenix" from the album "Still Hungry".

Indeed, Shingai is a blessing for Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is lucky to have such big talent among its Diasporan children.

Talking about talent, Umoja is conducting a talent search this week. Auditions will be held at the University of Zimbabwe's Beit Hall this Saturday, February 23. All those youngsters aged between 18 and 30 years who think they have talent are being invited to attend the auditions.

Fred Zindi is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician and an author of several books on music.

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