Stella Chiweshe, The Queen of Zimbabwean Mbira Music, will be performing as part of the Museum of Making Music’s Global Concert Series at 7 p.m., July 20. Chiweshe distinguished herself as the first woman to play the Mbira dzavadzimu, also called a thumb piano, a sacred instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe thought to have spiritual qualities that include the ability to communicate with ancestors. Courtesy photo

Global concert series performance canceled

CARLSBAD — Stella Chiweshe, The Queen of Zimbabwean Mbira Music, has had to cancel her concert at the Museum of Making Music scheduled for 7 p.m., July 20. 

The performance was part of Global Concert Series which features prominent artists whose music represents traditions and innovations from around the world.

The announcement was made today by Jillian Harrington who is associate director of the museum

“The reason for the cancellation is due to the artist’s management agency not being able to obtain the proper temporary visa credentials that would have allowed the native Zimbabwean to perform in the United States,” she said. “The museum apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. Current ticket holders will receive a full refund.”

Chiweshe grew up in Southern Rhodesia during the tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s when the indigenous Shona people fought to win independence from Prime Minister Ian Smith, an outspoken advocate for white rule.

Not unlike the women’s movement in the United States, this was also a time when women were subservient.

In Southern Rhodesia, (now called Zimbabwe), a landlocked nation in the southern part of Africa, this included being forbidden from playing the mbira dzavadzimu, also called a thumb piano, a traditional instrument thought to have spiritual qualities including the ability to communicate with ancestors.Chiweshe’s first single went gold in 1975 and catapulted her to a career as an internationally acclaimed recording artist who won a Billboard Music Award in 1993 for a performance in the Adult/Alternative/World Music Album of the Year.

“Stella Chiweshe is one of the most revered master mbira players of our time and we are extremely fortunate to have her perform at the museum,” said Jillian Harrington, associate director. “Stella has faced many obstacles in pursuit of her music. She found herself playing an instrument that was once banned by her government and also dominated by men. Her global success as a mbira artist is testament to her talent and perseverance.”

Piwai (pronounced pea-why-yee) is a San Diego-based musician who plays the mbira. She was born in Zimbabwe in 1980, the year the nation won its independence.

“Growing up in Zimbabwe, Stella’s music was everywhere and I was always an avid fan,” she recalled. “The mbira was like the drum in that it was traditionally played by men. She was a pioneer and breakthrough artist, in Zimbabwe and internationally, who paved the way for other female artists. It was almost like the women’s revolution.”

Piwai explained that white colonists, and the church, demonized the mbira because people who listened to the music would often go into a trance.

“It was used in ceremonies,” she said. “If there was a drought people would ask Stella or a maestro to communicate to the other world and ask for rain. It is a very powerful instrument that can put you into a spiritual or meditative state that also brings about healing.”

Piwai explained that this happens because of its ability to produce all of the sounds of nature.

“It is polyphonic, with three octaves using all the white keys on the western keyboard,” she said. “You can have four musicians playing the same instrument in different keys. The tones and textures are so rich and powerful.”

Since 1983, Chiweshe has brought her fusion of mbira and contemporary guitar, as an international figure and ambassador of Zimbabwe culture, to Africa, Europe and the United States. She often performs in Germany where she lives and has also participated in the WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) Festival in the United States, 1994; Australia, 1995; and Spain, 2006.

Chiweshe has made 20 singles and released seven albums: “Ndizvozvo Ambuya,” 1987; “Chisi,” 1989; “Kumusha,” 1991; “Shungu,” 1994; “Healing Tree: Best of Stella Chiweshe,” 1998;

“Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation,” 2003; and “Double Check,” 2006.

Beginning in 2013, she has embarked on a deeper cultural solo tour titled, “Sacred Paths Tour” in which she invokes the beliefs that people of the world are one and share common cultural roots. This year also marks the release of her eighth album, “Simudzambira.”

The museum’s Global Concert Series features prominent artists whose music represents traditions and innovations from around the world. Many performances are showcased in an onsite interactive exhibit where visitors can experience music from more than 15 different countries.


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