By Zaza Kabayadondo on Zimbo Jam
baby can’t you seehow much I love you?I-I-I,I could never leave you
Even if I wanted to.
You know I’ve told you so before!
|And so, if I cryit’s only becauseI don’t know what to doOh-oh-hooo
Chiwoniso’s voice still haunts me. It has been four days since her performance with Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, on Friday 14 June, at the Book Café. The passing of the weekend has failed to dim the evocativeness of her lyrics. An indiscriminate zephyr, her voice weaves in through my ear and past my mouth—reaching depths of my soul reserved for “very awesome music”—as I sing, hum and whistle snippets of Wandirasa at the most untoward moments of the day.
‘Cause I knew what it was from the start
it breaks my heart
I call myself a casual Chiwoniso enthusiast: I have invested in a few albums, crooned her tracks through 10 years of romances and breakups and bouts of homesickness— infecting friends and colleagues all over the world with my passion for her, and my pride for how she represents Zimbabwean talent.
Quite frankly,Chiwoniso’s spirit and flair for the musical form has stirred me to become a student of mbira at the Mbira Centre in Harare.
That said, I was especially delighted at the prospect of an evening of collaboration between her and Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, who I had seen for the first time with Mawungira eNharira at the same venue in May.
Even Ambuya Stella Chiweshe declared herself a fan of Chiwoniso’s style, opening the show with a humble and ardent tribute, “For years I have been watching Chi growing up, and [sic] wishing I could sing with her. And today it has happened.”
This zeal and anticipation, however, sensitized me to some serious flaws in Friday’s performance. Having been enticed by the prospect of an authentic collaboration of musical equals, I expected these two renowned female musicians to prepare a set which would blend their distinct performance styles, but the coin never dropped.
The waning of audience enthusiasm was palpable, for Chiwoniso and Ambuya Stella Chiweshe only played one or two songs together and this concession came at the very end of the evening. The structure of the show—with its drawn-out thirty-minute break between the two performers during which Chiwoniso nonchalantly greeted friends in wings of the Book Café—suggested Ambuya Stella Chiweshe was an opening act.
Did this indicate one musician had surpassed the other in prowess and fame, or was it strictly a publicity gimmick? My table had a heated discussion about how or if this structure was representative of the women’s contributions to the trajectory of the instrument.
The mbira was played with technical panache and vivacity. As a student of the instrument, I revelled in watching mbira being done by the masters with all the gusto of a Grade Three on a fieldtrip. Given that this was a mbira show, the musical contributions of the night were purely technical. The line-up was routine, with each band proffering a cover, oftentimes inferior, of each of their most popular tracks.
Although I enjoyed hearing both women’s top hits re-imagined, the budding musician in me yearned for more conceptual exploration, a stronger thematic connection between the performances and, in short, more artistic novelty.
All in all, Chiwoniso and Ambuya Stella Chiweshe score 6 out of 10 for Friday night’s gig. The venue’s $10 cover charge didn’t reflect the late start and frustration of long waits for the lead musicians to show up.
For this to truly have been a good ‘mbira show’, the artistic directors needed to rearrange the line-up and band-composition, paying more attention to foregrounding the mbira and balancing each instrument with it. That said, anyone who was there will tell you that having these two female mbira icons together on stage—albeit for one song, Nhemamusasa—made the evening symbolic.