“I am like a mirror,” declares Zimbabwe’s popular music star Chiwoniso Maraire
. “I basically sing about what I see happening in the world. If someone comes up to me in the street to ask for money I’ll sing about that. If people are jumping borders because their economic situation is too difficult, I’ll sing about that. If the police are beating people up and intimidating them, I’ll sing about that.”
In recent years, Zimbabwe’s political and economic turmoil has thrust the turbulent African nation into international headlines. Based in the capital city of Harare, Chiwoniso lives in the eye of the storm, observing firsthand as her beloved homeland struggles to overcome the enduring legacies of colonialism, war, social inequality and political oppression. A devoted advocate of free speech, human rights and social justice, Chiwoniso’s music gives voice to the voiceless and speaks to the problems and joys of the world around her.
While Chiwoniso’s musical influences range from soul and R&B to reggae and rock, the entrancing sounds of the mbira serve as a central underpinning for the songs on Rebel Woman. Originating in the ancient Shona civilization of southern Africa, the mbira is a musical instrument made of metal tines attached to a wooden board. The player plucks the tines with their thumbs to create captivating interlocking melodies, which have accompanied ceremonies and celebrations for countless generations. While variations of the mbira exist across Africa, it is an essential element of Zimbabwean music tradition and carries deep historical, cultural and spiritual symbolism.